How Not to Run a Country

Published on 2nd June 2020

History is replete with examples of political leaders who are narcissistic, incompetent and have a penchant for demagoguery. Although such characters tend to be charismatic, they often create misery by suppressing fundamental rights and freedoms or barely achieve anything substantial while in office apart from occasional bluffing. The list is not just limited to politicians, since we encounter such personalities in our day-to-day lives.

Organizational psychologist, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic notes that most incompetent people get to the top due to three reasons. First, they are rewarded for their confidence with majority of the people confusing confidence for competence. Second, the love for charismatic individuals who tend to be entertaining or simply charming. Third, the inability to resist the grandiose nature of narcissists fond of chest-thumping or regarding themselves as immortals and know-it-alls.

Although politics demands that courtiers who publicly defy a leader’s directions or collective agreements be dismissed, the case is different with revered narcissists. They are usually dismissive  of contributions from other team members, incompetent, and short of emotional intelligence, and the ability to have perspective which are hallmarks of great leaders as noted by Jonathan Powell in his book, “The New Machiavelli.” This often results in a chaotic work environment and failure to achieve the desired goals.

Several heads of states and governments, taking populist stances, have failed to effectively address the COVID-19 pandemic. They are gearing for general elections and presidential elections. They believe that averting economic crises will secure them another term in office.

But what comes first, economic recovery or protective measures to slowdown the virus ? While economic recovery is necessary, protective measures are more than necessary. Although lockdowns are economically destructive and not sustainable for poor economies, protective measures must be observed to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Magufuli, for example, believes that COVID-19 can be cured by prayers. To have a scientist and head of state hold such an opinion raises a red flag. This can only be interpreted as a strategy to win support from a society obsessed with religion. Although he began his tenure with gusto and was applauded in the manner in which he dealt with the corrupt or lazy government bureaucrats and employees, his tenure is rife with impunity and gagging of dissenting voices. He denied teenage mothers the opportunity to complete their education but reversed the ruling.

Trump has remained defiant on the need to open up the American economy, worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic in the world. So far, more than 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the world’s most unequal and unsafe country. The pandemic has exposed America’s realities of mega inequality and the lie that is ‘American Exceptionalism.’

Recently, Trump ordered state governors to open places of worship amid opposition from some religious leaders who contend that it is not the right decision. But Trump is obsessed with being re-elected risking lives of ordinary Americans by encouraging them to stage protests against restrictions imposed by governors while he enjoys the benefits of belonging to the oligarchy. This is the epitome of class warfare.

Ignoring advice from experts and firing them is a script in his playbook. Richard Bright was fired by Trump after rejecting most of the unscientific claims made by his administration regarding Coronavirus. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of America’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has clashed severally with Trump over issues such as the origin of Coronavirus, opening up of schools, and generally relaxing the safety measures put in place.

The clownish antics of Jair Bolsonaro cast him as a personality obsessed with power and not the welfare of the people. His presidency has poorly responded to the pandemic in terms of mitigating the economic and social crises occasioned by the COVID-19 scourge. Bolsonaro has actively participated in the anti-lockdown protests demanding state governments to get rid of physical distancing and lockdown measures citing the threats of unemployment, hunger and misery. Under the leadership of Boris Johnson, the response to the pandemic has been less effective.

So, what is the best way to run a country?

Heads of states and governments should learn to listen to professional advice and develop perspective on critical policy issues. Obsession with profits seems to drive political leaders but we need to come to terms with the reality that the economy is about people. People cannot be disentangled from the functioning of an economy.

Ideally, economic policies need to fashion people over profits. Voters also need to set the bar high enough and allow for the election of competent people. But the reality is that most voters – members of the general public – have poor judgment to differentiate between confident and competent individuals, and have a high affinity towards supporting charismatic but narcissistic politicians.

By Sitati Wasilwa

The writer is a political economist and consultant on governance, geopolitics and public policy, and a youth leader at YMCA Kenya. Twitter: @SitatiWasilwa. Facebook: Sitati Wasilwa. LinkedIn: Sitati Wasilwa.

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