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When the going gets tough….

Publishing Date : 13 February, 2018

Stuart White
The World in Black-N-White



If you were to ask me who were the greatest leader of the 20th century I would surely name Winston Churchill as one of them. My opinion of him was formed from an early age as I grew up in a household who revered him as a model of leadership and an inspirational war hero.  So it was a no-brainer that I rushed to the movies this week to see The Darkest Hour a film about the early days of World War II, when the fate of Western Europe hung on Churchill as the newly-appointed British Prime Minister, faced with a decision to negotiate with Hitler or fight on against incredible odds.


I had not known that before he was appointed Prime Minister and before the war how unpopular he was and in many ways how he was lacking in the interpersonal skills department, so much so that he would probably have been considered unsuitable for leadership in the media-dominated world today, being no diplomat in day-to-day work and life.


But he was a big occasion, big speech politician (‘We will fight them on the beaches’, ‘Never has so much been owed by so many to so few’ etc.) who in a sea of dithering politicians who had already given up before they had even started the battle, stood out and stood up.  So even though Churchill was not a perfect person, it was his oratory and military talent as well as his triumphant effort in leading Britain, at all costs to victory which forever etched him in history as one of Britain’s greatest leaders.


People have said they didn't know what Britain would have done without him during World War 2 yet in my mind it always felt boorish that the British people failed to elect him again after the war, but perhaps the Brits knew that in 1940 he was the right man in the right job at the right time and immediately post-war there were different priorities.


It is interesting to be thinking of great leadership at a time when leadership in our neck of the woods is under the spotlight: In South Africa we anticipate the Zuma must fall campaign to reach its zenith as we await his resignation; the recent change in government in Zimbabwe which may well be much ado about nothing  and at home we are readying for new leadership too, and with it a plethora of expectation born out of, perhaps our own darkest hour. In the quarter of a century which I have lived in Botswana, I have never experienced the amount of negativity, hopelessness and disillusionment that there has been in the past few years.


So, from this backdrop nearly everyone that I talk to seems excited about a Masisi regime. From what I gather he sees the problems of the country for what they are and has an openness about tackling them with a modern and realistic mindset. The economy seems to be playing centre stage – from where everything can change because if he can get that right; more business investment, better education, infrastructure, less unemployment, opportunity and so on can surely follow? 


As someone said to me the other day, if he can deliver on what he promises…. aren’t we, the public,  eternal optimists who can't learn from experience? We want to believe that our politicians will improve our lives. But when post-election reality hits, we forget how unrealistic we were in believing that somehow "this time," the outcome would be different.


Because change is easier said than done and being president is not the type of job that I would want. I look at poor Theresa May doing the job in the UK trying to deliver Brexit to a nation in where half of them don’t want it – it’s a job that nobody else really wants but that doesn’t stop everyone criticising her every move and trying to trip her up every step of the way. Theresa May’s greatest strength must be her grit and determination and her ability to slog on ignoring the shouting around her and in the absence of anyone else in the picture she still looks to be better than any of her alternatives. Only history will tell her what her legacy will be as she tries to shape the future of Britain post Brexit.


What I take from Churchill and May as leaders is there single-minded determination on achieving a goal at all costs. While May focuses on Brexit, Immigration remains a major issue, NHS, Defence, poverty and inequality also refuse to go away but she mostly chooses to avoid this white noise as quite frankly she can’t deliver on everything… Churchill was determined to have Victory at all costs – one of which was the practical bankruptcy of Britain and the weakening of Britain’s international position. But I think good leaders realise that progress comes at a price.


But what about Masisi? He has all the makings of a great leader. He is personable, smart, versatile open-minded and if he can play to these strengths surely, we will move us out of the dark and into a brighter future. But he will need a single-minded goal that he must push through such as the economy or face the danger of getting caught up in the peripheral noise and an agenda that is so big that one would hardly now where to start?


Great leaders do one or two great things to move their countries forward and leave their minions to attend to the admin. Mandela’s was uniting a divided and polarised people, Kaunda’s for his fight against AIDS and assisting the liberation struggle neighbouring countries, Martin Luther King paved the way for racial equality in the United States and Gorbachev led Russia to political and economic freedom.


You will notice that I have picked out only a few names from different times in history and different places in the world, names with which we are all familiar and that is because they all, in big or small ways, made a difference when so many other politicians and leaders faded into obscurity.  They identified the problem, sought a solution and seized the day.  In doing so they all came in for criticism from their detractors, but they held fast and stuck to their guns, in Churchill’s case, almost literally.

As the expression goes, ‘Cometh the moment, cometh the man’, even when that man is a woman!

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