Yearning for leaders with moral authority

By Dr Given Mutinta

 Lack of leaders with moral authority in the current regime is increasing interest in moral leadership. The interest is mainly instigated by the general failure of leadership to adhere to the country’s ethic and morality.

A leader, for example, cannot make promises and unapologetically u-turn on them. In 2011 people voted for the Patriotic Front (PF) regime based on the promises made; to have a people-driven constitution, promote democracy, introduce new windfall tax, employ professionals in the civil service, fight against nepotism, tribalism and graft, and other promises.

These lies have smacked on morality a critical factor in leadership. The absence of morality in the leaders has turned the current regime into a disastrous outcome, and it will be difficult for this regime to champion a vision that can resonate with society.

If we have the interest of this country at heart, one critical question worth reflecting on is whether a person who lacks moral authority should be a leader? My answer is no, because such a person lacks integrity to be a source of guidance and exemplar of good conduct.

For clarity, integrity means “complete” or “integrated”; to own the quality of being honest and able to adhere to ethics and morality. Therefore, to have integrity a leader should be whole and undivided in ethic and morality. Ethics refers to our standard of right and wrong. Morality, instead, is our lived standard of right and wrong.

When a leader’s ethic and morality are not integrated, he cannot have “moral authority”. The term “authority” comes from the Latin autoritas meaning author. Authors were a cluster of respected and trustworthy educators. Their integrity in society put them at the “top” and gave them “authority” over all art forms in society.

Therefore, “moral authority” is the ability to live a life that adheres to society’s rules and judgments of morality. It is to live a life where words and actions resonate with society’s ethic and morality.

A leader can have a vision that is able to bring the desired national results; however, if he lacks moral authority it is the same as not having a leader. He cannot persuade the public to follow a course of action no matter how good it may be. Why? Simple, moral authority makes it easy for people to trust their leader and consequently allow him to guide them effectively.

Zambia is not a jungle holding hyenas but a society with rules and has its judgments of morality. This is the reason we should demand for leaders whose ethic and morality are integrated.

The sitting regime lacks leaders with moral authority to inspire the nation to greater heights and ideals. Why? Our sets of ethical values as individuals are not rooted in our national ethics and morality. As a result, we put people into leadership who have no jot of moral authority.

If a leader lacks moral authority in his private life, he cannot be trusted in public life. This is because trust is earned through the soundness of a person’s moral character; honesty. Therefore, if a leader is a “liar” or a “casanova” or a “drunkard” in his private life; it is nearly impossible for society to know, in the final analysis his actions because he can do anything even u-turning on his campaign promises due to lack of integrity.

An effective leader absolutely must be a good example; all the times, both in private and public life. Herodotus a Greek historian said; “I am satisfied that we are less influenced by what we hear than by what we see”.

What inspires people is not campaign promises but how a leader acknowledges moral responsibility; both in words and in actions. This is what makes us today hold in the highest regard people such as Mandela, Gandhi, and Mother Theresa. Cicero a Roman philosopher said; “be a model to others, and then all will go well; for as the whole city is infected by the licentious desires and vices of their leaders, so it is likewise reformed by their self-control”.

It is high time that as country we courted leaders with a moral code by which they operate; leaders able to understand that in our society there are things that are right and others are wrong all times.

It is sad to hear how people today fool our leaders by telling them that their private lives do not matter to the public. Meaning, leaders can do whatever they want in their private lives as long as they advance national policies that we share in common. This is an oxymoron, an illogical contradiction.

Where is our moral conviction as a country if morally bankrupt people are elected or appointed as leaders? Have we all of a sudden compromised our society’s ethic and morality and are unperturbed by the current subnormal leadership? This is a caterpillaritic culture we should fight against as a country. It is a culture that eats up ethic and morality, a culture in which integrity does not matter. Seneca a Roman philosopher noted: “Noble examples stir us up to noble actions”. Now think, what would the opposite imply?

If we are a society that adheres to its ethics and judgments of morality, even in a situation where there were no more than two people willing to lead; one a “shameless liar” who knows politics and the other a “bona fide saint” but with no idea about politics we should never settle for a “shameless liar”. This sounds to be a classic fallacy in reasoning. Even so, a sound society would choose the clueless “bona fide saint” for his moral integrity because even without experience he can lead with integrity.

It is risky to trust a person who lacks ethics even if he has vaster experience or knowledge of politics. Juvenal, a satirist wrote: “examples of vicious courses, practiced in private lives, corrupt more readily and more deeply when observed in people who are in leadership”. Thus, leadership is not a matter of logic but a matter of prudence and judgment.

We should make it clear as a country that when a person becomes a leader, he is a leader in a society with norms. In addition, he becomes public property. Their private lives; as “drunkards” or “sex maniacs” or “shameless liars” are not irrelevant to the public because they affect their ability to lead the country effectively.

Do not tell me it is being foul-mouthed to talk about our leaders’ private lives. Excuse me? How private are their private lives? Is it not tax payers’ money that oils their private lives?

Shortly before being sworn in as president of the United States of America (USA), Lincoln said, “the truth is, I suppose I am now public property”. I know the growing number of “oxymoron fans” may give the easy and slothful answer, “give us a break, this is not USA”. Obviously it is not! If it was, Obama would be our president.

The fact is that leaders are put in office by the public. The public foots their bills; even medical bills when they are sick because of living unhealthy or immoral so called private lives. It is not their personal money but tax payers’ money used to evacuate them abroad for better treatment. It is therefore nutty not to care about our leaders’ personal morals and just care about what they do in their official capacity.

As long as the carrying out of national policies and tax payers’ money is affected by the consequences of the leaders’ activities in their private lives, we have the need to worry about their immoral or unhealthy private behaviour. Their private lives relates directly to their official responsibilities and the public.

For a real leader, character depends on whether one adheres to generally accepted principles of law, ethics, and morality; in public and private life. An infraction of these is a sign of lack of leadership.

Our integrity should be seen in ethic and morality. We need integrity to uphold public norms and individual conscience respectively. Good leadership hinges on moral virtue. A person who is good in his private life judgments should make good judgments in public life and the other way round.

We have less than two years left to the next general elections in 2016. We need to raise the bar for leadership by choosing people with moral authority.

Let us demand for superior leadership; I mean leadership that has both moral capacities and technical competencies. It is disappointing for leaders to be effective but unprincipled and the other way round.

The call for leadership with moral authority is not emanating from being “bitter”. Circumstances of both technically incompetent and morally liquidated leaders abound in the current regime.


Share this post