Since democratic system of governance was invented many centuries ago, the present transformation or redesigning phase it is experiencing across many nations is noticeable. From America to Africa, technology is restructuring how citizens relate with their leaders. With readily available information, the citizens have become more informed and active in the affairs of their nations.
Leadership has morphed into a very simple two-way feedback system that is cheap, efficient and timely. And that has come through the powers of social media networks which enable interactions between any interested citizen and the leaders. From American President to his Nigerian counterpart, Facebook provides a platform for dialogue. Citizens can go online and post simple questions and expect the leaders to take note.
This evolving trend is possible because communication systems have become cheaper and accessible. In the old network TV model, only the very influential people could get on the TV to make suggestions on how the country could be managed. But today, what is important is an idea: a great one can be read by the world in minutes.
It is not just the political leadership that is using this citizen energy. Businesses are increasingly sourcing and sharing ideas from the consumers of their products. They get insights that help them shape future products. And the consumers also pass across their feelings when they do not get the products rights. In this piece, I will focus on the political leadership.
Never before is the citizen exerting more influence than what we have today. And the future looks more exciting because Moore’s Law will guarantee us more access to networks of more people as technology prices continue to go down even with more efficiency and performance.
In the midst of this development is a challenge for government to be ethical. Every citizen is a pseudo journalist and control over the media empires will not stop any bad act from being transmitted across the globe.
It used to be, take care of the big networks and any scandal will never be made open. It does not work anymore because there are many avenues to break news without the media houses. And those can move faster with devastating impact that even retraction makes no sense since the digital footprints are always there.
This implies that governments must be mindful that in the era of modern democracy, it has become more open. And this openness brings a challenge to act ethical at all times. There is no more a season of deals because anything can appear on the web. Technically, there is no secret.
The Tripod Relationship
Governments must understand that the tripod relationships among them, citizens and institutions have changed drastically over the years. Globalization makes it possible to have access to information for benchmarking what other constituencies are doing. And immediately, firms and people change their expectations from their governments.
Over the course of many centuries, governments have moved from central, regional, then central, and now to citizen government, especially in democracies. The self-aware citizens do not accept polices hook, line and sinker. Even in feudal systems, the citizens are asking questions and that old dominance has since been challenged on accountability.
In America, the citizens could organize under a Tea Party umbrella; in Nigeria, they have MuMuDonDo. Despite their different names and modus operandi, these organizations and many that can be found in any democracy are pushing leaders to be more open, accountable and responsive. And they honestly think that directing the future of the nation must not be left alone to the politicians. They want to influence dialogue and the nation’s trajectory. They ask questions on areas of national concerns and they want change.
Forty years ago, they might appear to be ill-informed. Not anymore! They have access to information that used to be seen only by government officials as technology has made dissemination easier. From Think Tanks to universities to non-governmental organizations, anyone could read their analyses online, free. Even the government’s own writings are easily available and suddenly that secrecy that leaders enjoyed over things that shaped their policies is eroding. People now challenge them with data and can authoritatively make their points for new directions.
Leadership in this era provides an opportunity that a star could be born overnight as performance news pass across boundaries. It offers an opportunity to be ethical and honest in dealing with the citizens. One understands the difficulty leaders face in trying to engineer the nation to long-term prosperity when most of the citizens are interested in the short-terms. How you communicate the need for minor pains today for major joy tomorrow will depend on how trustworthy you are. Citizens will believe an honest leader and can give concessions for the good of the nation.
As the opportunity is also the threat. It is easier to see politicians resign quicker and faster after scandals are broken. The bad news go through the same pathway the good ones pass.
The Expressive leadership
In open democracy, what is leadership? Can we argue that China which shortened a century of western innovation into a quarter century under no internationally accepted democratic norm is not displaying leadership we could envy? No open democracy, but the world, especially Africa is looking towards China. They envy that state capitalism where the leaders build world class public institutions that Wall Street gladly accepts even when they criticize governments going into business in America and Africa. From banking to energy, we have pseudo government-run empires in China that best investors welcome through successful IPOs.
The reality is that under a citizen government, economic vibrancy is not the only gain of governance. People want freedom, by nature. Nonetheless, leadership and good one minus other externalities is not only found in democracy. However, to the people, denying them the right to attain that position of leadership, if they choose, shows the leader is not a good one. It is about having rights to exercise wishes under the law. And every person irrespective of birth can fulfill a dream. Under this hypothesis, many African leaders that oppose elections are designated as bad leaders by the West irrespective of their efforts in other areas. By acculturation, the West thinks that a political leadership should be expressive and open.
Leadership is the biggest challenge in Africa today. The capacity to redesign the economy with visions that connect young and old, with lofty imaginations of unbounded future, has to be stimulated by a man or a woman. Some seemed to be emerging like the President Rwanda Paul Kagame, but the tonic allure of power has made him an apostle of one nation, under one man, instead of a legacy to have built an institution men and women will commit for generations.
Without institutions, Africa becomes exposed to the turbulent and irrational open democratic process where the same people that complained of lack of development will accept a penny to vote a man that will steal dimes tomorrow. In Nigeria, it is a very strategic system to win elections and has been christened “stomach infrastructure”, and it works. Once the citizens accept the ” stomach infrastructure” , the other types of infrastructures like roads, water, and electricity are corruptly extinguished like wild fire across state houses.
Yet, there is hope because of the citizen energy. I dream of a world where governance is open and transparent with a vista not only to economic greatness, but individual rights. It must be one where citizen energy is exerted in the affairs of the nation and leaders stewards not only to the citizens, but the nation. And those leaders taking the opportunities that technology brings, through openness and continuous improvement, to restore the dignity of man.
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