The world is cry­ing out for real, in­spired lead­er­ship

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - AZAD ESSA

BARELY a day old and you get the sense 2017 is go­ing to be quite some­thing. Is­tan­bul suf­fered yet an­other at­tack, the Gam­bian pres­i­dent Yahya Jam­meh warned West African troops de­ployed to his coun­try that their move was “an act of war” and, in a his­toric move, the DRC’s Joseph Ka­bila agreed to leave the pres­i­den­tial palace by the end of 2017.

All this within 24 hours into the new year.

And it’s likely to be that type of year. A dis­rup­tive one, a con­tin­u­a­tion of a world that con­tin­ues to frac­ture, de­spite our leaps in knowl­edge, tech­nol­ogy and phi­los­o­phy.

If any­thing, 2016 was a year of deep­en­ing fear. We saw it in the Brexit vote, and in the rise of Don­ald Trump. We saw it in the treat­ment of refugees in Europe. And yet they con­tinue to go.

More than 5000 refugees drowned in the Mediter­ranean in 2016. Glob­ally, more than 7000 mi­grants and asy­lum seek­ers died try­ing to make their way to a bet­ter life. But we don’t need to look to Europe to catch a glimpse of the hys­te­ria around “the other”.

In Malawi, peo­ple with al­binism were per­se­cuted through­out 2016. The des­per­a­tion is so dense that peo­ple were will­ing to be­lieve the bod­ies and bones of peo­ple with a melanin dis­or­der were a quick trick to wealth and riches. The same goes for the at­tacks on for­eign na­tion­als in South Africa.

They might not have made the news in quite the same way as it did in 2014 or 2015, but this doesn’t mean the in­tim­i­da­tion or fear-mon­ger­ing have dis­si­pated. Nei­ther have th­ese mat­ters been ad­dressed ad­e­quately.

Part of the rea­son is that we are liv­ing in a world of hol­low, fee­ble and in­se­cure lead­er­ship.

I can’t think of any in­ter­na­tional leader that in­spires con­fi­dence, or hope of a brighter, sus­tain­able, eq­ui­table fu­ture.

In­stead, we are sur­rounded by cheap and mean­ing­less pop­ulism. And where some de­cency might ex­ist, for in­stance with the UN’s new sec­re­tary-gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res, it is for a mostly hope­less cause.

The UN has long needed re­form, and un­til then, it will re­main a tool of the pow­er­ful, in­con­se­quen­tial at a time of need. You need not look fur­ther than the pil­lage of Syria. The quest for an hon­est bro­ker has never been harder.

When Trump as­sumes the pres­i­dency later this month the US will be ever so closer to the rest of us – forced to rely on the strength of the me­dia, civil so­ci­ety and in­sti­tu­tions to keep the in­san­ity at bay.

I wouldn’t put too much faith in “the me­dia”.

Be pre­pared to be sub­jected to use­less sound bites as jour­nal­ists re­sort to mock­ing Trump rather than hold­ing him to ac­count. Jour­nal­ists of­fer­ing shal­low anal­y­sis on so­cial me­dia are cer­tainly part of the prob­lem.

On the con­ti­nent, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame will be look­ing for a third term in of­fice and won’t be stopped.

Uhuru Keny­atta will be run­ning too, in Kenya’s poll. Any vi­o­lence or trou­ble in Kenya im­pacts all the land­locked coun­tries in East Africa.

And there are con­ti­nent-wide dis­rup­tions com­ing too.

In March or so, the first Is­rael-Africa sum­mit is likely to take place in Togo. It is an im­por­tant de­vel­op­ment be­cause it sig­nals, again, the deep­en­ing of re­la­tions be­tween West Africa and Is­rael. In 2016, Is­rael and a col­lec­tion of African coun­tries for­malised re­la­tions af­ter decades of covert co-oper­a­tion. It is part of a wider at­tempt by Is­rael to be­come an ob­server state at the AU.

The move into Africa is com­ing hard, and strong. And out­side po­lit­i­cal strug­gles will soon be ours.

In fact, even the AU is up for grabs. With Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma step­ping down as chair of the AU Com­mis­sion, two women from Sene­gal and Equa­to­rial Guinea and three men from Botswana, Kenya, Chad, will com­pete for the cov­eted po­si­tion.

When that is re­solved, Dlamini-Zuma will re­turn to South Africa where a new bid­ding war for the South African pres­i­dency will be in full force.

Democ­racy cer­tainly has its perks, but in its cur­rent form it is built to be lit­tle more than a game of mu­si­cal chairs. But it doesn’t have to be. And it’s mostly up to you. • Azad Essa is a jour­nal­ist at Al Jazeera. He is also co-founder of The Daily Vox.

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