Unpacking brand Ouattara
THE difference between average and good, or good and exceptional, is leadership. This is the ability to show people possibilities they otherwise would not discern by themselves. African countries crave leadership, particularly servant leadership.
The unique gift of servant leadership sets apart such African icons like Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Thomas Sankara and Nelson Mandela. These titans distinguished themselves, not by possessing riches or miraculous powers, but by consistently basing their decisions and actions on what was good for others. Contemporary African leaders, such as John Magufuli of Tanzania, demonstrate with their servant-leadership styles that they are worthy of inclusion in the premier hall of African leadership fame.
If persistence and composure in the midst of hostility is a mark of inclusion in this elite club, however, there are other contenders for consideration.
One of them is President Alassane Ouattara of Ivory Coast.
When the history of the country is written 25 years from now, it will single out the period 2011 to 2021 among the defining epochs. Considering where the country was during the civil war and the conflict after the 2010 elections, which claimed over 3 000 lives, President Outtara would qualify for commendation as a leader. However, that is only part of his life story.
An economist by training, he amassed plenty of experience at various international organisations, including his two stints at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington DC.
He started as an economist in 1968. He returned as Director of the African Department in 1984, also serving as Counsellor to the managing director of the IMF in 1987.
A servant-leader is defined by Robert K Greenleaf, in his 1970 essay (“The Servant as Leader”), as one who is a “servant first… with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first”, before “conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead”. Greenleaf contrasts a servant-leader with the opposite mould of a leader whose priority is not ‘to make sure that other people’s needs are being served”, but by the “need to assuage an unusual power drive to acquire material possessions”.
Following his service at the IMF, President Félix HouphouëtBoigny appointed Outtara prime minister in November 1990, a position he held until December 1993.
When HouphouëtBoigny died on December 7, 1993, Henri Konan Bédié succeeded him.
Ouattara returned to the IMF as deputy managing director. He did not declare a dispute or threaten violence, although he had actively expressed an interest in succeeding Houphouët-Boigny. Power mongers do not do that. Perhaps having been Counsellor to the managing director at the IMF and serving as prime minister had taught Ouattara that influence and service do not hinge on the title one commands. In 1995, he further stepped back from nomination as presidential candidate for his party, Rally of the Republicans, after it had split from the ruling Democratic Party in 1994. This was yet more proof that it is not power that makes Ouattara tick, but the opportunity to serve.
At this point, there was even an allegation that he was not Ivorian; although he had already served the country as prime minister.
Where despots and power-hungry politicians throttle people of the world in pursuit of self-interest, Outtara stood by when his presidential race was thwarted in 2000 by a new constitution barring presidential candidates from participating unless both their parents were Ivorian.
He kept his counsel until his turn finally came in 2010. If only all politicians could keep their aspirations in check and play fair, politics would be more credible.
Since winning the elections in 2010, President Outtara not only steered the country out of the civil war, he restored Ivory Coast to its rightful path to economic prosperity.
The economy has grown by nearly 10% since 2011, attracted multinational investors and even got the premier development finance institution, the African Development Bank, to relocate to its original headquarters in Abidjan – after it had been forced to seek temporary abode in Tunisia during the civil war.
It was the sustained economic recovery that saw Outtara return to office for his second term by a landslide 84% majority of the vote, restricting his nearest rival Pascal Affi N’Guessan to 9%. Margins of this magnitude do not lie; the people of Ivory Coast had spoken with their mark on the ballot paper.
In the meantime, Outtara has contained repeated incidents of mutiny in the army to ensure peace and stability in the country.
His reign also navigated the diplomatic ripple effects of the trial in The Hague of his successor – Laurent Gbagbo – for his role in human rights violations. He has neither gloated nor attempted to unduly influence due process.
Another feather in Outtara’s cap was in how the country – the world’s top producer of cocoa – did not crumble under the biggest health crisis of the 21st century: ebola.
This epidemic rattled not only the country and west Africa, but the entire continent. Cocoa production was disrupted, the economy scuttled as air travel quarantined the region and what was a promising return to vibrancy took a dip.
He might not be in the league of Mandela and Nyerere, but Ouattara stands out for his exceptional contribution to the stabilisation of a country that is crucial to the Africa rising narrative – especially now. Sakaria Kone is First Secretary of Economic & Commercial Affairs, Embassy of Ivory Coast, South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity
Influence and service do not hinge on the title one commands