Un­pack­ing brand Ou­at­tara

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

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

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