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Barbara Kellerman
Scholar

Barbara Kellerman

Barbara Kellerman is on the faculty of at the Harvard Kennedy School and the author, most recently, of Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, and Why It Matters and Followership: How Followers are Creating Change and Changing Leaders.

Following Mugabe

Robert Mugabe - president of Zimbabwe for near thirty years - is so bad he is evil. For the better part of the last decade he has run his country into the ground, transforming it from one of Africa's healthiest into one of Africa's deadliest. The recent outbreak of cholera is only the latest in a long list of plagues visited on a people now spent by murder and mayhem, poverty and pandemics, destruction and desperation.

However miserable Mugabe is, he is not new. Bad leaders, even really bad leaders, are part of the human experience. Moreover Mugabe himself has been known for some time to be malignant. The crisis in Zimbabwe been long-running and last March it entered a new phase: Mugabe came in second in presidential voting but refused subsequently to succumb to democratic rule. Since then the situation has deteriorated further - Zimbabwe is broken completely. Half the people are hungry, eighty percent of schools are closed, eighty to ninety percent are unemployed, public-sector hospitals have been closed since November, and life expectancy in Zimbabwe is the lowest in the world, 37 years for men and 34 for women.

Meantime what do we do? What does the African Union do? What does the Southern African Development Community do? What does the United Nations do? What does the West do - the United States and Canada, France, Germany, and Great Britain? We follow. We go along with Mugabe because we can't get it together - we can't muster the political will to act in concert - to do otherwise.

To be sure, individual leaders have spoken out against the travesty that Mugabe thinks his mandate. They include Barack Obama as America's president-elect, French president Nicolas Sarkozy, British prime minister Gordon Brown, and, just now, in Davos, Kenya's prime minister Raila Odinga and Senegal's president, Abdoulaye Wade. But none so far has gone much beyond mouthing the usual pieties. None has led the charge against Mugabe, so as finally to eject him.

This is a problem with a solution. Ideas on how to proceed include regional interventions (military and otherwise), introduction of the International Criminal Court, and worldwide recognition of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai as interim president. Until such time as one or more of these are embraced and enacted we fiddle while Zimbabwe burns - bystanders to a tragedy.

By Barbara Kellerman

 |  January 31, 2009; 7:46 AM ET
Category:  Followership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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