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Mushroom Leadership

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September 8, 2017

south-sudan-2017-jeffrey-chti157SOUTH SUDAN - There are many different styles of Leadership. In 1978, I read a parable in a Hong Kong newspaper  that caught my attention and I have used it many times since in talking about leadership. At that  time the Soviet Union had been led by only four General Secretaries, or Presidents, who held the  positions for a significant time: Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev. The story went like this. The Soviet Union could be compared to a train rolling across Siberia. In the days of Lenin, the train  (the country) was running out of steam (resources). So Lenin got up and gave an inspirational  address urging all to work harder and be more productive – and the train started rolling again. In  the days of Stalin, once again the train was grinding to halt. So Stalin ordered that half the  passengers be shot to lighten the load – and ‘tell the other half that they will be shot if they don’t  push hard’. Once again, the train started rolling.  In the days of Khrushchev, resources were again in short supply and the train again came to a halt  as there was no track in front of it. The solution of Khrushchev was to order his soldiers to tear up  the tracks behind them and re-lay them in front - which they did - and once again the train started  rolling. In the days of Brezhnev, once again the train ground to a halt. So what did Brezhnev order?  ‘Close the windows, put up the shutters and shake like hell and make-believe the train is rolling’.

That is where the story ended. My addendum was that along came Gorbachev who told the  people to open the windows, look at the reality and recognise what must be done to become  prosperous. Leaders sometimes find ‘pretend solutions’ to hide the reality. A shorter version of  the Brezhnev style is sometimes stated this way: ‘Treat the people like mushrooms: that is, feed  them manure and keep them in the dark.’  Here in South Sudan we are increasingly being kept in the dark. The number of Newspapers has  been greatly reduced. Access to news websites such as Radio Tamazuj and Sudan Tribune is now  being blocked. Further, I read somewhere that at least 20 foreign journalists have been refused visas to enter South Sudan. So reports of fighting are fewer and, inevitably, when there are reports,  each side will claim they are peace-loving but were only defending themselves when they came  under attack by the opposing side. This is not the way forward. Budgets are passed without any  certainty that funds will be available. This is not facing reality. Many people with Government jobs are left unpaid and for almost every service, there is an official fee for which a receipt is issued  plus a ‘personal service charge’ and no receipt.  

One priest friend got himself into a situation of some threat recently arguing with a boda boda  (motor bike taxi) rider. He thought the man told him the ride would cost SSP200 but after their short trip the rider demanded SSP400. The dispute went for a heated hour. National Security were  called in, but this priest thinks he was saved because he is ‘abuna’ (local Arabic for ‘priest’). I said  to him, ‘All that for barely more than USD 1’ (currently USD 1 = SSP 173). His response, ‘It was the  principle of the matter’ I am sorry to say it is more sensible to be pragmatic here rather than principled. It is simply not worth causing upset over small sums even if it is technically corruption  and graft. One has to live with the reality that this is the only way some of the people get any income. There is also the danger that some might resort to a Stalinist model of authority!

So the country appears a little more stable at present; but I don’t really know. I have been recently in Juba, Wau, Yambio and Riimenze and all seemed quiet enough - but many IDPs remain in  protection sites and are too fearful to return to their homes. Unlike mushrooms, they have  feelings and experience terrible insecurity. We pray for fresh air and light in South Sudan.

Br Bill

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