What does moral leadership mean to you?
In short, it means nothing. ‘Moral leadership’ is meaningless. Free of context, moral leadership, to borrow from King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes, is ‘utterly meaningless’.
How then, do we attribute meaning to the rather abstract concept leadership, let alone, of moral leadership? How do we infuse it with normative meaning? In other words, what is the context in which the question is posed? For, this question would not have been asked by the Carnegie Council’s Ethics for a Connected World if there is little, or no, belief in the possibility of drawing up a charter which would attribute meaning to moral leadership.
We need only to re-consider the founding Church Peace Union’s resolution in 1914 to find a remedy for the state of the world. The signatories of the February 10th meeting of 1914 resolved to ameliorate the state of the world by imploring the political leaders of countries to reduce military expenditure on gargantuan –sized standing armies and their armory, and, by ensuring that the high seas remained free from piracy. Crucially, governments, like the citizens, had to do so within established legal procedure before the courts.
A body like the Church Peace Union, comprising primarily of church leaders, presented to the world the face of belief, of commitment, and of moral accountability. Today, the Christian church may not hold as much sway as it did in 1914 since most recognized international relations structures, such as the United Nations, represent secular political entities more than they do religio-political entities. However, if we do recall the similarly broad mandate of the League of Nations’ mandate to maintain world peace post-World War One and to rebuild the German economy, it is possible to distinguish a connection, 100 years later, between the Church Peace Union’s ambition to strive for peaceable relations between international polities and to rebuild a broken world economy, and the call of the members of the Carnegie Council to find an ethics for a connected world.
The members of founding organizations have a superficially simpler task of charting course of action. This task presents as simple, but it is not. Almost a century later, the current incarnation of the Church Peace Union is still in existence and charged with continuing the 1914 Resolution in a world political and economic context structurally different from the originating one. Yet, at root, the two mandates remain the same. The first is to reduce the size of standing armies (which costs, for example, the United States government trillions of dollars to fight a new war that requires different a defensive strategy to from that of the Cold War. And, which also siphons away money from research, social welfare, and international aid). And, the second is to re-open and retain peaceable relations on the open seas for commerce, particularly the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean around the Horn of Africa. Piracy around the Horn down to Mozambique feeds the beast of war on the African continent, particularly in Somalia, Kenya, and, Ethiopia.
In our contemporary world it may be more difficult to seek and find moral leadership: another World War did follow the Great War; another world recession did follow the Great Depression; totalitarianism – accompanied by the political and economic mutation of Marxian economic thought - did exist for nearly 60 years in the 20th century, despite the resolve of smaller bodies such as the Church Peace Union, now the Carnegie Council as well as the larger League of Nations, now the United Nations, to prevent men killing each other on a large scale or the rise of piracy around the Horn of Africa.
Despondently, we may believe it more difficult to seek and find moral leadership in our time since the cohesive religious leadership represented by the Church Peace Union’s Christian ethics exists no longer. However, the absence of the Christian moral leadership does not mean the absence of moral leadership at all. It is merely the absence of a particular kind of moral leadership.
The world has changed dramatically over the past 100 years. It is now our responsibility to find and build up moral leaders in our homes, our communities, and our countries, who display integrity: a wholeness of being. Someone who is honest, sincere, and incorruptible: in private and in public. There must be no inconsistency between the public persona and the private person. This individual must not be beyond reproach or above criticism, but be a person who strives to hold on such admired codes of behavior as honesty; uprightness; a clear conviction of right and wrong; self-accountability and self-reflection; and most of all, humility of mind and action. Humility, and the acceptance of sound critique from advisors and close friends, is a particularly difficult attribute to embrace, but it is necessary and non-negotiable. This individual must also hold in high regard the rule of national and international law. Sans respect for and accountability to national, regional and international, legally instituted and mandated bodies such as the African Union or the United Nations – with their bureaucratic weaknesses – any man or woman of impeccable character is susceptible – to the trappings, and worse, the conveniences, of political power.
I am a South African. I live in a complex society. This society has high levels of crime, particularly dastardly crime. The world’s perception of my country is that is a whorl of crime and corruption. Donald Trump recently tweeted as much. On hearing of the death of Nelson Mandela, he expressed his feeling of liking for Mandela, the South African, but that South Africa – the country – is a crime-ridden mess waiting to explode. And that this was not a good situation for South Africans. Leslie Sedibe, CEO of the country’s national brand, ‘Proudly South African’, displayed some of the characteristics of moral leadership. He retained his composure, and penned a dignified response to Trump’s tweet. Sedibe wrote an open letter to a Sunday broadsheet. In his letter, Sedibe defended South Africa, and hinted that this society is somewhat more complex than is at first perceived. While not denying the level of crime, Sedibe did stress the point that societies are shaped by different histories, and that these histories can include particular kinds of crime. For example, mass school shootings are a phenomenon in the United States, but not in South Africa.
One can infer from Sedibe’s attempt to explain South Africa to Trump as feeble, and also slightly disingenuous since he happens to be the brand manager of the country. That may be so, but I understood that Sedibe was trying, in an appropriate forum, to explain to Trump and other influential investors that all is not lost now that Mandela is dead. Nor, that the country is on a downward spiral. In fact, the rule of law does exist in this country and is effective, even when victims –justifiably - feel aggrieved by legal findings. But since law and justice are not the same, it behooves citizens and political leaders alike to respect the rule of law. And when the law needs to be amended, there is in place a functioning parliament in which to do so.
Where Sedibe perhaps disappointed one, was by openly declaring that he had to attempt to restore the image of South Africa – via the image of Nelson Mandela (dead and alive) – for sake of investment into South Africa. This last startled one from under one’s idealistic rock! But, I concede that Sedibe through his epistolary mode of response, accorded Donald Trump respect (seeing beyond his celebrity) through the choice of measured print writing over the quicker ripostes, so much a characteristic of social networks. This is laudable and does go some way to demonstrate a few attributes of moral leadership: integrity, sincerity, accountability and humility (especially in the face of the larger than life public figure that is Donald Trump). Perhaps Sedibe does have to account for brand South Africa, but at least he feels committed and convicted enough to building up South Africa by opening himself to be accountable to others. And, criticized by his peers for adopting a ‘soft’ approach to Donald Trump.
There is no one kind of moral leadership, but the kind of moral leadership that displays integrity (and that is open to criticism from one’s one supporters) is for me as a person, a wife, a mother, a daughter, and a friend, the kind of moral leadership that is both inspirational and aspirational.
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Beverley Joy Pratt
School: University of South Africa
Level of study: Post-graduate (MA: Theory of Literature)