Forget NRM, Aspire for That Top Job [opinion]

During a recent staff meeting, I groped for something, a metaphor to stimulate some of my younger colleagues to be more ambitious. (Yes, sometimes younger people can appear so reluctant to take their game to the next level).

And then, it came to me! I assured my colleagues that The Observer is not like the National Resistance Movement, where it borders on criminal to dream about occupying the top office.

I suggested that James Tumusiime, the ‘president’ of 1Tagore Crescent, will sleep soundly if he sees the place teeming with many potentially-excellent editors, managing editors and managing directors.

It is not, I argued, like the Museveni of State House, who become sleepless the moment a Ugandan starts being described as a ‘presidential’ material. Obviously, my colleagues laughed. But this virtual criminalisation of ambition in the ruling party does not augur well for public and corporate governance in the country.

As nestlings learn from the big birds how to weave secure nests, Ugandan organisations seem to be picking up the fear of ambition that pervades the corridors of power.

Look at your average nongovernmental organisation, sports association, corporate firm or even district department and you will find the same NRM character traits: you have a big man (or big woman) to whom everyone and everything submits and who must solve all problems, regardless of established policy you have people being targeted if they have too much ambition or potential, or if they insist on doing things systematically.

So, the way Museveni runs his party and country is the way many CEOs and country directors run their organisations.

In such an environment, Uganda is falling back as regards developing leaders. We are becoming a country of everyone for him or herself and God for us all.

Those who are at the top have little appetite for developing their brilliant juniors beyond the bureaucratic performance of job functions. They are not thinking: ‘let me support this person because tomorrow heshe might lead this organisation’.

Meanwhile, many young people seem to be buying into this unfortunate psyche, behaving like ministers who pride in declaring that the president is the only one with a vision to lead the country. But this also means they are not actively seeking the skills and dispositions required at the top level.

Progressive organisations know better. Their managers know that they will do better if their organisations are teeming with leaders. They encourage their juniors to aspire to acquire the skills possessed by their immediate supervisors. Rather than feel threatened, managers with an abundance mentality believe there is enough room at the top.

Organisations led by such managers have tremendous inertia, and can seamlessly pass from one chief executive to another. It may be too early to tell, but I suspect that if politics does not mess her up, Doris Akol will take Uganda Revenue Authority to even greater heights than Allen Kagina did.

When Kagina took over URA in 2004, she told her commissioners that she wanted them to aspire – and she was going to prepare them – to take over from her in ten years. That Kagina could promise to develop leaders to take her job, therefore, said something about her. And if the emergence of Akol is, in any way, a result of Kagina’s work, then Kagina deserves quite some credit.

To be fair, not all is lost. There are many talented youngsters, as well as organisations trying to provide a conducive environment for the emergence of leaders. It may be some time before their ‘graduates’ dominate the corporate management space, the way Kenyan CEOs seem to lead everything in Kampala, but that time will come.

What may delay it further is what is happening in NRM. The fact that NRM is the party in government increases the risk that government departments will behave like the ruling party, especially at a time when any insulation of the civil service from politics is disintegrating.

In 2011, in an article for the Guardian, I pointed out that in Uganda, it was not a good omen for any upcoming politician to be talked of as a potential president. Such a person would see their fortunes plummet and their misfortunes increase.

About two years later, the presidential aisor John Nagenda was asked by an interviewer if there were people in NRM capable of becoming president. He said firmly that he knew several. However, he refused to name names because he did not want to put them “in trouble”.

Any organisation that is like Nagenda’s NRM is only postponing its troubles.

Twitter: @RMKavuma The author is The Observer editor.

Source : The Observer

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