On Leadership Qualities and Ratu Sukuna by Masi
At its small stall at the 2011 Suva Hibiscus Festival, the NGO Pacific Dialogue displayed a range of unlabelled leaders’ photographs. For a Lucky Dip prize, passers-by were invited to guess the names of the leaders, and to tell us why they were leaders ,what qualities had they, what had they done, and why did people follow them.
“Did people follow them because they had money?” we asked, or “Were they followed because they had guns and threatened people who didn’t follow?” Of the visitors to our stall who chose to answer those questions, all agreed that the leaders weren’t followed because they had money, or guns – but because they had something else ― vision, humility, wisdom, patience, strength, fortitude, because they stood up for what was right; helped people; showed compassion; fought for justice and tolerance; were intelligent; believed in the goodness of people … and much more.
Yes, for the purpose of argument, I am being one-eyed here: the world has also spawned men such as Hitler who led millions of people and who had none of those qualities.
Who were these leaders we displayed?
Yes, one of them did have a gun (Che Guevara of central America) and two of them were instrumental in massive and armed people’s uprisings (Sukarno of Indonesia and Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam), and probably Sukano possible also had money. Before his 27-year-long prison term, another leader, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, toyed with the idea of mounting an armed uprising. “Those people with guns,” we asked our stall visitors, “were they still leaders?” “Oh yes”, came the common response, “because they did other things”. In other words, having guns was not the reason these four men were followed by hundreds and thousands of people.
Our stall visitors recognised that they, along with Mother Theresa of India, Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, Mahatma Gandhi of South Africa and India, the Dalai Lama of Nepal, Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna and Martin Luther King Jr of the United States of America, all had in common the qualities of good leadership – the human traits that engender community well-being, common destiny, nationhood, and the rights of people to be equally regarded.
At our stall at the Hibiscus Festival we portrayed only one Fijian in the suite of international leaders. We could have added others, people like Private Sukunaivalu, Hannah Dudley, Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, John Bates Thurston, Jai Ram Reddy and A.D. Patel. And if we'd widened our scope to the Pacific we could have included 'Akilisi Pohiva of Tonga, Taius Elway ofWest Papua, Jean-Marie Tjibaou of Kanake-New Caledonia, to name a few. What was it in these people that encouraged people to follow them; for people to refer to them as ‘leaders’?
At most points in life, people with leadership qualities are followed by others: the kindergarten child who leads her friends in games; the high school students who are voted head girl and head boy; the tertiary students who are elected to represent other students … are only different in maturity to the people as adults whom thousands of people will follow.
And those immature people don’t have money or guns.
I recall a maxim I first heard twenty years ago: ‘A leader is someone whose people declare “we did it ourselves”’. In other words, a leader does not appoint, or call himself or herself The Leader – no. The people do – often unknowingly and voicelessly – by following, being inspired, supporting, learning, identifying right from wrong, appreciating the peace and strength of a unified society, ‘feeling good’ about themselves and their community.
Recently, our local media reported that some people petitioned the Prime Minister to revert to the old arrangement of land lease rent distribution. The reason for the request, the media reported, was because they claimed that the lack of money undermined their role of ‘leader’ [chief], and that because they did not receive more money than did their clansmen, they had lost their people’s respect.
But wait! – save any criticism you may have of the petitioners! – because they are merely voicing the generally-held perception that only by having money may one be respected. That is, people having money are respected —and leaders are respected —therefore leaders must have money. Ask ourselves: are we respecting the person or the money? What has the money done to earn our respect? Are we really saying, then, that money is a leader?
In ‘the old days’ in Fiji, men leaders were leaders because they had strength, good ‘negotiation’ skills; they excelled in battle, provided for and looked after their people, and they were wise. In Tonga, people bring gifts for the king on his birthday, and he distributes the gifts to poor families. In the old days, did that happen here in Fiji? Did the chiefs have to pay for their respect? I don’t believe so. I am told instead that chiefs have ‘mana’ – a kind of wisdom, bound with inner strength. People follow(ed) and listen(ed) to them; give (gave) them respect, because they have (had) ‘mana’. ‘Mana’ is not inter-changeable with money.
All school pupils are told that Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna died penniless, not even having any possession to leave his widow because in life, he didn’t feel the need of ‘extras’. Fijians followed him, and many still do. A description of that national leader, appropriate for today, is provided by ‘Islands in the Stream’: surely it gives us ordinary Fijians reason to pause and look both within ourselves and around us at what could be again:
‘Amidst the hysteria, we need to pay quiet attention to Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna. His leadership was unrivalled and his focus on the people and not on his own direct benefit was and remains without rival. Ratu Sukuna died impecunious. He had never taken advantage of any public office for himself nor for any member of his own family. Of whom else may this be said? Of whom may we assert now “This was a man who placed the public interest above all”? We have been and to some extent still are surrounded by racists, robbers and intimidators. No change of lasting benefit may be achieved through coercion. And those who live and rely on public money must account for every dollar and for each and every cent to those who provide their benefit. “And in the course of the next fifty years, ‘Quo Vadis’?” Surely, it is above all the abiding, gentle humility, insight and vision that marks out this great man? His signal achievement: an ability to avoid the insistence that only he knew best.’
I wonder where will Fiji be in three years’ time? Will it be just the same as it has been for the past thirty years? Or will this Pacific country of Fiji, that has so much to offer in its people and its beauty, be led by — LEADERS?
[Next weekend Masi will look at leadership and the forthcoming elections.]