The UN is in a pickle. It has virtually been unable to take the leadership of the pandemic world crisis. The World Health Organisation (WHO) botched it, flip-flopping constantly and António Guterres, wailing and complaining, said “We need leadership,” appealing to world leaders to come together and tackle the coronavirus crisis.
What escapes the secretary-general of the UN is that he is a kind of leader himself. Why does not he and his WHO, with its 200 affiliated scientists, forever toiling for evidence of climate change, turn their labour to finding a cure for the pernicious virus? Is that not their primary responsibility — world health?
Besides, just outside his door are all the world leaders or their representatives, why not hold a special general assembly and examine what each country has to offer instead of each one going alone?
An even simpler procedure is to reach out to his own Security Council, the most powerful international body, not only in the UN but in the world. Since it is obvious there is lack of leadership at WHO, Guterres should persist in his efforts to reach some kind of unanimous guidelines from the members of the Security Council.
Ah, but we forget who are the members of the Security Council. The US will never agree with China and vice-versa. The UK’s gaffes in managing the virus indicate a confusion of conduct. France’s Macron suffers from internal headaches from his “yellow vests” and Le Pen’s conservatives, he can hardly cope with international headaches. Then there is Russia — and not one will follow its lead. Therefore, the UN as well as its most powerful body have proved to be impotent in addressing the pandemic.
Each country is dealing with it on its own and we remain victims of experimentation and exploitation, of rumours and falsehoods, of quacks and mercenaries, as we waver between hope and despair.
We need leadership. Indeed, we do if we long for the normality and security of the life we lost. We need a dedicated, untiring, inspiring leader, who will not rest until he/she provides us with a safe, reliable, unerring cure.
Who are the leaders on the world scene today who are honest, credible, principled, trustworthy and committed?
There is more. A leader must be able to inspire us, show us empathy, be passionate about his beliefs and must have the gift of oratory, at least convince us of his intent by word or deed. Such a leader, we shall follow. Such a leader will lead us from the swamp to safety.
Can you think of such a leader in the 21st century?
The century is still young and one or many leaders may emerge, but we need one now.
In our search we find the world of technology and electronics has made great contributions by brilliant leaders who have literally changed our lives. Among them, Zuckerberg of Facebook, Bill Gates of Microsoft, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Howard Schulz of Starbucks, and others.
Then there is the archetypal 21st century leader, Steve Jobs, memorable for his capacity to spur innovation and harness it into productive use for mankind. His rise from poverty to become one of the most influential men of our times is a story for the history books.
He would have been potentially a great world leader, but alas, he is dead.
How about political leaders? The trend of a decline in the public’s confidence in political office was evident by the startling election of Donald Trump in 2016 over the seasoned, lifetime politician Hillary Clinton.
One politician who has done exceedingly well is Germany’s Angela Merkel. Male leaders underestimated her low-key style but she was able to govern, to serve, to lead and elevate Germany to the most powerful country in Europe. But can that translate, internationally?
Surprisingly, it was two young girls who captured the world’s imagination and admiration.
The first, Malala Youssefzai of Pakistan, who was shot in the head by a Taliban member because she demanded an education for herself and all young girls. Malala just graduated from Oxford and was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for fighting for 132 million girls worldwide who do not attend school.
Who can forget Greta Thurnberg, the diminutive young climate change activist who charmed the world with her conviction and chided the UN members for their complacency, crying, “How dare you” steal our future?
Great role models for women, but do they possess the qualities of international leadership to face our present crisis?
Undoubtedly, all prophets are leaders, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed were leaders who changed the world, and so did Buddha, Confucius, etc. Is there amongst us such a leader, whose words can heal our bodies as well as our souls?
These are among the worst of times for leadership, but arguably they can also be the best of times. Some leaders are born to lead, some are obliged to develop skills and then there are those who find leadership flung on them, and they must rise to the occasion. Dare we hope for a Nelson Mandela? Could there be another Winston Churchill somewhere? Can there only be one Abraham Lincoln to free the world’s slaves?
Yes, miracles still happen.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.