By Kadar Abdi Ibrahim
“Nothing is more dangerous than authority in the hands of those who don’t know how to use it.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Thoughts of a right mind.
One could not talk politics without understanding it. Practicing it has never been easy. Even less so in a country where an iron-fisted dictator reigns. Because, simply put, politics is contingent. Ever changing. Because leaders, whether real or fake, perpetually find themselves facing new situations that are, at least partly, unpredictable. Who would have imagined that Djibouti would find itself isolated in the Horn of Africa, amidst this upheaval where deep forces are at play? Clearly, it is unstable. Manifestly, cruel. Assuredly, incredulous.
Within this context, Djibouti cannot be run by men who lack strong convictions and who, from the outset, don’t have the stature of charismatic leaders, men who have been driven, in the “statepartisan-clan-like” structurization of current political life, to make arcane decisions for the nation. This is what the German Sociologist, Max Weber, described perfectly, using a German expression that has since become famous, “the rise of the BERUFSPOLITIKER OHNE BERUF”, illustrating the arrival of “professional politicians, with neither vocation, nor conviction,” in his founding work of modern sociology, “The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.”
This, in large part, explains the composition of Djibouti’s current government, in which it has become possible for people to take advantage of their situation, by virtue of their political control and impunity, each in their own way, with their own 15 minutes of fame. This also explains the composition of the National Assembly, where people are chosen based on their servility and obedience, in sum, their ability to not rankle the volition of those above. Finally, this explains that, for some, pedigree alone is enough to take on senior roles that are far above their level of competence.
This is why this country needs men that will take it out of its conventional paths, who are capable of shaking up established order to understand the reality of the conditions that surround them and to feel the corresponding impulses in a great moment of unity. In other words, men of character, instinct and unity.
All politicians provoke controversies. The demands on them are heterogenous. Some, tribal. Or communitarian. Others national or financial. The charismatic leader must incorporate them and transform them into a collective demand – a shared passion – embodying this as his identity. He will be, in empirical terms, the representation. Starting from there, a double vertical movement begins, which he must make endure: “From the represented to representation and from representation to the represented”. Unifying is he.
The little dictator entertains. He upholds splits and divisions. He ensures instability. His irresponsibility is too often glaring. Blocking anything time sensitive, he can’t stop wavering between projects, constantly being tugged this way or that. His signature, changing sides. The little dictator rules by tricks and by force. By lying and by falsehoods. Lacking a homogeneous perception of the population, he cannot reign over a population that grows larger and more diverse. Sectarian is he.
Effusion, the true leader doesn’t know it. Nor narcissistic fever. The same with ostentatious rewards. Controversy and its hype, he confronts them: “Difficulty attracts the man of character, because it is through his embrace of it that he fulfills his true potential,” Charles de Gaulle taught us in “War Memoirs.” In the face of events, the man of character leaves his trace. The leader navigates between dreams and reality. Between meticulous logic and sheer madness. Obeyed and followed is he.
The little dictator, lacking confidence, needs to surround himself by a press and a group of people who laud him, who devote themselves to his personality cult and who build his hagiography. With a desire to please, he grants them everything they want. His integrity. His honor. Unable to answer to his responsibilities, more often than not, he runs off. Taking risks is never his business. Nor taking initiatives. In the little that he undertakes, he mixes indecency and buffoonery. Through restlessness, he makes it appear to himself and to others that he has influence on events. Without prestige and without resiliency is he.
Instinct, a natural strength in a true leader, gives him illuminated judgements, the logical series of next steps to be taken. It precedes, as part of its conception, each decision. It is thanks to instinct that he firmly grasps the deep reality surrounding him. He senses everything. This intuition, which bestows command upon the leader, is it not what Gustave Flaubert talk about in “Salammbô,” when he described Hannibal as a teenager, already carrying the traces of “the indefinable splendour of those who are destined to great enterprises”? All the great men who have marked history are endowed with this. Is it not what Alexander the Great called, more commonly, “his hope”? Caesar, “his fortune”? Napoleon, “his star”?
The leader who is thus carried by these three (3) personal qualities: character, instinct and the ability to unify, has in his possession a certain voice quality. Words that are capable of moving, of carrying, of galvanizing and of convincing, not simply with rhetorical and communicational methods, as we often see on Facebook, but because through it we hear a voice lifted by the spirit, something that one can barely make out, only through the eyes of authenticity and the angle of conviction. Thus, does this voice not phenomenalize these three ferments and does it not produce persuasion ?
Until today, this country has only had little dictators, not applying themselves to prescribe what has not been prescribed by higher authority. As much in the majority, as in the opposition. With the exception of the rare personalities who never had the opportunity to do their work. Namely, the regrettable Ahmed Dini. In this vein, Raymond Aron, in his “Introduction to Weber,” summarizes in a striking formula the great distinctive traits of a leader in writing: “Man obeys leaders that custom sanctions, that reason shows, that enthusiasm lifts above all others.” In other words: tradition, rationality and charisma.
Over 41 years after our independence, the Republic is still waiting for its prodigal sons and daughters!
* Kadar Abdi Ibrahim is a freelance Journalist, former University Professor, human rights defender and currently Secretary General of the MoDeL party.