Failed state symptomatic of reactionary leadership

By Jacob K. Lupai


February 22, 2012 (SSNA) — A statement that a failed state is symptomatic of reactionary leadership is likely to be received with mixed emotions. Eye brows may be raised in anticipation of further elaboration. However, a critical analysis of realities on the ground may increase an understanding of the extent to which a failed state is symptomatic of reactionary leadership.

People in the world are of multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious societies. It is therefore not difficult to comprehend what the root causes of internal conflicts in a society may be. The root cause of internal conflicts is the lack of sensitivity to the differences within the society. There is always the unfair power and wealth sharing among the different groups. For example, one ethnic group may always try at any cost to maintain a dominant grip on power and wealth to the exclusion of others.

A challenge to such ethnic domination is considered by those in power as a threat to national unity. However, such tricks for ethnic domination disguised as endeavours for national unity are a deceptive cover for ethnic hegemony. This brings in the concept of reactionary leadership in relation to the extent to which a state becomes a failed state in the context of Sub Saharan Africa.

Characteristics of a failed state

It may be interesting to know what the characteristics of a failed state are. Foremost the glaring characteristic of a failed state is the absolute breakdown of rule of law and order. Many factors contribute to breakdown of rule of law and order. Human rights violation is one factor when it occurs in a scale that the system is unable to cope with and the subsequent massive reaction of those whose human rights are being violated that each takes the law into their hands. Another important factor is when heinous crimes are being perpetually committed and the system is unable to bring the perpetrators to justice leaving the victims with the perception that the state has failed them. One factor is the absolute lack of discipline in the system where juniors blatantly defy orders from seniors or from above. The management of the system is in shambles as indiscipline is rampant. Absolute irregularities in finances make the system to be heavily infested with greedy and corrupt money grabbers.

One important characteristic of a failed state are tribal or clan wars and also religious wars. Somalia in the Horn of Africa is a typical example of a failed state because of clan and religious wars. Recently radical Islamists have entered the scene in consolidating Somalia as indeed a failed state. In the final analysis a failed state is characterized by the absolute lack of a robust central system that can cope with all sorts of scenarios. The system itself may become part of the problem. This could be because the system was nothing but a composition of reactionaries involved in all sorts of things ranging from land and money grabbing to turning a blind eye to criminal activities because of vested interest. Naturally this wouldn’t be the way to build a nation.

Reactionary leadership

The word reactionary may be defined as tending to oppose especially political change to return to the former system. Reactionary leadership may therefore be seen as opposing reforms. In a country considered to be multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious reforms are inevitable for flexibility in accommodating diversities in nation-building. People fight a liberation war for a political change but not to return to the old system of oppression. Reactionary leadership tends to live in the dream world of the past. It is therefore not strange to associate a failed state with reactionary leadership that does not look beyond their noses. Mohamed Siyaad Barre of Somalia was probably a reactionary leader who contributed greatly to Somalia now being a failed state. He was instead paranoid of the unity of Somalia. Siyaad Barre increasingly personal and repressive rule did not bring in the necessary reforms to address the challenges facing his government. Ultimately Siyaad Barre’s repressive rule brought Somalia into a non-state situation people see today. Siyaad Barre’s reactionary leadership of turning clans against each other has made Somalia a failed state by all standards. The Somalia’s situation may offer a lesson to others in nation-building.

Revolutionary leadership

The word revolutionary involves great and often violent change or innovation and to innovate is to bring in new methods or ideas to make changes. It can be seen that revolutionary leadership is associated with change and innovation. This suggests that a revolutionary is creative and innovative unlike the somewhat backward looking reactionary. A revolutionary does not accept fossilised principles as a faith but a developing and creative science that reflects objective reality. They scrutinise reality, studying all aspects and developing theoretical conclusions to bring them in line with requirements of life on the ground. In short revolutionaries base their actions on scientific analysis and objective reality in addressing challenges. This is in contrast to the utopia of reactionaries who are whimsical in their actions. Reactionaries may rely on daydreaming in addressing challenges. In most case they get it wrong because of poor targeting and being unrealistic where challenges are not properly addressed. It is therefore no wonder that when the leadership is reactionary progression to a failed state situation may be rapid. Dynamic, progressive and revolutionary leadership may fare better in addressing challenges than reactionary leadership.

Choice to make

The choice here is between reactionary and revolutionary leadership. However, it is not so simplistic. There is no black and white dividing line between reactionary and revolutionary leadership. There are elements of both reactionary and revolutionary in a leader. It may be the degree to which one is inclined to either be a reactionary and revolutionary. Formation of political parties may give a clue as to whether they are reactionary and revolutionary. This may be revealed in their respective manifestos. However, manifestos may mostly reveal intentions of future course of action but not necessarily what has already been achieved. It is therefore unreliable to conclude from manifestos that one party is reactionary and the other is revolutionary. According to their manifestos all political parties would appear revolutionary. One factor, however, is missing from the equation. The equation is manifesto plus action equals reactionary or revolutionary (manifesto+action=reactionary or revolutionary). The missing factor is action. Evaluation is often carried out on the basis of what has been done (action) corresponding to the expressed intentions or objectives. More often action does not tally with the manifesto hence in practice mismanagement of state affairs may be sky high which may also progressively lead to a failed state situation. It is therefore what has been done (action) that can demonstrate whether a state has reactionary or revolutionary leadership. Making an informed choice is dependent on knowledge of leadership that is pragmatic, patriotic, uncompromising and has done what they had announced in public as their priorities. After a year in office one may have a fair view whether a leader has been reactionary or revolutionary. At the end of the term of office a fairly clearer picture will emerge whether the state was ruled by a reactionary or revolutionary leadership. The electorate then will have an informed choice assuming bribery or irregularities do not take place.

Political reforms

In any political system reforms are naturally inevitable. This is because the world is not monolithic but dynamic. Changes occur and it is through reforms that people keep pace with developments. Dictatorship either by reactionaries or revolutionaries may lead to tyranny and creation of the world of psychopants who sing songs the one in power wants to hear and be entertained with. How damaging this may be to nation-building is not clear. However, to steer clear of dictatorship reforms are necessary. One political reform is where any member of a party can nominate themselves or be nominated to fill any office in the political system. The restrictive nomination and endorsement system by a party polit-bureau is undemocratic as the bulk of ordinary members and sympathizers are excluded from the exercise. An example is the overwhelming success of one independent over the official candidate for the governorship of Western Equatoria State. The official candidate was nominated and endorsed by the party polit-bureau but the one not nominated and endorsed by the same party polit-bureau convincingly won in the elections. Other members were also nominated and endorsed by the party polit-bureau but failed miserably. This seems to call for reforms for the party to be reflective of democratic principles.


An electoral system where nominees battle it out in the open for members and sympathizers to elect the most popular nominee for a candidate for a political office is worth consideration. This system brings out the most popular candidate for election to political office. The popular candidate becomes the flag bearer of their political party. This is unlike when nominations and endorsements of candidates are done behind closed doors in the absence of popular participation by ordinary members. Some of the results in the last election showed clearly that what the party polit-bureau considered suitable candidates were not necessarily suitable to the electorate. This clearly should be a lesson for reforms to take place.

In conclusion, reactionary leadership is most likely to lead a country to a failed state situation. This is because reactionary leadership is preoccupied with survival skills of destruction without being innovative to overcome the characteristics of a failed state. When making a choice it is important to evaluate what has been done in relation to the party’s manifesto. More often the party’s manifesto hardly tallies with the actions promised to be carried out. In such a situation the choice should be obvious.

The author can be reached at [email protected]

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