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An Exciting Time For The Developing World

• Published on 15 Dec. 2011 • Category : nyforum

As I have mentioned before on this blog, one of the most pressing questions of our time is leadership – and the lack of it. Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of moderating a discussion on this topic at the MEDays in Tangiers, which is organized by the Amadeus institute, one of Morocco’s most prominent independent think-tanks.

This year, the world has faced some big economic challenges. The world’s largest economy – the US – lost its triple-A rating, the Eurozone plunged into crisis, and citizens around the world began to protest against their governments. At the same time, Europe’s leaders have not yet found a solution to their problems, and in the US, politicians failed to produce a plan to deal with the deficit. In all of this turmoil, the developing world is starting to take a new role.

This point was highlighted by Alejandro Toledo, the former president of Peru, who noted that the crisis creates opportunities. Leadership is not just a matter for China, or Europe, or the United States, he said. “Africa, Latin America, and the Arab world, have leaders.”

Toledo’s own background provides a salutary tale about success in the face of adversity: one of 16 children, seven of whom died in the first year of their lives, he went on to complete a Phd at Stanford and become president of his country. He observed that leaders must be able to make independent decisions. Those who rely too much on public opinion and approval ratings will never bring about progress.

In some regions the question is simply who are the leaders? Forbes magazine recently published  its list of the 70 most powerful people in the world, and none of them came from Africa. Yet Dr. Cheick Modibo Diarra, chairman of Microsoft Africa, who is running for the presidency of Mali, said that he encounters African leaders every day – they are just not necessarily in politics.

Lamido Sanusi, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, pointed out that corruption remains a major problem in Africa. But he also said that Europe’s leaders face challenges, observing that following the banking crisis, none of the bankers were penalized, nor did investigations take place. “When leaders are afraid of asking questions, they will never find solutions.” (Since the conference, Forbes magazine has recognized Sanusi with the inaugural Africa Person of the Year award).

Banking regulation, and the need for it, made up a prominent part of the discussion. Toledo observed, “I’m a man who believes in the market economy but with all due respect I’m not ready to give a blank check to the bankers.” Sanusi said that we must clean up the relationship between politics and finance. The financial industry lobbies politicians and contributes to their campaigns. In these circumstances they lose sight of who they serve. “It’s very difficult for a man sitting in the White House to listen to anybody other than Wall Street,” Sanusi said. “We need a situation where leaders actually recognize that their responsibility is to the people who vote for them, and that very often the interests of those people in Wall Street is antithetical to the interests of the man on main street.”

At this particular session there were some good questions from the floor. One young man asked why countries that are so rich in natural resources often have the poorest populations. The speakers agreed that it’s not enough to depend on natural resources for income. Sanusi offered Nigeria as an example – it is Africa’s biggest oil exporter, but 90% of the population lives on less than $2 per day. “The oil industry does not create jobs,” he said. “It makes a lot of money for the industry and for the government.”

For Toledo, education is the key, and it is particularly important at a time of unrest. “We need to invest in nutrition, healthcare, in quality of education,” he said. “There is no more profitable investment  an individual or society can make than investing in the minds of the people.”

And Dr. Cheick Modibo Diarra had an optimistic message for young people. “You guys have a heavy concentration of leaders, in the next generation. Push the rest of us who are coming to retirement a little bit so that we can give you  the space for you to start shining.”

In recognition of these complex issues, next year’s New York Forum conference will invite leaders from civil society – ordinary people who are achieving great things.

See more on Youtube – Plenary : The South in the World Economic Governance: What role can it play in a renovated financial and monetary system?

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