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America's Tit-for-Tat Leadership can Garner Lessons from Best Practices in Africa

· Leadership

As the coronavirus spreads around the world, Senegal, in West Africa, is an example of what effective coordination between government, science, business and civil society looks like:

  • The Senegalese government, at national, regional and local levels, responded swiftly and energetically to the first coronavirus cases on its soil. It swiftly isolated the infected, provided clear public messaging, initiated preventive measures, and rallied together  political players and stakeholders of influence, regardless of affiliation, the private sector and civil society as a whole.
  • The Institut Pasteur de Dakar began immediately working with a UK biotech firm to develop a “point of need” hand-held test kit that can diagnose Covid19 in 10 minutes.
  • The IRESSEF (Institute for Research in Epidemiological Health Surveillance and Training) has taken charge of coronavirus diagnostic testing, enabling not only more extensive testing but also full integration of the nation’s ensemble of capabilities to fight against the virus.
  • Religious and other community leaders, in collaboration with local authorities, are actively providing concerted information about the virus and the preventive measures required to stop the spread. All media is being used, including town criers on motorcycle.

The response to COVID-19 is not a PR game

 

Meanwhile, in the U.S., as the contagion soars, according to the latest figures, to more than 18,000 people infected and more than 250 dead, a know-it-all White House full of unrequited pride has morphed into a public relations outfit hungry for the spotlight. But the fight against the coronavirus is not a PR game or a reality show about who has the loudest battle cry.

 

Messaging in times of crisis is not about what you’re trying to do while waiting through artillery barrage. It’s about making the right decisions even if they’re tough and unpopular, explaining why you’ve made them, and then following through with a wise use of available resources, including human resources,

 

What this public health crisis reveals is how a tit-for tat style of leadership can endanger public health. This is the kind of leadership America is, sadly, exemplifying in these trying moments: leadership with an unsteady and self-serving hand (rather than an invisible one). The result: an economy of disaffection, one that is marked by dissatisfaction with the nation’s topmost authority and by disequilibrium between data-based information and wishful thinking, between action and inaction, between passivity and urgency, between competency and platitude, between blame and accountability, between negligence and responsibility.

 

The results of a tit-for-tat style of leadership

 

A tit-for-tat style of leadership is fickle in nature and suffers from tunnel vision, a lack of self-awareness and an irrational fear of experts. It has resulted in translating Trump’s “America First” into “America Crippled”. The U.S. may still be the a leading nation among nations, but just like most workforces are only as capable as their leader, so is a government administration.

 

Most public officials and government workers have the good fortune of being competent, responsible, sentient, adaptable individuals. Unfortunately, the few who have a good fortune, however much that fortune may be worth (even after selling a significant share of their stocks while irresponsibly minimizing the coronavirus threat), and also have the good fortune of being in positions of top decision-making and influence are also either as self-serving and narcissistic as their leader or have the misfortune of having been overcome by the stink of bad leadership.

 

Trump’s failure to heed the early warnings issued by U.S. intelligence agencies about a possible pandemic, coupled with strambotic negligence, confusing communication and off point messages, and a callously sluggish response to its onset, has revealed in the raw the accumulated results of decades of economic disaffection. The White House could definitely learn something from the Senegalese approach to dealing with the pandemic: a holistic, proactive, concerted, forward-looking approach to infection, with clear messaging that expresses confidence in expert knowledge, allows health authorities to expand their reach through a systematic prevention, testing and treatment strategy and motivates inclusive collaboration from all sectors of society.

 

Astrid Ruiz Thierry, Principal, Upboost LLC

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