The word sabbatical is often used in relation to university teachers taking time off to work, study and/or travel. The idea behind the practice is that individuals will use the time to learn and grow and hence become better at their academic craft.
While the term is now more widely utilised outside academia it is still not a part of the parlance used with regards to leaders of countries. This is an oversight which should be corrected. The use of sabbaticals could help countries to learn from each other and to gain the benefit of sharing successful strategies and leadership skills.
While there are now study tours and visiting missions, the proposal here goes deeper. Undoubtedly, this would be a hard sell to a group of individuals who want to provide no better self-image than that of knowing it all and being completely in charge.
However, as we have seen, this attitude has not worked to the benefit of most countries. Let us take the Caribbean as an example. Many of the nations in this region have not seen positive economic growth in many years, their medical and general social services are in need of assistance and the reliance on aid or loans is above that which is comfortable.
Do not misunderstand though as the region is politically stable with high education standards and possesses many systems and structures which developing countries in other regions would love to have. What is missing is the steps to move forward and grow the Caribbean nations into majority upper middle income states with low crime rates.
How will sabbaticals for politicians help? The concept would help as it would allow for leaders in one country to visit another and learn in a hands-on manner. Imagine, for example, that the Prime Minister of Jamaica could come to Rwanda on a sabbatical. Let us be clear that this would be a working visit. Jackets off, shirts sleeves rolled up and pretensions and egos laid aside. The visit would be for a minimum of three months and the representative of the small island nation of Jamaica could focus on learning from this bigger but yet small landlocked African nation.
Here are a few things which could be learnt during the three month period:
The importance of implementing a performance based system of governance, not just for technocrats but also for elected and appointed officials, such as Ministers of Government and Permanent Secretaries. In Rwanda where targets are set and performance is measured against these targets more seems to be achieved at all levels.
The role of not just strong but committed leadership as a promoter of high levels of performance. In its review of the Millennium Development Goals, UNDP found that where leadership was strong and seeped in a strong sense of commitment, countries tended to perform at higher levels.
The cornerstone strategies for mobilising an entire nation around development.
Social media as a tool for engaging certain sectors of a population and keeping people informed.
How to devise and implement an Umuganda type programme to help build a sense of community and ownership around development within a country. Studies have shown that these programmes work. If we look outside Rwanda it can be seen where this type of initiative brings progress to a nation.
An example is Saemoul Undong (SU) in South Korea in the 1970s. In an article by the Asian Development Bank titled, The Saemaul Undong Movement in the Republic of Korea Sharing Knowledge on Community-Driven Development, it was noted that, “Ultimately, the most valuable long-term benefits of the SU movement were not its outward tangible achievements, but rather those that resulted from the sweeping change in the mentality of the people induced by the SU movement itself. In sum, the SU movement built a national confidence infused with a “can-do” spirit that transformed a former national mentality of chronic defeatism into new hope, a long-term shared vision of a better life for all, and an infectious enthusiasm sustained by volunteerism at the community level.”
In Rwanda itself, Umuganda has not only brought a sense of ownership to communities and a means through which people of different groups work together. According to the Rwanda Governance Board’s website, “The value of Umuganda to the country’s development since 2007 has been estimated at more than US$60 million”. By no means is this an insignificant amount.
While the idea of sabbaticals for leaders of developing nations is not currently under consideration, it is fair to say that it should be among the pool of strategies up for consideration. There has to be a time when being a part of the developing world becomes tired and old. How do we stop simply holding Singapore as a model and step forward and actually achieve our own title of developed nation?
The writer is a Jamaican political analyst and campaign strategist.