LEADERSHIP VACUUM [Archives:1998/37/Front Page]

September 14 1998

There is a strange phenomenon that has encompassed the world, as we leave the 20th century – a leadership vacuum. Weakened and unacceptable leaders seem to be at the helm of important countries all over the world. While such a situation could be dangerous, some specialists say that it is the sign of erosion of government. It indicates the falling prestige of officialdom.
At the international level, it is easy to see that the largest and strongest countries of the world suffer from this malaise. Look at the situation of the United States of America, the uncontested leader of the world. President Bill Clinton is so weakened by his own mistakes that he is unable to lead in the full sense. The Russian Federation is another example. President Boris Yeltsin now tends to escape to his private home on the outskirts of Moscow where he remains in seclusion for days or even weeks. Japan has been paralyzed by frequent changes in government leading to very short-term policies. In Germany, the nation awaits the 27th September elections. Even here, a formerly strong Helmut Kohl is seen as a man who is clinging on to power in spite of the need for change. In France, Jacque Chirac is visibly weakened by the co-habitation with a prime minister from another party.
Of course, there are exceptions. Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom is a case in point. But the overall trend worldwide has shown badly weakened leaders.
Within the Middle East, one can see numerous examples of weakened leaders. Our immediate neighbor, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, suffers from this problem. HM King Fahd is an ailing man, who has repeatedly fallen into coma. HE Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan of the United Arab Emirates has been hospitalized on emergency cases several times. The same is true of another great leader, HM King Hussain. The same is also true of Syrian President Hafez Assad.
Turkey has an embattled Prime Minister, Messoud Yilmaz, who is at the head of a fragile coalition. In Israel, Iraq, and several other countries, although the leaders are able-bodied, they are not in high standing with their own people.
Across the Red Sea, the same can be said of our African neighbors. President Hassan Gouled of Djibouti is a very old man who has not made arrangements for a succession. Disenchantment with Danier Arap Moi in Kenya has led to unrest in that country. President Assias Afewerke of Eritrea has taken his country to several wars in his short five-years of rule.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been in charge of Yemen for the last 20 years. Although technically his powers are uncontested, his grip over things seems to be slipping. Many Yemenis openly speak about the uncontrollable power centers in the country. The President has often promised to bring law and order, as well as accountability to the political life in the country. He has failed to deliver. The reason is that such measures would bring him head-on against the various power centers – political, tribal, military, etc.
The conclusion that experts draw of the Yemeni situation is that President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been weakened by the intricate network of power centers which seem to run the country. That is why, although he may be convinced of the need to clean up the system, he has not dared address this matter in a bold way.
Many analysts believe that the world does not need strong central leaders. “It is actually a good thing that countries should have weaker central leaders. But we do need strong institutions and systems,” explained a political scientist at Aden University. This phenomenon makes sense to a world value system which empowers the people and which dictates “small government is good government”. But on many occasions, it is clear that a strong political leadership – within a system of checks and balances – is necessary to guide local and international relations.