Zambian leader apologizesI read a lot of news from all different parts of the world. So there's very little that surprises me anymore. But every so often, a headline makes my jaw drop. For example, earlier this week, I saw a headline that read:
I failed Zambia, says president
Zambia's President Levy Mwanawasa apologized to his countrymen for failing to tackle poverty.
"It has not been possible to reduce poverty and I feel sad about it," Levy Mwanawasa said, describing the issue as "one of my failures".
"Unfortunately, if Zambians made a mistake to elect me as president, they are stuck with me," he added.
"Poverty continues to grip our nation. I want to work hard this year so that poverty levels are reduced," he said.
Politicians rarely apologize, except on specific issues for the purpose of diffusing a particular crisis. I can't remember the last time any leader, from any part of the world, apologized for generally failing in his duties.
Such contrition is even rarer in Africa, where the notion of Leader as savior is particularly strong. Let alone a president deciding to serve only one term. President Mwanawasa, who's only been in power for not even two years, has far less to apologize for than much longer serving heads of state like the dictator in Zambia's neighbor to the south, Zimbabwe.
President Mwanawasa's admission was ironic since his anti-corruption campaign has been very successful. Even to the point of putting on trial the previous president Frederick Chiluba, the man who annointed Mwanawasa as his successor.
Knowing when it's time to go is not an easy thing in many professions. It's especially difficult in politics, where power can be so intoxicating. Thus, it was uncharacteristic that last year, after not even than two years in power, Mr Mwanawasa said he was tired of his "artificial" life as president, complaining that everything was done for him.
I dare say President Mwanawasa did quite a great service to Zambia with his forthright admission. In daring to hold himself accountable, he's giving the green light to Zambians to hold all their politicians accountable. Given that poor political leadership is Africa's biggest obstacle to development, I can think of few greater gifts he could've given his country.