Barack Obama on female leadership

Reginald Dumas
Reginald Dumas


IN MY Newsday article last Monday, I spoke of three female heads of government – Iceland, New Zealand and Scotland – who have been making common cause on the issue of good governance. They recognise the importance of economic concepts like gross national product, balance of payments and central bank reserves, but they are more concerned with their citizens’ well-being and quality of life, and with the damage inflicted by social inequality and inequity.

What I didn’t know at the time of writing the article was that, a few days later, Barack Obama would be addressing an event in Singapore as part of the Obama Foundation’s efforts to promote leadership worldwide.

He said this in part: if women were put in charge of every country for the next two years, there would be gains “on just about everything…There would be less war, kids would be better taken care of, and there would be a general improvement in living standards and outcomes.”

He also said: “Now women, I just want you to know, you’re not perfect, but what I can say pretty indisputably is that you’re better than us [men].”

And what he had to say about men wasn’t exactly flattering. “If you look at the world and look at the problems,” he stated, “it’s really old people, usually old men, not getting out of the way. They cling to power, they are insecure, they have outdated ideas, and the energy and fresh vision and new approaches are squashed.” (He may have had Donald Trump in mind, among others, but maybe not: Trump hasn’t been in office long enough. The pity is that he’s in office at all.)

This country being what it is, I’d be astonished if someone doesn’t at once leap to the conclusion that, in quoting those words from Obama, I’m really trying to suggest that Keith Rowley should be replaced by Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Or that a woman should take over from Kelvin Charles in next month’s Tobago PNM election.

Our imaginations are vivid – forget evidence; just make up something outlandish, and, as the calypsonian sang, run wid it. Ah well…

I fully agree with Obama on the positive influence of women at the helm of government; I would choose Angela Merkel any day ahead of Boris Johnson.

It isn’t that women are more intelligent or more hard-working than men. Rather, what I’ve noticed in a lifetime of travel, observation and discussion in a variety of countries and situations is that women are, in general, much more sensitive to the human condition than men, and more likely to seek solutions that benefit the greatest number.

There are of course exceptions to this – Margaret Thatcher springs to mind – but that is what I’ve found.

By contrast, males – you see it in both the human and animal worlds – are more confrontational, less disposed to compromise, more concerned with winning, with power and control, than with empathy for their societies as a whole. Many names present themselves: Vladimir Putin, Jair Bolsonaro, Rodrigo Duterte, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. I say nothing of Trump.

And, Brexit or no Brexit, it was Jeremy Corbyn’s extraordinarily limpet-like and blinkered adherence to an outmoded 1950s socialist model as applicable to 21st century UK realities that was a major factor in Labour’s recent electoral humiliation.

I also agree with Obama on the age question – “old people, usually old men” holding on to power as if their lives depend on it. Perhaps their self-esteem does, but that doesn’t help their populations – look, for example, at Algeria today. I have a personal memory in this regard.

In late 2017 I was asked if I would allow myself to be considered for our presidency. I said no. First, I wasn’t interested in the slightest. I served this country for decades in official capacities at home and abroad. I did the best I could, and I still do what I can unofficially. But now I lead a different life. I’m not going back to titles and posts, however exalted.

Second, I said I was too old. We ancients must impart such knowledge and experience as we may have, but we must not clutter the way; we must know when to step aside. Assist, yes. Advise, yes. But don’t block the path to others’ progress with some self-serving, mythical conviction of indispensability.

Remember Charles de Gaulle’s sobering words: “The cemeteries are full of indispensable men.” Go and help civil society. Write and talk and act. There’s lots to write and talk about, a lot of action to take. For the country.

Third, I said it was more than time we had a woman president. And we got one. Obama would be pleased.


"Barack Obama on female leadership"

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