14 February 2018

Ethiopia: Stewardship - Basis for Development

The essence of leadership is broader than possessing certain skills and expertise. It's deeper than what any leadership assessment can reveal. The best way to see leadership is through stewardship. Looking at it through the lens of stewardship, which is an authority over people and accountability before the ultimate owner, is the key to understanding what it means to lead. In the political and government service delivering context, it should be known that the public is the ultimate owner and beneficiary of the outcome of leadership.

The essence of stewardship implies a two-edged proposition. One person owns the resources and the other person is entrusted with the resources. By definition, a steward is accountable to his master for how resources are invested. Scholars in the field all suggest that effective leadership always involved some level of stewardship. This is to mean that acts of stewardship are often a requirement for great leadership.

Coming back to Ethiopia's context, scholars in the field also suggest that the way leadership is viewed and understood in the country is often wrong. They also indicate that there are indicators that show many leaders at various levels tend to abuse their power and authority entrusted to them from the public for their own personal gain. Rent-seeking, corruption, poor governance, less cognition and value for public service and many more attitudinal gaps were often evaluated even by the ruling party, EPRDF as gaps of leadership stewardship. The nation is claiming that there is a need for deep reform to correct the various forms of leadership gaps displayed. And likewise, experts in the field often speak about the topic for the better future of the country.

Simon Heliso is a scholar in the area as he has worked both in government and Non-government organizations on various leadership capacities, including working experiences at different countries like South Sudan and Burundi.

Simon, who is currently working as the Country Representative of John Hopkins University's Center for Communication in Ethiopia, says stewardship implies that leaders are not owners of what they have as everything is entrusted to them by someone else. "These resources could range from capital to labor; and they are not our properties to be used with impunity, but tools we need to carry out our expected tasks responsibly."

In the Ethiopian context, the society is the owner of everything that demands skillful leadership from its political leaders. He said that Stewardship always requires accountability and responsibility. And a Steward is not only is responsible to keep the resources entrusted to them, but it is also about building on them."

Looking at it thoroughly, we can see that Stewardship is not only for the ones in the leadership position, but also is required from every member of a community as everybody should have the thinking that everything including the skills, knowledge, resources and anything that one possess should serve for the greater good or for building a community that is moving faster in development.

The scholar believes that there is a Stewardship problem almost in all societies even if the level, style, nature or amount of its existence differs from place to place and across society. But countries with a strong system and a better and stable economy are by far in a better position to build better stewardship values. Ethiopia is at the bottom line in the areas of managing public resources in a responsible or accountable manner.

Moreover, knowledge and technical/attitudinal gaps in leadership skill, abusing leadership responsibility for self-serving purposes, and lack of good role models in the leadership sphere are things that are visible in the context of the country. Abusing power for personal gain is one of the common stewardship problem common in many nations, including Ethiopia. "Much work needs to be done by targeting on attitudes as some of the things in the country's context go back to our culture, beliefs and value system. And advancing stewardship system is not like building infrastructures."

These issues, which are compounded by the government, and culminated as major leadership gaps are challenges that are bottlenecks to the ongoing efforts of realizing better development outcomes to the public.

Simon further points out that people put high expectations on their leaders; and the leaders need to be role models to the general public. Stewardship is a concept and subject that needs to be used comprehensively in the nation. The legal system, political institutions and all organizations at the lower level and upper stratum have a role to play on that regard, he suggested.

Andrew Decort, (PhD), is a scholar on Ethics and specializes on Ethiopian studies. Mentioning inscriptions of Kings like Ezana and others from as far back as ancient civilization of Axum, he explains that there is a deep history of seeing leadership as power and privilege rather than responsibility and service in the nation.

The scholar opines that leaders must understand leadership as the burden of serving others, which must begin from listening to others, understanding what their needs and desires are, being open to their feedback and criticism, and being accountable; all of which needs humility and courage as well as partnership.

Leaders should be those types of self-forgetful people who think that they are there to serve the public, by displaying a demeanor of collaboration with those who have different ideas to theirs.

Both scholars underscored that leadership is highly effective when it is practiced through a better stewardship system that is locally developed. And this demands an integrated task from all parts of the public to transform the way leadership is viewed, and an elevated awareness on how to serve the public with a highly developed steward attitude and realize the country's development goals is also crucial.

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