'Infinite striving after perfection is one's right. It is its own reward. The rest is in the hands of God.” Mahatma Gandhi.
African nations – particularly the disheartened youth - must never, never, never give up; but – like I’ve often suggested in my leadership seminars – it is appropriate for everyone to identify visions and roles for themselves and develop the appropriate skills to match them.
In Ghana, for example, the many snags and worries we see today should have been resolved mostly by now. The persistent financial rackets and the lack of selflessness and foresight in developing modern cities, clean environment and jobs cheapen the quality of life. The negative effects are the frustrations and low living standards we see year-in-year out.
Other countries have been in similar dire circumstances and have weathered the storms and continue to do so. Those hardy experiences now direct where Africa’s energies should go and the youth should pay attention. History is for the long haul.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s classic book, “From Third World to First” continues to offer leadership models of sheer dignity that ennobles a nation’s psyche with lasting effects. The details in Chapter 13, “Greening of Singapore”, for instance, are blueprints worth emulating.
He said, “After independence, I searched for some dramatic way to distinguish ourselves from other Third World countries. I settled for a clean and green Singapore.” Starting out with hygiene and health, he led the new nation “to abandon old habits” and introduced antispitting campaigns in the 1960s to avoid the tuberculosis disease. The message was spread through schools and the media.
He said the physical infrastructure was easier to improve than “the rough and ready ways” of the people: “Thousands would sell cooked food on the pavements and streets in total disregard for traffic, health and the resulting litter and dirt, the stench of rotten food and the clutter and obstructions turned many parts of the city into slums.”
All the hawkers were resettled. Those that were excellent cooks became tourist attractions and a few became millionaires who drove to work in Mercedes while offering employment to others as waiters.
The next thing was to transform Singapore into a tropical garden city. Led by the ministry of national development, they planted trees everywhere including middle-class and working-class areas.
What impressed Mr Yew on his international travels were not the sizes of the buildings he saw, but their maintenance standards, vis-a-vis the absence of cracked washbasins, leaky taps, dysfunctional water closets, unkempt gardens, etc.
He said, “Perseverance and stamina were needed to fight old habits but We kept down flies and mosquitoes and cleaned up smelly drains and canals and educated the children in schools by getting them to plant trees, care for them and grow gardens. They brought the message home to their parents and soon the whole city greened up.”
The launching, in November 1971, of the annual Tree Planting Day involved all MPs, community centres and their leaders. He said, “We have not missed a single tree planting day since ... No other project brought richer rewards.” It was good for morale, for tourism and for investors.
Mr Yew hardly mentioned Mahatma Gandhi in his book, but the innate desires of the two icons converged in spirit for rightness and cleanliness.
Having returned from England and South Africa to India, Gandhi was shocked at the filth that welcomed him home. He was disappointed that “others did not seem to mind the stench and the dirt. But that was not all. Some used the verandas outside their rooms for calls of nature at night.”
In Gandhi’s “An Autobiography Or The Story of my experiments with truth” (Navajivan Publishing, 1927), he said, “What was an apology for a bathroom was unbearably dirty, the latrines were stinking sinks. To use the latrine one had to wade through urine and excreta or jump over them. This was more than flesh and blood could bear.”
Travelling third class to show solidarity with his people, he wrote: “If anything was lacking to complete the picture of stink and filth, the passengers furnished it with their thoughtless habits. They spat where they sat, dirtied their surroundings with the leavings of their food, tobacco and betel leaves. There was no end to the noise and everyone tried to monopolise as much room as possible.”
He said, “The villages were insanitary, the lanes full of filth, the wells surrounded by mud and stink and the courtyards unbearably untidy. The elderly people badly needed education in cleanliness. They were all suffering from various skin diseases. So it was decided to do as much sanitary work as possible and to penetrate every department of their lives.”
Looking back from Ghana’s independence in1957, we see how others – in similar straits – cleared exhausting challenges. We see also that there’s only one way to go, and that’s up. Small Singapore and mighty India offer examples of how to advance from distraught colonies into key, respectable players on the international front.
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