Last week top academicians and Editors in Africa and China gathered in Ethiopia for a forum on fight against poverty for common prosperity.
Last week top academicians and Editors in Africa and China gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a forum convened by the Institute of African Studies of Zhejiang Normal University of China and the African Union Academy. The theme for the Think Tank was “Fighting Against Poverty for Common Prosperity”. The discussions were based on China’s President Xi Jinping book, Up and Out of Poverty. Vision Group’s Editor-in-Chief, Barbara Kaija, attended and below she reviews the book.
- A must read for all leaders who wish to transform their societies
- Easy to read book
- Tackles the role of mindset in fighting poverty
- Shows that any development starts with the natural resources the community has
- Explains how corruption is the main setback for any transformation
In a simple and yet authoritative manner loaded with experience from many years of transformational leadership, President Xi lays bare the challenges of developing the Ningde Prefecture, an impoverished region of China. Written from speeches delivered between 1988 and 1990 in Ningde, the book Up and Out Of Poverty is timeless. The challenges faced in developing Ningde then, are similar to the challenges of developing any impoverished country today.
President Xi’s book is a gift to all leaders and a must-read for any one aspiring to be an effective transformational leader at any stage in the development chain.
Most books on development are hard to read but not so with Up and Out of Poverty. The style is rich with wise imagery and pregnant with meaning which gives it life.
Weak hatching bird
The main thrust of the book is set on the image of a “weak hatchling bird” and the dilemma of whether it can be the “first to fly”. This image runs through to symbolise a struggling back ward economy that eventually turns around. President Xi Jinping aptly discusses the economic, cultural and human resources’ facets needed to make the weak hatchling bird take off.
The battle for development starts in the mind. Before any development issue is solved or the fight against poverty is won, the leader must believe that it is possible to win. The Chinese President addresses the poverty mentality among disadvantaged communities. Development work must start by addressing the mind-set in the communities and the leaders mind set too. All the players must believe that development is possible. Unless the mind is transformed development will not come.
“Impoverished regions cannot have impoverished ideals … finding contentment in poverty, … wanting government aid, relying on financial grants, requiring poverty allowances, blaming everyone else but themselves…. a weak hatchling bird can be the first to fly, and the poorest can be the first to become rich …. But we must first have the concept in mind.”
Gifts of nature
Then Xi advocates natural advantage as the basis for development for any region. To make the weak hatchling bird the first to fly we must take advantage of the gifts that nature has given that region. In the case of Ningde, just like with many developing countries it is agriculture. He advises that agriculture is the starting point but the small farming economy cannot make a region rich. So agriculture must be turned into ‘Big agriculture’ and the focus should be on increasing yield per acre and yield per unit before industrialisation.
President Xi then turns to the issue of unity. He advises against internal party discord. For development to come quickly there must be an “economic chorus”.
“With a unified voice, we will produce a melodious, resonant, and beautiful song”. This requires internal coordination and cooperation just like we see in a modern football game. Individualism cannot win the game. All departments at different levels must form an integrated whole. Each officer and each department must be conscious of the overall strategy and their responsibility to cooperate in the chorus.
Xi’s book is a tutorial on development. It clearly shows the development of impoverished areas relying on two sides of the same coin; the leader and the power of the people. People need leadership and guidance; and leaders must go out and provide exactly that otherwise there will be no development.
Reading Up and Out of Poverty; one appreciates the acumen of President Museveni in Luwero, demonstrating basic irrigation with small plastic bottles. This meek exercise is great imagery to show Ugandans that our weather is failing and we must do something about it including sustainable use of the environment and planning for irrigation. Development does not wait for master programmes and donors. A good leader starts with the little at their disposal and improves on that.
Importance of leadership
President Xi Jinping emphasises the importance of leadership in the development formula and points out that; “Without leadership we can’t sustain enthusiasm.” Leadership is finding simple affordable solutions to address the development challenges without waiting for donors or for governments.
If the weak hatchling bird is to take flight, leaders must not alienate themselves from their people. Leaders must care for the people and obtain close grassroots ties otherwise they lose touch with reality and they cannot find relevant solutions for development. When we choose to take up leadership positions we must be willing to go down to the people; genuine information can only come from interacting with the grassroots.
A leader’s credibility does not come from “relying on higher authorities, exerting power, or using gimmicks. It is only built gradually by working for the people wholeheartedly, with dedication and perseverance.”
Quoting an old Chinese proverb; “The one who wins the heart of the people wins an empire”, President Xi advises leaders that basic proficiency required for a competent leader comes from constantly interacting with the grassroots. He cautions against the danger of losing focus and becoming complacent. In a country or in a system, this kills one leader at a time and the ‘disease’ catches the next leader till the whole system dies. To address this Xi, advocates democracy. The masses must monitor government so the leaders don’t become lax. Leaders at all levels should be “deeply involved with the people in real situations, always coming from the people and going to the people.”
Corruption a great set back
President Xi Jinping reigns in hard on corrupt leaders. He singles out corruption as a major setback to the weak hatchling bird. Development can never successfully race against corruption. Corrupt leaders, he contends, must be punished to assuage the people’s anger. Clean government is a major wing on which impoverished regions such as Ningde will fly.
“Power is given to us by the people and we must follow the will of the people and work for the people”. Leaders must be “the first to worry about the affairs of the state and the last to enjoy…”
From Xi’s book it is clear that building a clean government is a long term commitment and there is no back tracking on this. Leaders must be aware that fighting corruption is bound to involve friends, former classmates or relatives and they must use the same yard stick for each corruption case. “If we abandon our principles for one person, we will lose the trust of tens of millions of people!” President Xi Jinping cautions. Major corruption cases must be thoroughly investigated dealt with and publicized.
With his long experience rising through the ranks of leadership, Xi turns to the young leaders; “Untangling a messy knot takes patience”. Take time to understand situations before you dive into finding solutions. Don’t be impatient for success as you run a higher risk for failure.
He counsels young public servants against the rashness of youth; before you “set a fire” ask yourself if the fire is necessary. Your ability to set a fire is not what determines your success but your tenacity, your ability to “climb mountains”.
Development is gradual
There is no quick fix to development. Development and change are gradual processes. Xi advises the youth leaders to focus on steady, systematic work necessary for quantitative change. Tackle development problems with persistence and “work with quiet dedication like water droplets drilling through rock.”
He then tackles the other trap that entangles youth leaders; “don’t be too opinionated” he counsels and advises them against isolating themselves from people with experience. Book knowledge only matures with experience. Due to naivety, many leaders are prone to the “misconception that they alone are awake as the rest of the world sleeps”.
President Xi looks at the small steps made in development as “Water Droplets Drilling Through Rock”. This fascinating image runs through Up and Out of Poverty.
To describe the slow but sure process of developing an impoverished county, Xi Jinping says; “When dripping water takes aim at a rock, each droplet zeroes in on the same target and stays the course until its mission is complete. The drops of water fall day after day, year after year. This is the magic that enables dripping water to drill through the rock!”
He acknowledges the historical, geographical and environment challenges that hold back the development of impoverished regions and concludes that there is no development miracle for such regions. Nothing can change overnight. We need to square up and be the water droplets drilling through rocks.
“A journey of a thousand miles starts from beneath one’s feet.” So we must start doing what we have to do in the shortest time possible. No procrastination!
Back to Ningde, it is eventually a turn around. Today, the small fishing coastal villages are big industrial cities. The weak hatchling bird is now flying but this has been achieved after many years of steady hard work.
With the right mind set, strong leadership and tenacity, the weak hatchling bird of Ningde is now able to fly. The remote, impoverished mountainous region with 300 Islands is now an industrial city. By 1988 little investment had been made in the region, and its economy was quite backward. Ningde relied on peasant agriculture then but today it is built on “big agriculture” and industrialisation.
President Xi cautions against getting bogged down in programing rather than doing the actual work. “Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes.” Once we are sure about the need to do something we should move on and break the new path.
In Ningde the right interventions had to be made at the right time. In the battle for development, time is crucial because time cannot be recovered. It is “like the passing of a white colt glimpsed through a crack in the wall.”
UP and Out of Poverty raises many pertinent issues relevant to developing nations, one of them being procrastination on projects. In Uganda, we need to stop and take stock of the many delayed projects. For example, a car assembly plant for Uganda was first mentioned in the media in November 2007; the Ethiopians spent less than two years on their car assembly project and the cars are already on their local market. Our neighbours in Rwanda, with even small markets are well on the way to starting their Volkswagen assembly plant, announced only a few months ago.
Up and out of Poverty is a gold mine for leaders at local government, Parliamentarians, development workers, civil servants and CEOs. Apart from the core audience, the book is recommended to universities and political science programmes.
A lot more is tackled in this timeless book; Xi has words of wisdom on cultural identity, youth leagues, environmental conservation, industrial policy, the media and other aspects of development.
UP and Out Of Poverty is great reference for anybody who would like to play a role, however, small in transforming their communities.