Seven years ago, President-elect Barack Obama proclaimed that a new dawn of American leadership was at hand. He promised to defeat those who would tear the world down, slow down the sea level rise and heal our planet.
But seven years later: the world is stunned by the sordid brutality of ISIS; our planet is on a firm path to a 2 degree Celsius temperature rise; unbridled materialism is on the march; amidst unprecedented global prosperity, inclusive and shared prosperity remains a mirage. Seven years later, individuals, societies and nations are adrift, from whence cometh leadership.
The convergence of grave global challenges and a dearth of leadership are both astounding and perilous. Against modern Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – global warming, material greed and corruption, poverty and inequality and prejudice – we are feeble.
Global leadership is both short and feeble. In my lifetime, albeit short, I have seen very few men and women on the global stage who speak with profound authority and moral clarity on the grave challenges that face our world, both now and in the long future. The Bishop of Rome is one such man.
Pope Francis was here last week. His moral clarity authority was awesome. In his Homily at University of Nairobi, he urged the youth to strive to build a society that is more just and inclusive, and to reject everything that leads to prejudice. When the Pope spoke with religious leaders, he was unequivocal about the place of interreligious dialogue as an essential antidote for a world wounded by prejudice, conflict and division.
At the United Nations in Gigiri, Pope Francis was mindful that the world is converging in Paris to “rethink and correct the dysfunction and distortions of the current model of economic development”, occasioned by profligate consumption of fossil fuels. The Pope also drew attention to rapid urbanization characterized by “ disproportionate and unruly growth of cities”, which breeds “increased violence and a rise in new forms of social aggression, a lack of rootedness and social anonymity”.
While visiting the slum Parish of Kangemi, Pope Francis called for renewed attention to the dreadful injustice of urban exclusion and cautioned against solutions that amount to “indifference and mere containment”. In the Pope’s view, the social and environmental debt owed to the inhabitants of slums such as Kangemi can be paid by honoring their scared right to land, lodging and labor, not as a matter of charity or philanthropy but as a solemn duty.
The Pope characterized the squalid conditions of slums as “wounds” inflicted by minorities “anaesthetized by unbridled consumption”. Pope Francis also used the occasion of his visit at Kangemi to denounce faceless “private developers” who hoard areas of land and even attempt to appropriate the playgrounds of our children.
On the last day of his visit, the Pope likened corruption and bribery to sugar and urged the youth not to develop a taste for corruption. This was pertinent because a survey commissioned by the East African Institute of the Aga Khan University, which will be released shortly revealed a worrying deficit of integrity among the youth: 35 percent of the youth would easily take or give a bribe; 47 percent admire those who get rich by hook or crook, (including hustling); 30 percent believe corruption is profitable; only 40 percent strongly believe it is important to pay taxes; 40 percent of likely youth voters would vote for the candidate who bribes them.
Ahead of the Pope’s visit President Kenyatta declared corruption a national security threat and laid a raft of legal and administrative measures to fight graft, which has become an acceptable way of life in our society. And President Kenyatta sought a new addition in his arsenal against corruption, divine power.
In his welcoming remarks, Mr. Kenyatta said to the Pope, “I ask you to pray for me so I can lead the war against corruption and other vices”. And I say this to President Kenyatta, with the Pope’s prayers and blessings, with the indomitable resolve and good will from your fellow citizens, and with the powers vested upon you by the constitution, you can make unbridled corruption history, yes you can.
Pope Francis embodies immense moral clarity and rectitude, at a time when our civilization is buffeted by materialism, prejudice and a clash of ignorance, corruption, poverty and inequality. We should emulate his leadership.