Can you make sense of the following list?
They are from four different continents. They have a string of different languages. They have government parties of differing political complexions. So, what’s the list?
It’s the top twenty in the United Nations’ quality of life league table, the human development index, for 2007-2008. Despite their differences, every nation in that top twenty shares in common a commitment to liberal democracy. Multiculturalists might argue that there are other ways of running a country than that espoused by the West, but year upon year the statistics prove that there is only one way of securing a good life for all the people of a country.
Progress depends on democratic politics and the rule of law. Abandon those values and your country quickly slips down the table, which makes it alarming to see a photograph of Jacob Zuma, leader of South Africa’s ruling ANC party, on the front page of this weekend’s Financial Times dancing in celebration with his friends and singing “Bring me my machine gun.” A judge had ruled not that Zuma was innocent of corruption, but that the charges could not proceed for technical legal reasons.
Regardless of the legal questions, what message goes out to the world when the next president of South Africa stands at the front of a crowd singing “Bring me my machine gun”? Perhaps to criticize him would to be too much of a Western liberal, but the world is one where the ways of the Western liberals ensure that the streets are safe, that the children are educated, that the hospitals are good, that the old are looked after; the Western liberal countries are the ones where people queue up to get in.
A prospective president might look at the UN human development league table and question how some countries have experienced thirty years of progress while his own has experienced a decade of steady decline.
Leadership demands more than dancing with your cronies.