Sunday April 8 2012

The importance of humour in leadership

By Prof. George Kanyeihamba

When a journalist questioned President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni about what I said in a BBC interview last year, he smiled before responding. That kind of reaction in a leader is good. People prefer leaders who are not always stern, intimidating and rigid in company with other people.

I have come to learn that not everything I say or write is acceptable or amusing to President Museveni, but not once have I feared that he would be so incensed by my opinions to the extent of depriving me freedom. This is mainly because I know him to possess a sense of humour even though it has often been hidden in words and acts that he believes to be in the interests of his political party or the nation as a whole.

Most men and women accredited with great achievements have exhibited humour in their private and public lives. I recall that at one time I accompanied President Museveni to a foreign country which accommodated him in a villa not far from the hotel where we ministers and senior government officials were staying. He invited us one day, to the villa for a social evening.

For a while, we stayed and chatted with him and amongst ourselves. It was a relaxing occasion. He temporarily departed from the room and while he was away I inadvertently sat in his chair. When he returned and saw me in his chair he remarked humorously with the words, “So Kanyeihamba you have decided to take over?” Momentarily everyone was lost for words until the President burst out laughing and everyone laughed with him. By that time, I had already jumped out of his chair as if stung by a bee.

There were other times when the President in private conversations cracked jokes and keenly participated in humorous exchanges with ministers and visitors. It is the knowledge of the humour of President Museveni that keeps some of us continuing to believe that he genuinely listens to the demands of the people, but is badly let down by his ministers and advisers who continue shying away from telling him the truth about what the majority of Ugandans think about some of the government’s policies, decisions and acts.

I believe that if he really were to be pressed by those closest to him that people do not like the behaviour, arrogance and misfeasances of some of his ministers and cadres, we would see a dramatic change in President Museveni because I personally know that at times he hates to be counted amongst leaders who pursue and tolerate government actions that are anti-people.
Modern leaders should revisit history and discover the wealth of anecdotes that symbolise the humour that sustains great leaders in office, worldwide. Whether it be the founders of great empires or religions of the world or their devoted followers, humour and joviality have always been part of their makeup, greatness and success.

Life without humour is dull. Indeed, it is said that humour is the spice of life. A well known leader with a great humour was the mystical emperor who was mad and proud of the grandeur of his reign. He left his palace’s chambers naked and stood on the balcony in view of his subjects and asked loudly whether they liked his new suit. It is said that many of them shouted back to him with applause, hailing him for his royal choice of a wonderful and unique suit they had never seen before. Inwardly, however, the subjects who saw him were shocked with embarrassment that their country could continue being ruled by such a lunatic.

Sadly, it would appear that Africa is cursed with several such emperors who are sustained in political and moral nakedness by hollow praises from their respective ministers, government cadres and untutored citizens.

As Ugandans, we need to act boldly and advise our leaders to properly dress themselves politically, lest they continue to be seen naked by all and sundry.

Justice Kanyeihamba is a retired Supreme Court Judge.