On nature and challenge of servant leadership

Sunday May 09 2021
comments002 pix

Harold Acemah

By Harold Acemah

Uganda never ceases to amaze, amuse and offend in almost equal measure. On April 22, Uganda’s First Lady and minister of Education, Ms Janet Museveni, made an interesting presentation to newly elected MPs of the ruling NRM political party at their retreat at the National Leadership Institute, Kyankwanzi. The theme of the retreat was, “Ideological orientation for socio-economic transformation.”

The First Lady’s paper titled, ‘The servant leader as a catalyst for socio-economic transformation,’ was incisive and thought-provoking and appears to be a critique of that infamous speech Sabalwanyi delivered in Masindi District on January 26, 2017… more on that speech later.

In her eloquent presentation, Ms Museveni stated that socio-economic transformation was one of four key principles of NRM’s so-called ideology; others being patriotism, pan-Africanism and democracy.

She said in whatever God wants to accomplish, He appoints a leader and not just any leader, but a servant leader. I can imagine many politicians in the audience cringing and feeling uneasy because her remarks contradicted and were diametrically opposed to remarks made by Sabalwanyi who was present and listening attentively.

According to Ms Museveni, the call to leadership is a call to service and leaders who embrace servant leadership choose to serve others rather than themselves. She lamented that for many Ugandan politicians, leadership is equated with power, authority, honour, prestige and personal gain, unlike servant leadership, which puts service to the people at the centre. She argued that the essential attributes of a servant leader include humility, obedience, inner security, being teachable, honesty, love, care for the people, self-control and selflessness.

Ms Museveni argued fairly convincingly that “When leaders espouse these values in their communities, they become significant change agents as those around them respond by emulating them.”


Against this background, I recall with trepidation remarks made publicly by Sabalwanyi in Masindi on January 26, 2017, which reveal the contradictions and ironies in our beloved country. 

“I am not an employee. I hear some people saying I am their servant. I am not a servant of anybody. I am a freedom fighter; that is why I do what I do. I don’t do it because I am your servant. I am not your servant,” he said. 

“I am just a freedom fighter. I am fighting for myself, for my belief; that is how I come in. If anybody thinks you gave me a job, he is deceiving himself. ”

The speech was frankly despicable, offensive, mindboggling and unbecoming and shows clearly that Sabalwanyi is implementing a personal agenda, not a national development plan. Future generations will wonder how and why 40 million Ugandans tolerated and put up meekly and obediently for over three decades with such abomination, absurdity, insults and outrage!

Servant leadership is a concept derived from the Holy Bible. Jesus Christ is the quintessential servant leader. As the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus who, having the very nature of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped, but made himself nothing; taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Philippians 2:5-7 (NIV)

For us believers, it is a great honour and privilege to be a servant, especially a servant of God. On the contrary, evil, perverted and self-condemned men despise servants and think it is a disgrace to be a servant. Woe unto such people.

Mr Acemah is a political scientist and retired career diplomat.