Picture: Kerstin Joensson/AFP – The flags of the Group of Seven (G7) countries, the European Union and the 2022 G7 summit are seen behind a lectern on June 28 at Elmau Castle, southern Germany, prior to a closing press conference of the German Chancellor at the end of the gathering.
By Koffi M kouakou
TO what extent does the world worry about its global leadership? A lot it seems. We tell ourselves we choose our leaders, or they manipulate us to elect them into office, with the hope that they will lead us into a better world. Unfortunately, they don’t. And the tragic stream of daily news and increasing turmoil in the world are the evidence of their failures to lead the world.
If the news of these previous two years of the Covid-19 pandemic and this week, are anything to go by, many in the world are angry with their leaders.
So, this past weekend in the United Kingdom (UK), “Bye-bye Boris” was the leitmotif of banners, music, social media tik tok jokes, commentaries that wished off the former British prime minister, Boris Johnson, from 10 Downing Street and Westminster. The Johnson government fell apart, and his premiership cut short.
His leadership buffoonery, that lasted three short years since the dramatic Brexit days, abruptly ended.
“Boris Johnson’s government has collapsed at last. For months Britain’s prime minister wriggled out of one scandal after another. Now, irretrievably rejected by his own MPs, he has accepted that his premiership is over. He has asked to stay until the autumn, but he should go immediately,” wrote The Economist with sigh of relief, powerfully humoured and captured on its weekly cover as “Clownfall: Britain after Boris.”
It shows the shabby Johnson, during his mayoral days, dressed in a suit and tie with waving British flags in hands, banjee-glidding across the skies of London to ramp up the lacklustre publicity advertisement the Olympic games in London.
Johnson sold the British the flagship of a hopeful and post-Brexit new golden age future. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a mirage of mendacity all along. His ruffled leadership style, like former president US Trump, undermined democratic institutions, trampled on his own Covid-19 rules and mocked those who trusted him into office. They had enough of him.
While his demise is somewhat funny, the consequences of this clowning leadership have cost the UK dearly. The British are paying a high price of his failed leadership and finding a better successor could prove a dilemma.
Case in point, recent British history is full of leadership succession disasters. It has been a sad display of failed British leaders, one after another. In recent memory, from Margaret Thatcher leaving Number 10 in tears, John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, the Brexit squabbles with David Cameron and its leftovers caretaker Theresa May to the supposedly providential post-Brexit leader Boris Johnson, Britain has been bleeding politically.
The UK is sick and at pain again. It is sick of its string of shuffling incompetent leaders, the tiresome game of political musical chairs, failed successive governments and the dysfunctional democratic system that produces them.
Moreover, Britain’s political image is in tatters again and her reputation is at stake. It’s not funny at all anymore. And it all looks terrible, about the calibre of leadership in Britain today at home and perhaps globally.
But that’s Britain. How about leadership around the rest of the world?
Incidentally this weekend in Sri Lanka, mobs violently ransacked the residences of the president and his prime minster, who are brothers, demanding their resignations at once and the establishment of a caretaker coalition government to address the dreadful political, economic and social situation in the island nation.
Closely at home in South Africa, things are falling apart for president Cyril Ramaphosa, the so-hopeful new dawn leader of the African National Congress (ANC). He is under mounting pressure to step down from opposition parties and his own party members as he faces damning accusations of fraudulent activities and possible money laundering.
But more important, he is being questioned for a laundry list of failures to revive a long-battered economy, the high unemployment and crime rates, his poor management of the coronavirus pandemic and associated funds, the constant energy crisis that leads to blackouts and electricity shortage, and now for a mock funerals of the mass killing of 23 young people in Soweto. The public outcry about his political leadership failures to fix the litany of crises in his country is getting louder. There are fears that popular mass protests might force him out.
But these are only few leadership examples among the many that got me thinking about the health of global leadership in general in the world and in particular among the G7 and the BRICS.
The Ukraine war has sharply exposed the unhealthy nature of global leadership. While a comparative leadership analysis of these two groups is complex and almost impossible, it is useful to get a sense of the quality of the global leadership that lead them and world today, and perhaps that will lead it tomorrow.
On the back of the three leadership crises above, I am taking the liberty, risk and daunting task to do so here, briefly. I will not attempt to rate and rank them. But I want to provide a simple value judgement of their characters and the impacts of their perceived global image and reputations.
Britain is just a symptom and microcosm of a global leadership phenomenon dysfunction and malfunction. So, stretching this view to the G7 and the BRICS leadership, one wonders the quality of such collectives and even taken individually.
First, the Group of Seven (G7). That inter-governmental and political forum made up of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the United States, including the European Union, as a non-enumerated member.
They are supposedly members of the worlds largest IMF advanced economies with a unilateral agenda, theirs.
Individually and collectively, while bound by the obsessive ideal of shared values of pluralism, representative and liberal democracy, the endeared title of absolute guardian of planetary human rights, the G7 exhibits a fragmented character of sound leadership.
They are perceived as, out of touch with the rest of the world, hegemonic and carrying a dying image and reputation of an old world that refuses to transform itself and allow others to emerge peacefully. Their so-called leader of the free world, US president Joe Biden, with his cognitive challenges, is struggling to lead them into a peaceful world. According to the daily CIVIQS tracking poll, his job approval rating is fluctuating between 40 percent and 30 percent at home. Earlier last June, a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll set it at 33 percent. And his public rating keeps falling. Abroad, he hardly get the respect earlier US presidents did.
The ratings are neither better for the other members of the G7.
In Britain, Boris Johnson’s plummeted ratings didn’t do him a favour before he was forced to resign. In France, president Emmanuel Macron, who was recently re-elected, is not faring well either. The recent leak of the poor handling of his telephone verbal spat conversation with president Putin about the Ukraine crisis has made things worse for his leadership in France.
In Germany, the new “chancellor Olaf Scholz’s approval rating has also fallen to the lowest level since he took office”, reported TASS, the Russian news agency.
In short, G7 leaders seem to be unsuitable leaders occupying high offices and behaving badly. “They are all products of a broken political system that rewards ignorance and hubris,” said one angry British political commentator.
The G7 leaders show a weak collective leadership with low approval ratings at home, below 40 percent. Biden, the deposed Johnson and Macron are out-of-touch leaders with their nations and perhaps the rest of the world.
More so, it was no surprise to see an overwhelming support of Russia by the rest of the world, in the recent UN vote about the condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This signals a leadership disapproval of the US-led West.
Then the BRICS, a loosely eclectic group of so-called global South nations with diverse interests and the firm belief in an alternative world beyond that of the G7. They are intent to see a multipolar world where non-interference, win-win relationships and development trump most democratic and human rights considerations.
Three BRICS leaders exemplify strength and determination in their vision for a new international order – Xi Jinping of China, Vladimir Putin of Russia, and Narendra Modi of India. Their approval ratings are some of the highest in global leadership history.
In 2014, the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Centre for Democratic Governance and Innovation co-sponsored a survey of citizens in 30 countries around the world on global perceptions of international leaders. The survey concluded that: “Chinese President Xi Jinping had the highest approval rating, both at home and abroad. He earned a composite 8.7 rating (out of 10), beating Russian President Vladimir Putin (8.1) for the top spot.”
“Both Putin and Xi had astonishingly high domestic approval ratings, with Xi at 9 out of 10 and Putin at 8.7 (for comparison, US President Barack Obama scored 6.2). International perceptions, however, set Xi and Putin apart. The Russian President scored only a 6 when being evaluated by foreigners, dead last among the 10 leaders included in the survey. Xi got a 7.5, just edging out Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at 7.3. Xi was viewed particularly favourably in Asian countries (except Japan and Vietnam), as well as Africa,” concluded the survey.
The July 2022 Global Leader Approval Ratings, prime minister Narendra Modi has a 75 percent approval rating, according to Morning Consult Political Intelligence, an agency that tracks the approval ratings of government leaders and country trajectories.
The dynamic of approval rating gives a strong sense of leadership strength and effectiveness. However, one can conclude, given the brief analysis above, that the global leadership picture gap between the G7 and BRICS is in favour of the BRICS, at least for now.
The war in Ukraine and its consequences may have slightly changed the dynamics of the G7 and BRICS global leadership ratings. Russia and China may be less popular in the West today, but their leadership is still popular in the rest of the world.
The bottom Line is that there is a definite link between public approval ratings and the perceptions of global leadership rankings. The higher the approval ratings, the higher the perception of leadership standing. And it has ramifications for global leadership.
In attempting to answer my early question about the concerns about global leadership, I tried the impossible task of rating global leaders in a time of crisis, appraise the geopolitical leadership of the G7 and the BRICS, and place a biased value judgement on their leadership skills, individually and collectively. I have also tried to show why such an outlook matters to the future of the world. But as tricky as it was, it is a useful exercise to do for the sake of finding a mental balance in a chaotic and mad world.
The geopolitical outlook of the world is in turmoil and its impacts on the world are concerning. Its consequences for global leadership, diplomacy, the ending of the Ukraine crisis, international peace and security on the planet and for Africa are critical. Consequently, this global leadership crisis compels us to ask many questions.
How do global leaders get to run a world they are out of touch with, and hardly care about? Which of these two groups, G7 and the BRICS, is fit to lead the world in the future? What kind of global leadership should lead the world? More so asks futurist Jacques Attali, “who shall govern the world tomorrow?”.
The imaginative future of this world government – unipolar, multipolar or polycentric and its leadership deserve serious attention and work.
Surely, the ultimate global leadership lesson today is the shambolic circus around the Ukraine crisis. Instead of talking peace, G7 leaders have fanned the flame of a more belligerent posture of “either you are with us or against us” towards anyone who refuses to buy into their escalated war rhetoric against Russia and China.
Another lesson is the irresponsibility of global leaders, mostly from the G7, who fail to account for making the world they claim to lead and care much safer, just and liveable.
Today’s band of G7 leaders hardly inspire confidence to take the world into such a future world. Yet, while they fail to inspire us, and the BRICS leaders exhibit some orderly streak of strength and authority, we must remain vigilant about the quality of accountable global leadership, always.
Kouakou is Africa Analyst and Senior Research Fellow at The Centre of Africa China, University of Johannesburg.