Kent on Objectives
Dr. Randolph Kent explains his experience in setting objectives and barriers to attaining them.
Ky Luu: Leaders, whether we agree or we disagree, are judged based upon their achievements, based upon results. And your last posting was in Somalia, and one only needs to take a look at Somalia today and things are deteriorating. And the question here really is there are law-protracted, crises whether it be Somalia or Darfur or the Democratic Republic of Congo. And there’s so many professionals in our career here who throw themselves into the situation and there’s a large burn-out rate. What advice would you give based upon the need to be able to look at the future, to be able to stay focused in order to mobilize resources, in order to inspire, in order to be able to do and fulfill the humanitarian mandate.
Randolph Kent: I think the way you posed the question is almost the answer to the question. But it’s very difficult to achieve. And I’m not sure I did it in Somalia, I’m not sure that…let me start another way. I think your point about vision, it’s like that objective, that purpose, is the key for me. I’m not sure that I actually had sufficient confidence in what I saw as the objective. And the way I saw the objective is essentially this: we can’t always assume that all societies have to have the kind of state structures that we have. I saw Somalia, and I had a counterpart in Afghanistan at the time who recognized this as well. You know we have tribal communities, we have clan communities, who for literally centuries and far longer than the state system itself, have organized themselves, have structured themselves to pursue justice in various ways, and it’s not a perfect system, but then again the state system from the First World War is also not a perfect system. So I think what I began to try and do was to try and get what was then the SACP, some consortium of donors and UN agencies, to say, “Let’s take a different look at governance. Let’s try and see if a more clannic approach to governance, to allow them to determine the way they want to structure themselves, should be.” If you said that was the vision, that was the purpose, I think it was, for all intensive purposes, a major failure on my part. And it’s sad because I think there was a vision there that actually was probably far more appropriate as we now head into the fourteenth effort at putting in a conventional state government in Somalia. The reason that I failed, I think, was many-fold. I think that basically the influence that certain Western groupings had upon a small band of people who were really benefitting from the inputs of this Western attempt to develop a government gave them far greater authority to resist the bigger vision. We have the institutions, you know one of the problems and I guess it’s Robespierre in the French revolution, but as he looked for his followers, and here, too, how could I convince the World Food Program and all the other agencies which are part of my constituency that really wants to let clinic structures deal with these kinds of things, so at best, at best, there were marginal compromises on a traditional, traditional in this sense, traditional UN-NGO approach. I think another, and in that sense the institutional thing was not really them but it was the institutions of which they were a part, so maybe even if they did sort of understand that they were part of a larger system and that obviously constrained them. I think the point that I’m making is that you can have a purpose, but that purpose has to wind its way around a very complex set of systems and basically, ultimately, my purpose was not sufficiently convincing to open the roads to get people to look at that kind of direction. Listen, there were some successes, I convinced everybody that we should rebuild Bidoa, which we did, and now it’s been taken over again and destroyed, and we had moved more people in to show that the international community does care and that we were always available if they wanted, and we had extraordinary numbers, relatively speaking, of UN staff in the country that actually helped the NGO staff. But these, in a sense, were a kind of so to speak standard thing. We got people in and that was interesting and a kind of innovation and, dare I say just for the purpose of this film, a leadership thing. But it really wasn’t driving towards that purpose. It was a kind of concession to what we always do. So leadership on the tactical level, possibly, but leadership on the strategic level, in retrospect, a sad failure. That’s Somalia.