Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Newsweeks Best Leaders and Countries

Last weeks edition of Newsweek was controversial for two principal reasons. Firstly It listed the the worlds ten best leaders. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia featured on the list, much to my and and most normal thinking peoples astonishment. His reforms were mild and the Saudi Kingdom remains one of the most oppressive countries on earth. The fact that the 86 year old is on the list, for me, invalidated the whole project. Anyway lets go on. You know from the picture that our own Brian Cowen was among the greatest. I don't have a whole lot to say about Cowen except that I have admired his fiscally responsible spending cuts but cannot get over the fact that the banking collapse occurred during his tenure in the department of finance. Furthermore it was is economic model that proved to be so unsustainable. To put it simply I think he is a much better Taoiseach than he was Minister for Finance. He has also failed to impress me on the north. His criticism of dissident republicans has been for too mild in my opinion.

Newsweek however was more kind.

With Ireland's once-roaring economy staggered by the banking crisis--unemployment is at 13 percent, emigration is rising, and the money markets rank Ireland not far behind Greece on the list of Europe's big-time losers--Prime Minister Brian Cowen and his able finance minister, Brian Lenihan, are prescribing harsh medicine. They've pushed through austerity packages drastic enough to win the admiration of the international community, raised taxes, and slashed some public salaries by more than 10 percent. But the Irish aren't showing much gratitude--Cowen's ratings have plunged to a mere 18 percent, and his Fianna Fail party can expect a drubbing in the 2012 national elections. Still, there's some hope that his government's unpopular measures will be rewarded in the long run: surveys suggest that Irish consumer confidence is on the rise again, and the economy notched up modest growth in the first quarter of 2010.

The other leader that immediately struck me was Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. I have followed the path of this remarkable woman's career ever since she was elected Africa's first female leader in 2005 in the wake of the Liberian Civil War which was in my opinion the second worst conflict of the 21st century after the Civil War in the Deomcratic Republic of Congo. Newsweek says all that needs to be said about this great woman.

When Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected Liberia's president—and Africa's only female head of state—in 2005, she inherited a country decimated by years of violence. Between 1989 and 2003, two horrific civil wars had killed as many as 250,000 of Liberia's 3 million people, and displaced thousands more; more than 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers were deployed on the ground to maintain a fragile peace. At the time of her election, Sirleaf—who held positions at the World Bank and the U.N. before her political run--told NEWSWEEK, "I'm most concerned with being a mother to Liberia. I want to heal the deep wounds of this nation." Now, five years later, fewer than than 8,000 U.N. troops remain in Liberia. The country has boosted school enrollment by 40 percent, restored power and running water to urban centers, and turned its timber and diamond industries into thriving—and legitimate—trades. Sirleaf has also slashed Liberia's external debt from $4.9 billion in 2006 to $1.7 billion today. Under her leadership, Liberia is a country rebuilt and reborn.

I also take great satisfaction in knowing that the Irish Army played a significant role in the stabilisation of that country. The UN mission which had a strong peace enforcement mandate supervised the ceasefire, confronted gangs that would not comply and oversaw their disarmament and the democratic transformation which thus far has been a great success. The IDF even participated in the arrest, detention and transfer to Den Hague of former Liberian President and utterly psychotic butcher Charles Taylor. Such was the high esteem in which the Irish Army were held that upon the completion of their tour in 2006 President Sirleaf made a specific request to the Irish government that the troops remain in the country for a further six months, a request that was granted.

The other reason the Newsweek edition received much attention was that it listed the worlds greatest countries to live in. Finland came first. America was not happy at being placed just outside the top ten at number 11. The lack of health care coverage and other other absences of the European style "social net" were the reason the US came 11th. I largely stayed clear of the health care debate in America but always saw it in fairly simple terms. American health care is the best in the world. Its just not accessible to all. So the real question is, when it comes to health care, which is more important, quality or accessibility? In any case America, don't feel too bad, Ireland came in 17th.

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