by Lorne Holden As Martin Luther King Day approaches and our world has tilted towards violence once again, it is important to remember that visionary leaders exist who are inspiring examples peaceful leadership. I am delighted to bring to your attention two such leaders: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and José Mujica.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is President of Liberia and is the first elected female Head of State in all of Africa. Liberia is a country with a rich history. Located in the West of Africa, it was founded in 1820 by African Americans, most of whom were freed slaves. The country then grew with help from the United States and experienced 130 years of stability. By the mid 1900's, the country fell into turmoil and tremendous political strife resulting in two civil wars. A peace agreement in 2003 led the way for democratic elections in 2005, when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected President.
Sirleaf once brilliantly said:
“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams don't scare you, they aren't big enough.”
Sirleaf herself was born into poverty but was able to dream up a life of higher education and ultimately received a MA in Public Administration from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. During the political strife in Liberia, she worked for the World Bank in Washington, D.C. In 1999, she was one of seven prominent leaders assigned the task of investigating the Rwandan Genocide.
In 2011, Sirleaf won the Noel Peace Prize jointly with Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakel Karman of Yemen. The three women were awarded the prize for their commitment to non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for the right of women to fully participate in peace building work. In 2013, before a crowd of more than 60,000 fans, President Sirleaf was awarded the Global Citizen Movement Award in New York's Central Park, for championing the cause of gender equality.
A woman of dignity, dedication and humility, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the kind of leader we need in the twenty first century.
President José Mujica of Uruguay is a former Marxist guerilla who spent 14 years in prison, mostly in solitary confinement. He refuses to live in the Presidential palace and instead lives in a one bedroom house on his wife's farm. He rejects the perks of the presidency and drives his own 1987 Volkswagen rather than traveling by the customary motorcade.
“I don't live in poverty,” he states, “ I live in simplicity.”
His visionary and progressive policies have made him a leader who is truly unique in the world. He donates over 90% of his salary to charity so he makes the same as the average worker in Uruguay. He supported his nation's groundbreaking legalization of marijuana and in 2013, signed a bill making Uruguay the second nation in Latin America (after Argentina) to legalize gay marriage.
He has courageously confronted corporate abuse, as evidence by the struggle his government is waging against tobacco giant Phillip Morris. A former smoker himself, he believes smoking is a killer. In a recent meeting with President Obama, Mujica apparently stated that Americans need to smoke less and learn more languages.
Mujica's visionary leadership is expansive. He is an environmentalist, a supporter of women's rights and is working towards a redistribution of his country's wealth. He is critical of the model of development supported by affluent societies and in 2012 at the Rio+20 Summit stated:
” We can almost recycle everything now. If we lived within our means – by being prudent - the 7 billion people in the world could have everything they needed. Global politics should be moving in that direction.”
Under his leadership, Uruguay recently welcomed 4 detainees from Guantanemo and has insisted that Uruguay help work to close the controversial prison. He is a global peace activist stating:
“The only solution is negotiation. The worst negotiation is better than the best war, and the only way to ensure peace is to cultivate tolerance.”
We have much to learn from this leader of a small South American nation. Jose Mujica has put Uruguay on the map as one of the world's most successful and exciting examples of progressive governance.
Lorne Holden is an artist and author of "MAKE IT HAPPEN in Ten Minutes a Day/The Simple, Lifesaving Method for Getting Things Done."