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Good Leadership and the Rule of Law

By September 20, 2016December 16th, 2019Uncategorized
The following blog post is written by Professor Jeffrey A. Brauch, Executive Director for the Center for Global Justice, Human Rights & the Rule of Law.

The conduct of leaders has a huge impact on whether a nation experiences the rule of law.  Essential to the rule of law is that leaders–like ordinary citizens–submit themselves to law and are held accountable under it.

One of the nations in the most desperate need of the rule of law today is South Sudan.  South Sudan is the youngest nation in the world. It took its place as a sovereign state in 2011 after its people experienced decades of war, abuse, and lawless treatment by the leaders of Sudan. South Sudan began with great hope and promise, but sadly that promise has gone unfulfilled as the nation quickly fell into corruption, violence, and civil war. 

Last week, a watchdog group called the Sentry made public the results of an investigation it has conducted into what has taken place in South Sudan during the civil war. It found that leaders on both sides of the conflict used the civil war for their personal benefit to gain control of key national assets, like oil. It concluded that “top officials ultimately responsible for mass atrocities in South Sudan have at the same time managed to accumulate fortunes, despite modest government salaries.”

As South Sudan’s leaders got rich, a million ordinary citizens were displaced and 40% of the population needed emergency food aid. Today, the nation and its governance system are in disarray.

The behavior of South Sudan’s leaders is in stark contrast with that of one of my favorite leaders of all time, John Winthrop.  Winthrop was the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who in 1630 led 3,000 Puritans from England to the new world with the hope of establishing a “City on a Hill,” a commonwealth where justice and Christian love would be modeled.  The first months in Massachusetts were brutal for Winthrop’s band. They arrived too late to plant a crop and many failed to bring the amount of food needed for survival. The settlers experienced sickness and starvation; 200 died in the first winter. Despite suffering personal tragedy with the death of his own son, Winthrop shared what he had and almost single-handedly kept the group together.

Indeed, Winthrop gave generously to those around him all of his life. An audit conducted in 1634 after he first stepped down as governor showed that, rather than financially benefiting from his time in leadership, he had subsidized the colony with his own personal resources. He refused to take a salary for many of his 19 years as governor. He was described as “almost recklessly charitable.”

 I love this description of Winthrop by the first historian of Massachusetts, William Hubbard: “A worthy gentleman, who had done good in Israel, having spent not only his whole estate…but his bodily strength and life, in the service of the country; not sparing, but always as the burning torch, spending….”

Winthrop’s model of servant leadership helped Massachusetts grow and prosper. It ultimately had a defining influence on the development of good governance and the rule of law not just in Massachusetts but the United States of America that would arise many years in the future.

My prayer is that a Winthrop – that many Winthrops – would arise in South Sudan today, leaders who will lead for the good of the nation and its people. I pray for leaders who will be servants and not takers. Leaders like this would be invaluable in establishing the rule of law in a land that desperately needs it.

For more on the inspiring life and career of John Winthrop, check out my short essay: “John Winthrop: Lawyer as Model of Christian Charity,” 11 Regent Univ. L. Rev. 343 (1998).