The disciplines of leadership, democracy and revolution in the developing world

Sean Jacobs, Hip Hop Republican, 4 July 2016

In late 2010, as a young UN staffer in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, I witnessed the tail end of an ultimately fatal high-speed police chase. It was a late Friday afternoon and I was standing across the road from a busy outdoor marketplace, accompanied by men, women and children buzzing home for the weekend.

The gentle energy of the Friday afternoon, however, quickly dissolved from the screeching tyres of four land cruisers sliding through the market, accompanied by two loud gunshots. I’ll never forget the unplanned choreography of around 700 people, including myself, dropping and splintering apart at the thunder of gunfire. The chase then continued out of sight.

The belligerents, as Sunday’s newspaper revealed, were killed moments later in the neighbouring suburb and, as far as I could tell, all innocents escaped injury. As exhilarating as I found this touch of danger, however, it was the rapid return to normalcy that most intrigued me.

The market, within not even 90 seconds, had quickly resettled. Overturned tables were restored, sellers recommenced trading, buses started moving and the gentle afternoon buzz replenished to pre-shootout levels. Had I missed the entire event, by even a moment, no previous disturbance would’ve been apparent.

Resilience, after all, is critical in a country like PNG, where poverty and corruption are enough to crush the most modest of dreams. There are countless other places in the developing world, from Mumbai to Port of Spain, where people must draw upon similar faculties of resilience to simply get through life.

But this capacity to quickly reset, and the elasticity to endure bitter public conditions, has unintended pitfalls. The following year, when returning to Australia and reading more into corruption and leadership in the developing world, it became clear that having the ability to quickly ‘move on’ from seismic events and gross public injustice could gradually lead to a societal-wide lack of accountability. Over time this can morph into a crude form of public tolerance for poor leadership and widespread corruption.

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