Perhaps of the mind that political leadership should be entrusted to the care of philosopher-kings as Plato prescribed, political leaders are well prepared and groomed in France. Leaders don’t just happen there. They have rarely happened by accident, if ever, since the onset of the fifth Republic. Leaders emerge through a well-defined and structured process.
Way back, as a student of Comparative Politics, I was quite fascinated by the French political system. I never fully understood it, as it is not easy to understand from the outside. There are peculiar elements to it that seem to straddle the full-blown presidential and parliamentary systems. Some refer to it as a presidential-parliamentary system, a hybrid of sorts or a semi-presidential system. It simply does sit in a box like many others, and it simply fascinates.
But it was the elaborate leadership grooming/preparation process carefully entrenched in the system that fascinated me more, back then. Even now, with the emergence of Emmanuel Macron as president, the French system is certainly more intriguing to me. More than what is obtainable elsewhere, to some extent in Britain with its Etonian heritage and a long list of leaders to have emerged from Eton, the French have a structure for churning out political leaders, who have been deliberately and carefully put through the crucible of preparation in select schools and eventually through the civil service, as the pathway to eventual political leadership.
Perhaps of the mind that political leadership should be entrusted to the care of philosopher-kings as Plato prescribed, political leaders are well prepared and groomed in France. Leaders don’t just happen there. They have rarely happened by accident, if ever, since the onset of the fifth Republic. Leaders emerge through a well-defined and structured process. They go to particular schools, and only the best make it to those schools and out of them, thereafter heading certain ministries and agencies of government in preparation for political leadership. An accident is unlikely to occur. Emmanuel Macron might be only 39 but he did not happen by accident.
Macron’s educational journey through the élite Lycée Henri-IV in Paris, where he completed high school and then an undergraduate programme in Philosophy at the University of Paris-Ouest Nanterre La Défense – some of whose famous alumni include Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and Christine Lagarde (a former minister) – was well-programmed with a clear end in mind.
For his Masters’ degree, Macron attended Sciences Po, whose long list of distinguished alumni and former staff include twenty-eight heads of state or government, especially the last four French presidents – François Mitterrand, Jacques Chirac, François Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy (who however did not graduate), and now Emmanuel Macron. In training for a career in the senior civil service, he schooled at the École nationale d’administration (ENA), one of the highly selective and prestigious schools known as ‘The Grandes Écoles’, which was created in 1945 ‘to democratise access to the senior civil service’. Graduates of these highly selective and prestigious institutions often dominate the private and public sectors of the French society. Some of the high-profile graduates of ENA include former heads of state, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Jacques Chirac, François Hollande, and former heads of government, Laurent Fabius, Michel Rocard, Édouard Balladur and Alain Juppé.
…when people ask the question – Can a Macron emerge in Nigeria? The answer, in the context of the Macron presented here, is unfortunately in the negative. Nothing in our system takes the process of leadership recruitment and grooming seriously. We have no visible attempt at succession planning.
“Following a two-year intensive programme combining high-responsibility internships and examinations, ENA ranks students according to their results. Students are then asked, by order of merit, the position/body they want to join. Top-ranked students (between 12 and 15 students) usually join the so-called “grands corps” Inspection générale des finances, Conseil d’État or Cour des comptes, usually followed by the French Treasury and the diplomatic service. Other students will join various ministries and administrative justice or préfectures”. Macron was one of the top-ranked and worked as an inspector of finances in the French Ministry of Economy between 2004 and 2008. As the barrier between civil service and politics is fluid in France, Macron was a member of the Socialist Party (PS) from 2006 to 2009, even as he paid €50,000 to buy himself out of his government contract in 2008, leaving to work as an investment banker with Rothschild & Cie Banque.
Between 2012 and 2014, he was deputy secretary-general of the Élysée, a senior role on President Hollande’s staff. In 2014, he was appointed as the minister of Economy and Finance. He left the Socialist Party in 2015 and announced himself an Independent. He launched the independent political party in 2016 in preparation for his 2017 Presidential bid, which led to his recent emergence as the president of France. Evidently, all through Macron’s journey, it is obvious that, even at 39, the system had adequately prepared him. He did not come from nowhere to become the president of France.
Indeed, every system has its strengths and weaknesses. It has its structure and processes. Making the system work for itself or against its entrenched interests require, first, an understanding of the system. A Macron does not emerge simply by wishful thinking. And it is not a question of age. After all, while to break with the norm, France opted for a 39 year old man with little previous experience in public office, America opted for a 70 year old man with no previous experience in public office to break away from the norm. Age was not the determinant. The French prepared themselves for a Macron. They also prepared Macron for a day like this, possibly earlier than thought or envisaged. But they did prepare him.
So, when people ask the question – Can a Macron emerge in Nigeria? The answer, in the context of the Macron presented here, is unfortunately in the negative. Nothing in our system takes the process of leadership recruitment and grooming seriously. We have no visible attempt at succession planning. Nothing prepares our leaders for the demands of public office, except for some informal grooming mechanism, headhunting for all sorts of motives, making it a family affair or and generally leaving it, just as we do with everything else, to a game of chance.
If it is the case of the system throwing up and setting on the stool a 39-year old this deliberately and rigorously prepared for leadership, nothing in our system lends one to the optimism that such might emerge soon. Systems matter. They determine what is possible and circumscribe how far one’s hand can reach. Some offer a greater chance for a Macron to emerge than others. We continue to make a case for a parliamentary system as it offers us a less expensive, lean structure and a greater chance for the emergence of a Macron, prepared outside the system to be able to take on an anaemic system haemorrhaging rather than nourishing the nation.