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Meet Croatia’s President Who Taught The World a Lesson in Leadership

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At Sunday’s final between France and Croatia, Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović was a literal bright spot in the crowd. You couldn’t miss her. A combination of brains, beauty and power. Could it get any more potent than that?
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Dressed in a red-and-white team jersey, Grabar-Kitarović spent most of the game on her feet, cheering in support of a squad that ultimately lost the 4-2 final. Before being invited into the VIP box as a guest of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Grabar-Kitarović watched every single one of her team’s appearances from the stands with fellow Croatia fans.
Being a visible booster for a winning team is one of the fun parts of being a leader. Croatia has never advanced to a world cup final before and the team, led by captain (and former refugee) Luka Modric, were national heroes.



But when it was over and Croatia was left to reckon with the deeply disappointing defeat, Grabar-Kitarović was as present and supportive as she’d been during their ascent. She embraced a shattered Modric after he was presented with the Golden Ball, the tournament’s most valuable player award. A hard rain started to fall during the final award ceremony. As handlers rushed to put umbrellas up over the heads of Putin and other dignitaries, Grabar-Kitarović stood in the rain to shake the hand of every player on both teams.
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Being willing to stand up and project a steady and positive presence in times of disappointment is one of a leader’s most important tasks. The late South African president Nelson Mandela was an advocate of this view. “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur,” goes one quote widely attributed to the late leader. “You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”



Consoling a losing soccer team hardly counts as danger, nor is it the most challenging part of Grabar-Kitarović’s office. But projecting a sense of unity and unwavering commitment is a necessary and important part of the job. (Grabar-Kitarović is Croatia’s head of state, not its head of government, a role currently filled by Prime Minister Andrej Plenković.)
A former Fulbright scholar, ambassador to the US, and assistant secretary to NATO, Grabar-Kitarović is leading an emerging eastern European economy at a tremendously precarious time for the postwar global order, and only a few decades removed from the region’s bloody civil war. Standing by the team during its moment of public disappointment is as powerful a statement as celebrating in the good times.

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The value of leadership above partisanship in fact written it into Croatia’s constitution. Prior to her election in 2015, Grabar-Kitarovićwas a member of the center-right Croatian Democratic Union, but resigned immediately from the group upon election. Presidents in Croatia can’t hold any party affiliations in office. As leaders they must represent an entire nation, and there can’t be any question of whose team they are on.
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24 Hours Across Africa

Libya crisis hikes as Khalifa orders military forces into attacking Tripoli.

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Source: Reuters

Eastern Libya commander Khalifa Haftar has thrown much of his military forces into attacking Tripoli, but the outcome of the offensive could be determined by a separate battle — to keep open the parallel finance system that funds his soldiers.

Mobilizing Libya’s biggest military campaign since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, Haftar has advanced on the U.N.-backed administration in the capital from a bastion in the east, where he has a parallel government and central bank branch.

The general has funded his eastern state with a mix of unofficial bonds, Russia-printed cash and deposits from eastern banks, accumulating debt worth around 35 billion Libyan dinars ($25.18 billion) outside the official banking system.

But diplomats and banking sources say that those sources of support might be closing, as the Tripoli-based central bank, which controls the country’s energy revenues, has taken steps to curtail the operations of banks in the east.

Those banks have in recent months struggled to meet minimum deposit requirements, which could give the Tripoli central bank allied to Tripoli Premier Fayez al-Serraj the excuse to shut off access to hard currency, they said.

“There is a looming banking crisis that could undermine eastern authorities’ ability to fund themselves in the near future,” said Claudia Gazzini, senior Libya analyst at International Crisis Group.

“The crisis was already in the making before the war broke out.”

Haftar has built up his Libyan National Army (LNA) with the help of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt supplying heavy gear such helicopters, according to U.N. reports.

But Gulf countries such as the UAE have preferred not to give cash directly to Haftar, fearing it will end up being used for the wrong purposes, several diplomatic sources told Reuters.

That has forced the septuagenarian leader to use merchants to import vehicles and other gear, using hard currency obtained from the Tripoli central bank and paid out by eastern commercial banks issuing letters of credit, military sources said.

There is no public data on the costs of Haftar’s war, but he has sent more than 1,000 troops west plus support staff like drivers or medics, military sources and residents said.

Fuel is not a problem, costing just 0.15 dinars a liter, with state oil firm NOC serving the whole country.

But in its attempt to capture Tripoli the LNA has used hundreds of vehicles, with convoys going west non-stop from Benghazi, carrying anything from soldiers to ammunition to food.

In addition, every day two flights with Russian-made transport planes go from Benghazi to Jufrah in central Libya, his main base. Seriously wounded soldiers are flown to Tunisia.

The offensive has stalled, and so the LNA has vowed to move in yet more troops.

Haftar’s finances face another potential vulnerability.

In November, the House of Representatives allied to Haftar approved a law to set up a military investment authority which gives the LNA control — like in Egypt — of parts of the economy including civilian activities such as scrap metal.

The investment vehicle’s companies are exempted from taxes and import duties, as part of a welfare state envisaged by Haftar, but they need banks to deal with partners abroad and expand their businesses, analysts say.

“If the banks fail, Haftar’s welfare state will come under pressure,” said a Western diplomat.

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24 Hours Across Africa

Sri Lanka Update: Hundreds of Muslim flee Negombo fearing for their safety after threats of revenge from locals.

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Source: Reuters

As mourners buried the remains of Christian worshippers killed by the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks in Sri Lanka, hundreds of Muslim refugees fled Negombo on the country’s west coast where communal tensions have flared in recent days.

At least 359 people perished in the coordinated series of blasts targeting churches and hotels. Church leaders believe the final toll from the attack on St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo could be close to 200, almost certainly making Negombo the deadliest of the six near-simultaneous attacks.

On Wednesday, hundreds of Pakistani Muslims fled the multi-ethnic port an hour north of the capital, Colombo. Crammed into buses organized by community leaders and police, they left fearing for their safety after threats of revenge from locals.

“Because of the bomb blasts and explosions that have taken place here, the local Sri Lankan people have attacked our houses,” Adnan Ali, a Pakistani Muslim, told Reuters as he prepared to board a bus. “Right now we don’t know where we will go.”

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks, yet despite Islamic State being a Sunni jihadist group, many of the Muslims fleeing Negombo belong to the Ahmadi community, who had been hounded out of Pakistan years ago after their sect was declared non-Muslim.

The fallout from Sunday’s attacks appears set to render them homeless once more.

Farah Jameel, a Pakistani Ahmadi, said she had been thrown out of her house by her landlord.

“She said ‘get out of here and go wherever you want to go, but don’t live here’,” she told Reuters, gathered with many others at the Ahmadiyya Mosque, waiting for buses to take them to a safe location. “I HAVE NOTHING NOW”

Sri Lanka’s government is in disarray over the failure to prevent the attacks, despite repeated warnings from intelligence sources.

Police have detained an unspecified number of people were detained in western Sri Lanka, the scene of anti-Muslim riots in 2014, in the wake of the attacks, and raids were carried out in neighborhoods around St Sebastian’s Church.

Police played down the threats to the refugees, but said they have been inundated with calls from locals casting suspicion on Pakistanis in Negombo.

“We have to search houses if people suspect,” said Herath BSS Sisila Kumara, the officer in charge at Katara police station, where 35 of the Pakistanis that gathered at the mosque were taken into police custody for their own protection, before being sent to an undisclosed location.

“All the Pakistanis have been sent to safe houses,” he said. “Only they will decide when they come back.”

Two kilometers away, makeshift wooden crosses marked the new graves at the sandy cemetery of St Sebastian’s Church, as the latest funerals on Wednesday took the number buried there to 40.

Channa Repunjaya, 49, was at home when he heard about the blast at St Sebastian’s. His wife, Chandralata Dassanaike and nine-year-old daughter Meeranhi both died.

“I felt like committing suicide when I heard that they had died,” he told Reuters by the open graves. “I have nothing now.”

Meeranhi’s grandmother, with her head still bandaged after being wounded in the attack, was held by a relative as the first handfuls of earth were scattered upon her child-sized coffin.

Most of Sri Lanka’s 22 million people are Buddhist, but the Indian Ocean island’s population includes Muslim, Hindu and Christian minorities. Until now, Christians had largely managed to avoid the worst of the island’s conflict and communal tensions.

There were signs of some religious communities pulling together following Sunday’s outrage.

Saffron- and scarlet-robed Buddhist monks from a nearby monastery handed out bottled water to mourners who gathered under a baking afternoon sun.

But the town, which has a long history of sheltering refugees – including those made homeless by a devastating tsunami in 2004 – may struggle to recover from Sunday’s violence, said Father Jude Thomas, one of dozens of Catholic priests who attended Wednesday’s burials.

“Muslims and Catholics lived side by side,” he said. “It was always a peaceful area, but now things have come to the surface we cannot control.”

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