Conscious national strategy: building a progressive future or courting disaster?

National discontent will become obvious if government isolates itself.


Adopting a specific national strategy is a conscious political decision. It ought to focus on what is in the best interests of the state and the nation – and not on the personal or party-political (financial) interests of those who grace the seats of government.

Ultimately, it determines the state’s trajectory and informs and warns the nation if the government is succeeding, failing or merely stumbling its way to the next election, if it can be trusted and if it deserves to remain in power.

A nation’s strategy can generally be considered that of isolation, inaction, engagement or action.

It is, however, the trajectory of the state that gives an understanding of the type of strategy it has embarked on. It provides markers for success or failure.

Security or instability

It indicates security or instability. It reflects national unity or national division. A progressive government will incorporate elements of both the engagement and action strategies to serve its domestic and foreign interests.

This allows it to exploit the levers of power while simultaneously being able to project hard, smart, soft and sharp power to realise its goals.

It will, despite its faults – which it will acknowledge – still recognise that it serves the interests of the voters and the nation at large, and not vice versa.

It will devise policies and plans to benefit the nation. It will fight against unemployment and marginalisation as it will realise the dangers thereof.

Promoting economic growth

It will understand the importance of service delivery. It will understand that security and stability are essential for economic growth and development.

It will create conditions to promote economic growth and encourage domestic and direct inward investments.

It will not attempt to normalise crime, corruption, disinvestment, emigration and mass unemployment. It will look to the future and not remain stuck in the past.

However, it will assess the past to learn from those who built progress and prosperity and determine mistakes to be avoided in the future.

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Walking the talk

A progressive government will not develop its national strategy by exploiting the “cut-and-paste” function on computers.

Most importantly, it will actually implement its strategies and not merely talk about them to pacify an angry and frustrated nation.

When it is apparent the national trajectory is veering off course, it will make the necessary adjustments to redirect it back on course.

Conversely, a short-sighted and ignorant government will base its national strategy on hearsay, conjecture, rumours and personal emotions, driven by an insatiable greed and a lust for power.

Decision making

Intelligence-based decisions will be ignored in favour of a “we know better” decision- making process.

It will isolate itself from the nation and national discontent will become obvious.

Such a government views the state, along with its coffers, as its personal property, to be used and abused to increase personal wealth and power, regardless if its citizens are disadvantaged or plunged into extreme poverty.

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It views corruption and destruction as its mandate.

A national strategy driven by personal emotions and not by real-world geopolitics, or objectivity, or sound and credible intelligence, is doomed to disadvantage not only the state, but all of its people as well.

An strategy of isolation that has no true domestic or foreign policy is a conscious decision by those that hold power in a government.

Clinging to power

It is a self-imposed strategy aimed at clinging to power while developing failure and encouraging antagonism and destruction.

Its political leadership can, at best, be described as patronage- appointed, bumbling incompetents who believe they have relevance.

In an attempt to gain some form of domestic and foreign importance and credibility, the practitioners of such a strategy will attempt to punch above their weight class and seemingly wish to handcuff itself to pariah states who offer very little in return.

Believing its own delusions, it challenges powerful states, while laying claim to being the saviours of the world. It will strive to force its misguided policies and plans on those who don’t need them and turn friends into enemies.

Instead of getting its own house in order, it attempts to give advice how others should behave and act.

Disconnected policies

By formulating increasingly disconnected policies and implementing unworkable plans, it brings into question the competence of its floundering leadership and the legitimacy of the government.

Such an approach can be considered a strategy of irrelevance.

This type of strategy is the precursor to a failed or collapsed state. It sets the stage for increased popular dissent, where both the nation and the international community view the state as irrelevant.

It lays the foundation for mass popular discontent and possibly even insurrection.


Barlow is founder and chair of Executive Outcomes.

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