'Serpico' of Sierra Leone among emerging leaders at McCain Institute

By

Scott Seckel

Mira Koroma is the Frank Serpico of Sierra Leone; she could end up becoming the Teddy Roosevelt.

A police superintendent in the West African nation, Koroma is fiercely dedicated to ending the country’s endemic corruption.

Not to fight it. Not to discourage it. Not to campaign against it. 

To end it.

To this end, Koroma applied to the McCain Institute for International Leadership’s Next Generation Leaders program. It trains emerging leaders from around the world in values, ethics and character-driven leadership through a yearlong program blending professional development, exposure to top-level policymakers, and formal training in leadership and communications.

This year’s cohort visited the McCain Institute’s home base at Arizona State University in Tempe, meeting with university leaders and polishing their action plans on how to reach their goals.

More than 70 percent of Sierra Leone’s 6 million people live below the dollar-a-day international poverty line, living conditions that go hand-in-hand with corruption.

“Corruption is really bad, from top to bottom,” Koroma said. “It has become normal. It is expected. When you go to the hospital or the health clinic, you know you have to bribe to have services. When you want water or energy, you have to bribe. It is expected. People do it unconsciously because it is the norm of life.”

It enrages Koroma because Sierra Leone is rich in natural resources. “We are capable of taking care of all of our issues,” she said.

The government established an anti-corruption commission, but it rarely comes down on anyone inside government. Koroma thinks more law enforcement is not the right approach.

“Addressing the fruits of corruption is not addressing it at all,” she said. “We have to look at the root cause, and the root cause is lack of integrity, lack of morals, lack of values. We should address the root cause and then you can eliminate corruption. So go back to the homes and parents will teach their children and practice good morals in front of them. Inculcate such attitudes, and the children will become better citizens. … Gradually, there will be a change.”

ASU President Michael Crow spent time discussing leadership with the nine-member cohort. Leaders pursue their visions relentlessly, he said.

He discussed Horatio Nelson attacking the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile, completely disregarding established protocols in naval warfare.

He described how Churchill responded when the British army was driven in defeat off the beaches of Dunkirk, threatening Hitler personally: “We’re coming for you,” he broadcast.

Leaders do things that are “nearly impossible,” Crow told the cohort. “Leadership is not a function of rank or position. … It’s a mind-set. … You do whatever is necessary.”

Crow asked each program member about their projects one by one.

“They believe it’s impossible to wipe out corruption in my country,” Koroma told him. “They accept that corruption is a norm in our society.”

Crow discussed how widespread corruption used to be in the U.S., citing the New York Police Department until the 1970s, which Serpico famously fought from within, blowing the whistle on other officers.

Crow also mentioned 19th-century New York’s Tammany Hall. As he spoke his eyes shot to the right, where Old Main was visible from the conference center window.

A former New York City Police commissioner who waged a successful one-man war on corruption once stood on those Old Main steps. He walked beats late at night and early in the morning, to make sure cops were on duty, awake and sober. He personally hired 1,600 recruits and mandated physical and weapons inspections. He installed phones in every police station. That was Theodore Roosevelt, who shortly after leaving the White House delivered a speech on the future of Arizona and the West in front of the oldest building at ASU. 

“The leader is the one who never, ever, ever says it can’t be done,” Crow said. “Leaders run on positive energy.”

Before entering the leadership program, Koroma had no idea how to address corruption. The McCain Institute program changed that, she said.

“When I came here, having gone through the ethics and values module, it was an eye-opener. I was able to realize the issue we are having is not corruption, it’s lack of morals, lack of ethics and lack of integrity. So if we address those issues, corruption will be terminated from our culture.”

 

Top photo: Mira Koroma wants to end corruption in Sierra Leone. A member of the McCain Institute's Next Generation Leaders program, she spoke with ASU President Michael Crow at the Decision Theater on Tuesday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now