It’s imperative that integrity be the cornerstone of any endeavor where everyone is expected to be better off. Napoleon Hill declared, “I fully realize that no wealth or position can long endure, unless built upon truth and justice; therefore, I will engage in no transaction which does not benefit all whom it affects.”
I agree with Warren Buffett’s curt advice about employing people: In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. But the most important is integrity, because if they don’t have that the other two . . . will kill you.
Integrity is a precious commodity, and when it is compromised or put up for sale in the marketplace of life, the result is always moral and cultural bankruptcy.
Integrity has to do with consistent behavior stemming from a core group of values or virtues. When we speak of someone’s integrity, we often use descriptors like honesty, principles, truthfulness, strength of character, or incorruptibility. Probably the most common descriptor used for the lack of integrity is hypocrisy, because there is an observable disconnect between the projected expectation and the actual behavior.
While working in Somalia in 2001, I was shocked by two glaring examples of the lack of integrity that impacted the culture of that historic nation. The first had to do with the presumption of the citizens that the new president possessed “integrity, intelligence, and energy.” In the early days of his regime, Siad Barre had dreams of unifying the twelve major tribes of Somalia and developing a strong economy by emphasizing national loyalty and pride instead of clan individualities.
He realized he needed outside help and readily fell into the trap of accepting that “help” from the Soviet Union. He swallowed the Marxist-Leninist ideals of Communism and took control of the markets. Those concepts and practices were an irritant to the independent and more entrepreneurial tribal clans of Somalia.
The Soviets came creeping in, wrapping their tentacles around every life-giving artery of Somalia. But when Barre invaded Ethiopia in 1977, the Soviets cut off aid to Somalia and began to channel their military support and supplies to the Ethiopian government. They also brought in thousands of Cuban troops to drive the Somali military out of the country.
At that point, Siad Barre began endearing himself to the United States. He played the Soviets against the US to get his best deal. The US wanted to stop the Soviet expansion throughout Africa, as well as Soviet aggression in Ethiopia, so they agreed to pump millions of dollars of economic aid into Somalia and arm Barre with the latest and most sophisticated military weaponry to protect himself from the Soviets.
After the Soviets pulled out of Somalia in the late seventies, economic growth began taking place. However, Siad Barre became enamored with his own greatness and power, and his regime assumed a cultish personality intolerant of any challenge or criticism. The different Somalian clans resented the regime’s elitist cruelty, but Barre abandoned all thought of unity and resorted to control by pitting the twelve clans against each other. The clan warlords, in turn, began plotting Barre’s assassination. All of that chaos eventually became the setting for the “Black Hawk Down” incident in Mogadishu on October 3, 1993.
In the years leading up to this incident, when Siad Barre still wielded power, life in Somalia continued to deteriorate. Wherever there were pockets of discontent, Barre would send his trusted troops to machine-gun down all the livestock herds and throw into prison anyone who might speak out against him. He even sent his men into the northern areas of Somalia to poison the water wells of his own people. Eventually he utilized his military arsenal of bombs, tanks, airplanes, rifles, mortars, and other weapons that the US and Soviet governments had supplied to him and employed them to murder his own people.
In 1988, during a visit to the northern seaport city of Hargeisa (with a population of half a million people), Barre declared that he would punish the people for their disloyalty. He loaded the bombers he had received from the Soviets and the US and deployed them from Hargeisa’s international airport to destroy the buildings, water systems, industries, and homes in an ethnic-cleansing effort.6 Very seldom in history can you find anything as sinister or evil as what President Barre perpetrated upon Somalia. He also strafed and bombed other Somali cities, like Berbera and Burao, and eventually Mogadishu. The entire country of Somalia was left in shambles.
After twenty-one years of murder, deceit, and skullduggery, Siad Barre foiled an assassination plot and escaped with his money to Kenya and then to Zimbabwe. Finally he died in Nigeria in 1995. Siad Barre had possessed intelligence and energy, but he lacked integrity.
A second glaring example of perfidy and treachery in Somalia included the United Nations. During the genocide, Somali citizens were desperately trying to escape the country as refugees and appealed to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for help. Somehow the rampant lack of integrity engulfing Somalia washed over the UN as well. The incident took place while I was in Somalia, and it became a textbook case of “mess up” and disgrace.
The United Nations’ employees who were in charge of filling certain refugee quotas to countries such as Great Britain, Canada, and the United States were charging refugees up to $5,000, or more, in US currency to process their applications and place them in the host countries.8 That money went straight into the pockets of the UN employees. They would make the penniless refugees pay fifty shillings just to get inside the waiting room to talk to a UN individual. It was discovered that UN employees would actually sell false documentation, phony identification papers, and bogus case histories to enable people who weren’t even refugees to “resettle” in the United States. The UN admitted that four staff members were suspected of soliciting money from the displaced persons they were paid handsomely to assist.
UN officials came to the defense of their workers by insisting that they were really the victims in the situation. The UN had been informed for the previous two years of the employees’ scam but claimed that the employees had been placed in very difficult and stressful positions. Outsiders just couldn’t understand the unbearable pressures the employees had been under, or the temptations they had been subjected to when there were thousands of refugees seeking asylum in developed countries, and limited openings in those countries.
Finally, the United Nations directors reassigned the UN workers to locations where the pressure wouldn’t be so “unbearable,” but they made that decision only when some refugees, who had paid $5,000 but were never selected to go to the United States, threatened to kill the extortionists. The UN had to then protect their poor, victimized representatives. No one was held accountable or punished for the bribery scam. The UN employees had intelligence and energy but did not possess integrity.
It really wasn’t safe to go to Somalia when I did. There was no central government, no rule of law, no infrastructure, no civilized politics or security. But the Somali community of Denver had literally begged Project C.U.R.E. to go there with one of their members and assess the medical needs of Somaliland, since the entire healthcare delivery system of the country was broken, and all of the medical facilities had been ransacked, leaving the people without access to medical supplies. We felt that Project C.U.R.E. could significantly improve the healthcare delivery system and greatly influence the everyday lives of Somalia’s people for many years to come.
I was astounded at the absence of integrity I witnessed in Somalia and was reminded of an old Rwandan proverb I had learned in Kigali: You can outdistance that which is running after you, but not what is running inside you.
I believe that sometimes we are commissioned to go into dark situations with the match of goodness to rekindle the fire and fan the flame of compromised integrity.