Leadership, social governance and sustainability: Sweden and the Hadza of Tanzania, an unlikely comparison

Sweden Tanzania

This article contains reflections at the intersection of several disciplines under Management & Organization that include leadership, organizational evolution, governance systems and sustainability. The background literature broadly follows from studies in the fields of Swedish management / leadership [1, 2], human nature [3, 6] and organizational evolution [4, 5]. An unlikely comparison of societal organizational characteristics is drawn between these two highly different social systems, the Hadza and the Swedes. The ideas are in contemplation towards a search for a congruent management of social structures that bridge the levels of socio-economic and political realities.

The Hadza are mobile hunter-gatherers who live in a woodland-savanna in northern Tanzania. They number about one thousand and are nomadic, moving about every one and a half months. Their fluidity of movement helps explain their inherent social egalitarianism [6]. Hadzas are serially monogamist in relations and individuals have full autonomy. They dislike being bossed over by another and have been known to simply move away from perceived bossier individuals [5]. They work as a large cooperative [3] and are central-place provisioners; they often feed themselves while foraging but also take food back to camp to eat later and to provide for others. Both men and women have their own division of labour, with the men almost always hunting alone. The most striking illustration of cooperation is the extensive and frequent sharing of food back at camp [7].

In brief, some general characteristics of the Hadza social organisation can be listed as:

– The Hadza engage in no warfare.
– They recognize no leader. Individuals are highly autonomous beings.
– They have distinct gender roles. They are egalitarian. Meaning to say, the gender roles do not constitute and is not conflated with the politics of the body such as found in feminism and the less mainstream men’s movement.
– They have a varied diet that is consistent with the diversity of ecology. No vegetarianism, macrobioticism, raw foodism, Mediterraneanism, ecologism, etc.
– They leave one of the world’s smallest human carbon footprint. They have done so for thousands of years.
– They are mostly free of possessions.
– They are free of social obligations and social rituals.

Their way of living however, has met with a certain resistance in the stream of Tanzania’s globalising efforts. The Hadza are considered primitive and “an embarrassment” to a modern nation.

It is here that I cannot help but see the paradox of regression in progress or “what is up is also down”, that each step of modernization and evolution leads away from yet towards the eventual goal.

During the 1970s, Graves had a close but alternative construct to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs where the human-mind-environment evolution was seen as cyclic and emergent, much like a double-helical structure of the human DNA. He outlined eight levels of transformations of human evolution [4].

Sweden’s societal structures and manner of social organisation could be pegged predominantly at the upper levels of existence pertaining to what Graves would describe as F-S, G-T and H-U realities of Sixth Subsistence Level, First Being and Second Being Levels, containing a likewise corresponding value system congruent to those levels of existence. The Gravesian levels of evolution to the ideology of organisational structures can also be similarly applied to the ongoing prominent discussion around the structures of the EU, where Sweden has held Presidency in 2001 and 2009. The EU despite its rotating country Presidency seems to lack an identifiable leader. They have also adopted a position of non-interference, which have led to the EU being described as internally fragmented, with too many autonomous actors that fail to unite when necessary. It is often heard that Brussels is not there when you most seek it, when you most need it. There is an office, yes. But the EU is not there. It is, everywhere. In other echoes in the Nordic spheres, particularly in the realm of the Swedish management style, it is what you would call a reluctant leadership that is characteristic, bolstered by the avid seeking of a general consensus. This ideology can be said to be somewhat even reflected in group photos.

“Look here at this group photo. Can you tell which one is the group leader? Would you say it is the person standing front and centre or at the back or at the side and if at the side, which side would they be standing?”

“In our case you mean?”

“Well, here and elsewhere. Yes.”

“In the case of Asia, the leader is this one here, front and centre with all other important persons to the left and right. In our case, it depends on what you want. It’s case dependent and usually the leader is behind the photo frame. Check there.”

Where once I thought that the Swedish version of leadership can be delineated, described and placed as neat as in a pigeon hole, today I have more queries with a need to readjust certain previous perspectives I have had.

Placing the observed characteristics of the Hadza in context of the Gravesian levels of human-mind-environment development, and comparing that to the observed characteristics of the Swedish management style, with an apparent lack of prominent stewardship, avid general consensus seeking and being lagom, it seems that the two peoples though several levels apart share similar social organisational characteristics. One society is of a globalized knowledge economy at the forefront of sustainable systems innovation and dissemination, whilst the other lives in a manner that has been for thousands of years that proves itself thus inherently sustainable. Both societies illustrate individual autonomy were in Sweden, couples might break marriages and partnerships in order to gain independence [8, 9] and are more comfortable with a lack of obvious leadership. As with the Hadza who have no social rituals or religion, Sweden is considered one of the most secular countries on the globe.

The question concerned where similarities arise is how similar or different are these character traits such as the lack of recognition of a leader in both contexts for example? And how does this execute in terms of social and organizational functioning, so that every individual is entitled to their autonomy with noone else having right to preside over? After all, both groups seem to be leading in the forefront of work-life balance in their social system with a high proportion of leisure time executed in different contexts of living [5, 10].

Still, when it comes to organization management, leadership and social / state governance, the majority are uncomfortable with the prospect of the lack of a recognized leader. Someone needs to take responsibility for when things fail. Someone needs to be accountable. And yes, having looked at the eight levels of emergent individual-societal evolution, then as things move upwards and structures formed, a system of accountability will necessarily need to be in place, the reason for the rise in judicial laws.

But what if like the Hadza you just, walked away? Not for the lack of morality or ethics but due to a higher understanding and manifestation of morality, ethics and integrity at Grave’s H-U Level of Being? Because things are as they are, there should be no guilt attached for what is the cycle of life, and there need not be finger pointing or blaming. There is no need for social rituals that eventually divide the commonality of mankind. Just, live and let live. This takes the non-encroachment of the space of Others at several levels in the definition of the concept of ‘space’. It means a thorough understanding of non-interference and how that might function in society, in social governance structures.

From Finkel [11]:

“The Hadza do not engage in warfare. They’ve never lived densely enough to be seriously threatened by an infectious outbreak. They have no known history of famine; rather, there is evidence of people from a farming group coming to live with them during a time of crop failure. The Hadza diet remains even today more stable and varied than that of most of the world’s citizens. They enjoy an extraordinary amount of leisure time. Anthropologists have estimated that they “work”–actively pursue food–four to six hours a day. And over all these thousands of years, they’ve left hardly more than a footprint on the land.”

“Traditional Hadza, like Onwas and his camp mates, live almost entirely free of possessions.”

“Gender roles are distinct, but for women there is none of the forced subservience knit into many other cultures.”

“The Hadza recognize no official leaders. Camps are traditionally named after a senior male (hence, Onwas’s camp), but this honor does not confer any particular power. Individual autonomy is the hallmark of the Hadza. No Hadza adult has authority over any other. None has more wealth; or, rather, they all have no wealth. There are few social obligations–no birthdays, no religious holidays, no anniversaries.”

“There are other people, however, who do ponder the Hadza’s future. Officials in the Tanzanian government, for starters. Tanzania is a future-oriented nation, anxious to merge into the slipstream of the global economy. Baboon-hunting bushmen is not an image many of the country’s leaders wish to project. One minister has referred to the Hadza as backward. Tanzania’s president, Jakaya Kikwete, has said that the Hadza “have to be transformed” The government wants them schooled and housed and set to work at proper jobs.”

“The Hadza, who once moved freely over 4,000-plus square miles of the Great Rift Valley, are clown to a quarter of their homeland as farms and livestock expand. Some Tanzanians see the group as an embarrassment for a modernizing nation.”

That some officials in the Tanzanian government see the need for the transformation of the Hadza to be schooled, housed and set to work at ‘proper jobs’ is part of the cyclic emergent levels of human progress described by Graves. Ideally, it would be that human progression could skip levels and slip seamlessly into higher social orders or consciousness. But that is not the case. A newborn child has several stages of development to go through even before crawling. These stages of development are necessary for evolution itself.

The dilemma then for leadership and social governance as such is how do we bridge this gap between the different levels of human evolution? How can we manage these different realities in a facilitative, non-interfering rather than suppressive manner?

To bring in the idea of sustainability, with the observation that both the Hadza and the Swedes have their own versions of systems of sustainable living, without compromise to individual or group autonomy, the conclusion is that for a wider, global perspective of sustainability, where people and their cultures are respected, preserved and even encouraged towards the diversity of the eco-system, there needs to be a manner of management that is congruent between the levels of policy, society and the individual. Sustainable leadership.

It is both a bottom-up approach where you are active in schools, in the education of the young towards such an ideology of collaboratively autonomous living, and a top-down approach to making changes to socio-economic policies where needed. The cascading implementation from top-down will in several generations, meet with the young ideology who will then continue to bolster the transforming and evolving system with as little suffering of a bloody revolution as possible.

[1] Jönsson, S. 1995. Goda utsikter : svenskt management i perspektiv. Nerenius & Santérus, i samarbete med (GRI), Handelshögsk. vid GU.
[2] Cordeiro-Nilsson, C. M. 2009. Swedish management in Singapore: a discourse analysis study. PhD Thesis. Department of Philosophy, Linguistics, and Theory of Science. University of Gothenburg.
[3] Marlowe, F. 2009. Hadza cooperation: second-party punishment, yes; third-party punishment, no. Human Nature 20:417-430
[4] Graves, C. W. 1970. Levels of existence: an open system theory of values. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 10(2):131-155.
[5] Mortensen, A. and Carrington, D. 2014. Africa’s ancient hunter gatherers struggle for survival. Inside Africa, CNN. Internet resource at CNN Inside Africa. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
[6] Vehrencamp, S. L. 1983. A model for the evolution of despotic versus egalitarian societies. Animal Behaviour, 31:667–682.
[7] Marlowe, F. W. 2006. Central place provisioning: The Hadza as an example. In G. Hohmann, M. Robbins & C. Boesch (Eds.), Feeding ecology in apes and other primates (pp. 359–377). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[8] Daun, Å. 1996. Swedish Mentality. The Pennsylvania State University Press.
[9] Demsteader, C. 2009. Less trouble and strife: Swedes and the single life. Internet resource at The Local: Sweden’s News in English. Retrieved 20 Aprill 2014.
[10] OECD 2013. Better Life Index – Sweden. Internet resource at OECD – Sweden. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
[11] Finkel, M. 2009. The Hadza, National Geographic. Internet resource at http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/12/hadza/finkel-text/1. Retrieved 20 April 2014.