‘Real leaders do exist’: Jacinda Ardern uses solace and steel to guide a broken nation

By | March 19, 2019

The Guardian reports:

In the hours after a gunman killed 50 people at two mosques in central Christchurch, prime minister Jacinda Ardern called a press conference that set the tone for a grief-stricken country. It has become a seminal moment of her leadership story.

The 38-year-old prime minister has been tested like few New Zealand leaders before, leading the country as it deals with the worst terrorism attack in the nation’s modern history.

Fifty people killed while at Friday prayers. Dozens injured. A once peaceful nation in profound shock. Ardern’s voice wavered slightly as she spoke, but her message of unity and compassion was unflinching.

“You may have chosen us,” said Ardern, referring to the killer, anger in her voice. “But we utterly reject and condemn you.”

By Saturday morning she was on the ground in Christchurch with the majority of her cabinet ministers and opposition leaders. Dressed in a black headscarf trimmed with gold, the prime minister met with members of the Muslim community affected by the tragedy. She held them in her arms as they sobbed, whispering words of condolence, and pressing her cheek against theirs. Video footage of those embraces travelled around the world.

Walking hand in hand with those affected, Ardern’s focus was on grieving and commiserating with the affected community. The alleged killer Brenton Tarrant was not representative of New Zealanders’ values and beliefs, she said. Quite simply he was: “not us”.

“The everyday discourse in New Zealand since the attacks hasn’t been one of hate and anger, it’s been we can do this, we can heal, we can come through this,” says Professor Jennifer Curtin, director of the public policy institute at Auckland University.

“She has shown a quiet, strong leadership, and been very focused on looking after the people who are most affected straight away. The killer has barely been mentioned.” [Continue reading…]

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