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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

An Observation A Decade Too Soon

An Observation A Decade Too Soon!
M. Bakri Musa

Over a decade ago I was on a panel together with Dr. Azly Rahman at a symposium organized by the UMNO Club of New York and New Jersey. This was one of the questions from the students, and my response.

Has UMNO Youth President Khairy Jamaluddin a future in his party and country? 

MBM: The future of UMNO Youth or Khairy Jamaluddin specifically is peripheral to my interest. Meaning, I could not care less about what happens to him or the organization he leads. The future of Malaysia (and Malays) is also far divorced from that of UMNO or Khairy. 

Your question prompts me to make a more general observation on Malay youths, especially those few bright ones. Too many of them are like Khairy, poorly mentored and not-so-wisely counseled. Far too many think that graduating from a top university with an undergraduate degree is the height of intellectual achievement. Thus they eschew further education and training. 

As so few of our youths end up at those elite institutions, those fortunate few acquire a special sense of destiny. They are imbued with undisguised confidence in their innate ability. They think that they could helm a major corporation or organization without having to gain further experience or training.

In this regard they are no different from other bright students. Nor do I quarrel with their underlying assumption. I too like my leaders to be smart.

Their mistake is in believing that their undergraduate degree is their ultimate achievement and not the beginning. This is not so with bright American kids. Indeed the measure of excellence with American universities is the percentage of their students who go on to graduate or professional schools. Those few who opt for work would choose companies or organizations where they would get the best experience and mentoring.

Our problem is compounded by our institutional rigidity. A few years ago one of the students here was accepted to the graduate program at one of the top universities. Every year literally thousands of bright eager students from all over the world apply to this and similar programs. Yet when our student was accepted, the folks at the ministry back in Malaysia with their rigid bureaucratic mindset would hear nothing of it. She had to return home. 

If I were to advise the Khairys of today (meaning, some of you), this is what I would offer. First, congratulations for having graduated from a top university. You should be justly proud of your achievement. Explore how you could leverage that to even greater heights. Sit for your GRE, GMAT or whatever and get yourself enrolled into a quality graduate or professional program. Then when you are suitably qualified, work with some reputable corporations or organizations where you will have capable leaders and executives to be your role models and mentors. Better yet, set up your own enterprise. If you are pursuing doctoral work, stay back for some post-doctoral experience and have a few papers under your belt. If some bureaucrats somewhere were to dictate to you otherwise, do not accept their decision passively. Fight it. 

If you are related to a very important person, all the more you should take my advice. If you were to bank on your connections to achieve your goals, your achievements would forever be tainted, as Khairy is belatedly finding out.

Unfortunately there are many Khairys out there who look upon their connections as durian runtuh (open season), and exploit that relationship. That will definitely make you rise very quickly as long as your patron is in power. It would not however, be enduring. 

While you are on the rise they will shower you with superlatives. While his father-in-law was in power, Khairy was called “the best investment banker!” Wow! Those things can go to the head of even the most humble. It helps to remember that when they shower you with such extravagant praises, that reflects more on them than on you. 

As for Khairy, he is now a damaged brand; he can never recover. My unsolicited advice to him would be to get out of politics, possibly out of Malaysia too, and find your niche elsewhere. There are many ways to serve your people besides being in politics or even living in your own country. 

From my book Liberating The Malay Mind, published by ZI Publications, Petaling Jaya, 2013.


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