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Our tragedy is having leaders who stand for nothing

Why do people clamour for leadership positions in a world as perilous as ours? There is a range of reasons for this; some of them are good and others not so good. There are two sides within the pulling forces that drive the desire for leadership—the motive of the leader and the desires of the led.

The driving motive of the aspiring leader may not always be in sync with the needs of those to be led and of the society in general. The motives of the leader could include money, power and prestige. These may be ends in themselves for the aspiring leader or means to another hidden end.

On the other hand the needs of society may be development, cessation of war, peace or unity.   Given the demanding needs of society, few, with pure motives of meeting the needs, would willingly offer themselves for leadership.

Look at Burundi today—it is a nation mired in gloom and blood, is poor, has limited resources, is land locked and is now falling apart with lawlessness reigning across the land. It is crying for leadership.

A recent survey of youth in the Middle East was quite telling. While less than a decade ago their driving desire was to have democracy, given the violence that has visited that part of the world in the recent past, their desire has shifted to simply wanting to live in a stable, predictable land.

The flowing hills of Burundi’s suburbs are now characterised by raging guns going off at odd hours and bodies with injuries and mass graves being discovered across the land. It would take courage now for somebody with the goal of bringing peace and predictability to Burundi to show up and offer to lead.

The South Africa of 1995 was a land then characterised by uncertainty and which prophets of doom genuinely believed was a written off case. The Blacks were killing each other with abandon, violence in the townships was increasing and distrust between the White and the Blacks was high.

Few would have wanted to be in Nelson Mandela’s shoes to be tasked with the responsibility of healing the relations, calming the violence and attending to the astronomical hopes of the majority of the population. Being in leadership is a tough call. It is particularly so when one is seeking to make a difference.

There are many challenges when one is making a difference. Most leaders that made a difference in the world never had it easy while it lasted. Majority of them were called names and most did not know how the world would judge them.

However, because of the moral courage they had, they somehow carried on. The moral courage to do the right by the nation is often rare. Mark Twain remarked: “It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare”.

Today we celebrate the leaders that have gone by, including Mandela, Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln. But we can hardly imagine what they went through when they were in office and some of the attacks they had to endure.  Willam Buckley said of Mandela: “Where Mandela belongs… is precisely where he is: In jail”.

Abraham Lincoln was described as “a thing, mean, brutal, unprincipled, vulgar, a blunderer, a charlatan, a temporiser, crude, illiterate, bar room witling… fungus from the corrupt womb of bigotry and fanaticism… a worse tyrant and more inhuman butcher than has existed since the days of Nero”.

Killing him was considered to be for the “public good”. It is not any wonder they assassinated him! Those who go into leadership with the desire to do public good should thus be prepared for hard work and not much praise. It is the same Lincoln, upon who so much vile was poured, who said: “The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just”.

History absolved him. The challenge we have, particularly in Kenya, is that majority of those seeking leadership too often don’t believe in anything beyond themselves. They have no cause except to be rich, famous and glamorous.

The sum of their calculation is not so much how better off the country or county will be after them, but rather how better off they will be after their tenure. This is our tragedy as a people. Writer is Dean, School of Communications, Language and Performing Arts at Daystar University

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