Monday, December 09, 2013

I will not mourn the man.

I wish I could say that I will miss Nelson Mandela. But having never met the icon, that would be a blatant lie. I wish I could say that I am sad that he is dead. But seeing the suffering the "persistent lung infection" caused him, that would be unconscionable. What I hope I will do is learn the proper lessons from his ninety-five years on Earth, his political evolution and his character as the leading face of integrity in modern history.

One did not need to meet him or to know him in person to admire him. Nelson Mandela, in many respects, was an outlier in a continent that has had cookie-cutter presidents, prime ministers and coup plotters for decades. In the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, Mr Mandela was not alone or the only significant voice. He is in a pantheon that includes firebrands like Steve Biko and Mangosuthu Buthelezi, and moral leaders like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Sisulu and Oliver Tambo. Mr Mandela did not stand alone; but in many ways he became the voice of the struggle for equality in apartheid South Africa.

In the coming weeks, months and, perhaps, years, many millions of inches of newsprint will be dedicated to deconstructing the Mandela Story. This is not the aim of this post. But in attempting to draw proper lessons from the death of Africa's greatest son, it is necessary to look in the mirror and see ourselves for who we truly are. Mr Mandela knew that he could never see himself as perfect; it is his flaws and what he did to overcome them that made him the leader he became. Kenya, sadly, has not had a self-aware president since its Independence. The President, almost like the Roman Catholic Pope, is infallible; his word is law. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Toroitich arap Moi, his acolyte, were much better at at than Mwai Kibaki or Uhuru Kenyatta wee or ever can be.

Take the punch-drunk shuffle of the Jubilee government. It is one thing to have a lock on the parliamentary majority; it is quite another to squander the opportunity the majority give you with hapless attempts at muzzling the press or the NGO industry. it is one thing for the President and Deputy President to be intelligent and supported by a generally intelligent Cabinet and senior public service staff, but another to have their party enjoy a majority in both chambers of Parliament, but have those majorities negated by uninspired and feckless leadership. But that is the situation that prevails today. The Jubilee government lurches from one crisis to the next because it has a parliamentary army incapable of discipline of effective execution of the Jubilee programmes. If this government were to fall, the blame should be squarely placed on the shoulders of the Majority Leaders and their Chief Whips.

But looking at what Nelson Mandela was faced with, and what he had endured to get to the presidency, it is extraordinary how a man who honed his leadership skills in an underground revolutionary movement and perfected it in a prison colony where news was scarce, managed to keep his parliamentary troops in line and forge a government and a nation where persons of all races could live ion relative peace and relative harmony. It is not a miracle or a coincidence that Nelson Mandela succeeded. If he had not had the experiences he did, and if he had not taken on diverse leadership roles at the points in his life that he did, and if he had not faced twenty-seven years of solitude without losing his humanity, he would have failed.

Many African leaders, including Kenyan ones, have not had the privilege or the misfortune, depending on where your silver spoon comes from, of having their leadership forged in the unique way that Nelson Mandela's was. Especially in modern Africa, many leaders are the beneficiaries of dynastic politics or money-equals-might politics or a combination of the two. A few are presidents-for-life nearing the end of their lives. A few still came to power by the force of arms. But the ones that claim democracy-building credentials who can claim to be heirs of Nelson Mandela's legacy are pitifully few. And when one expands their sight to include business leaders, educationists, men and women of the clothe and other "leaders" in the community, the ones who could be considered Mandela's doppelgangers are fewer still.

So I will not cry for the man I never met. I will not mourn for the icon I never saw. But I will do my part to learn his lessons and to apply them to my life and that of others. I will do my part to remember that humility is a vital tool of leadership, but a steely will sometimes gets things done. I will remember to treat my friends and foes with respect and courtesy, even when a swift kick in the pants is warranted. I will keep my grubby little fingers and toes out of the public trough. I will remember that my nation rises and falls with the number of young men and women who are learned and who have jobs. I will never place an elected representative above the Mama Mboga round the corner. I will speak truth to power, I hope, even if it kills me.

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