It was a beautiful sun-drenched afternoon in my village school where I was schooling. Over two hundred of us, just from six to fourteen years old, stood outside on the hard dirt ground wearing our traditional sky-blue school uniforms. At two o’clock in the afternoon the temperature was already high and it was quite hot, but we were commanded not to move a muscle. Droplets of perspiration fell from my brow and into my mouth. It was a day our outgoing member of parliament was visiting our school.
On that hot afternoon under the scorching, uncovered sun, we gathered to honor our leader through patriotic songs and recitation of loyalty pledge. As uniformed children, we enjoyed singing these songs, each of us straining to be heard above the others.
It was ironic that our singing and gathering was providing a platform for this leader to launch his re-election bid. It was a paradox to note that none of us children had a voter’s card and wondered, what exactly was going through the mind of this leader?
From this context, it has now emerged to me to face reality and grapple with the internal need to find correct answers about leadership in Africa. Me standing there in the heat of the sun, I was beginning a journey to discover the invisible factor in leaders that has influenced the state of our lives in Africa. I have been making speeches, I do still make speeches about this subject in many forums, but I admit that any speech is gone with the wind when you step off the platform. Therefore, I thought of writing an article because it would last longer than a speech.
Niels Bohr, Nobel peace prize winning physicist said, “Every sentence I utter must be understood not as an affirmation, but as a question”. The heading of this article is in the form of a question. I have intentionally done so because when you ask yourself a question repeatedly, your mind must search for an answer to your question. I hope African citizens’ minds can seek for an answer to my question. Even as far back as biblical times, we have been reminded, “you have not because you ask not”, and “ask and you shall receive”. But really, a problem is a question that hasn’t been answered yet.
Referring back to my member of parliament, I had said that I did not understand what was going through his mind when he joyfully watched us sweat and toil while singing for him. I have found the answer to my question. The answer is that during his time, when Kenya was a colony of the kingdom of Great Britain, every school was mandated to gather all students in assemblies to honor the queen of Great Britain through patriotic songs, citations of British poetry and corporate pledge to the monarch. These indeed were brainwashing, converting, conditioning and eventually shaping the self-concept, self-worth, self-esteem and perception of the world in which African leaders would live.
Indeed the mental impact of these imperial psalms has greatly contributed to non-achievement of the African dream. I mean one of the dream busters that is common and active in killing African dream today is us. We are our own worst enemies. Most often we talk ourselves out of our best ideas and we do it unconsciously.
There is a parable about the rabbi’s son who goes to live in a neighboring town. When the son returns home the father asks him if the town was different. The son says, “Yes, father, they teach you to love your enemy”. The father protested, “Well, we teach the same thing here”. The son replied, “yes, but they teach you to love the enemy within”. Most leaders and citizens of Africa go through life searching for the enemy in the outside. They blame the western countries for their predicament. Take for example, at independence; Singapore was Kenya’s economic age mate. But today, see the gap; it cannot be measured. The G8 is powerful, not because of its political system, but due to its economic power. An old African proverb says, “If you can overcome the enemy on the inside, the enemy on the outside won’t be able to do you any harm”.
You have noted that when there is new leadership in politics or otherwise, there is always eagerness to look for men and women to help the leader drive a country or an institution’s dream forward. So the leader employs someone who has worked in different countries or organizations for a period say thirty years. The leader is excited that he or she has a new catch with a wealth of experience and so puts the new catch close to him or her. What the leader does not realize is that the so called a ‘new catch’ doesn’t have thirty years’ experience, but has one year experience repeated thirty times. I mean he or she has never had a simple improvement and a single innovation for twenty nine years. You see the leader has already made a determined decision to associate himself or herself with a small minded person who ends up busting the leader’s dream and in the course of things rob the nation or institution’s opportunity from moving forward.
It is unfortunate that it is people who are in our inner circle who are the dream busters. Not that they are trying to be mean-spirited or discouraging, but they just have “possibility blindness”. They figure that it will be too difficult and too painful if they do not achieve these big dreams.
So they fear. Fear in fact is a very real human emotion that occurs when you anticipate or expect that something may hurt you. Therefore fear has been one of the dream busters that have kept many of the African leaders from achieving the big dreams. Franklin Roosevelt said, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself”. I have said that fear is real. Therefore, I do not agree with the old cliché that some clever speaker came up with which says, “Fear is false evidence appearing real”. I know this has become so popular that people think it is true. But that is not what fear is. Noah St. John said, “Fear is the emotional effect of absence of personal control over your situation”.
The vilest impression on the African young minds during colonial period was that they were born to serve and worship the empire and that they were not capable of leadership. They were conditioned to depend on the colonial powers for life and value, trained that they could not determine their own destinies and chart out their own future plans. This has contributed in undermining fulfilling of African dream to date. African leaders might just find that the words of ralph Waldo Emerson were eminently true, “inside of us, we all know that on the other side of fear lies freedom”.
The last major dream buster is settling for mediocrity. Many of the countries or institutions at the top started at the bottom but rose to the top. Why? This is because they refused to settle for mediocrity. They pursued excellence and began to rise. It is the crème de la crème principle – the cream will rise to the top. So Africa has the power within itself to change the narrative.
One day my mother spread wimbi outside our house. At that time I was seven years old. She told me to take care and prevent any intruder to it. All of a sudden, I saw birds of different colors eating the wimbi and was enjoying the entire episode. My mother reprimanded and accused me of standing there watching the birds finish the only stock of food we had for that day. I was indeed sorry and remorseful. But the question that lingered in my mind was, “where did the birds come from because I never saw them in ordinary times? I learned a great lesson which was, “you will never know the number of birds in your neighborhood until you put birds feed outside.”
The moral of this story is that African leaders will never know what they are capable of doing until they put the African dream to test. Also, they should not behave like me who was given food stock to protect but let the birds feed on it: but instead must jealously guard the resources bestowed upon them for the benefit of the African people. Through this way the African dream of eliminating poverty, illiteracy and disease will be achieved.