MWANGI: Country needs courageous leaders


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Kenya is still a relatively young country and hence fortunate that it can learn much from history.

Ancient Greek and Roman civilisations went through much of what we are undergoing today and we need to learn from them as we elect new leaders in seven months’ time.

Writer Stephen Pressfield in Tides of War, has a fictionalised account of one of the greatest conflicts in history, the Peloponnesian War.

This was the war between two of the West’s greatest civilisations: Athens and Sparta.

After the war, the then mighty and imperialistic Athens fell to modest Republican Sparta.

The big lesson in history derived from this unlikely outcome was that strength and enduring success or greatness is derived more from the party’s mindsets and principles than from any material or financial advantages.

In modern day terminology, enduring success is a function of software (mindsets, values and principles) rather than hardware (infrastructure, finance and material advantage).

This provides a critical lesson for us in Kenya in the electoral battle of 2017.

The million-dollar question that Pressfield shed light on in his book was: what made the Spartans unexpectedly triumph over the Athenians? 

The answer lies in the simple observation that the Spartans maintained a certain deep foundational quality that the Athenians lacked.

The Spartans possessed courage and the Athenians possessed boldness.

The Greek word for courage and manliness is andreia, which also means the maturity of a real man.

On the other hand, the Greek word for boldness is thrasytes, which suggests a boyish trait and a general lack of maturity.

A character in Pressfield’s book, Lysander explained that “the bold man is prideful, brazen and ambitious, while the courageous man is calm, God-fearing and steady”.

Pressfield’s book made four observations about the difference between people who primarily act from boldness, and those who primarily act from courage.

I have observed these traits in the Kenyan society today.

Boldness, he says, is impatient and fickle, while courage is steady and enduring.

In Kenya, politicians focus on making a quick win for themselves. Electoral promises are focused on winning the next election.

Today, we have the voter registration craze but there has been no mention of what significant ideological policy direction the key parties will pursue once they register the most voters and hopefully win the elections. 

The citizens’ continued frustration with this depressing five-year election ritual is driven by the Athenian impatience for a quick win instead of the Spartan endurance ready to work for the long haul success.

The second observation is that boldness is covetous, while courage is content. 

Our present leaders seem to have no clue about the concept of enough.

There is a constant struggle to advance material interests at the expense of the citizens.

The leaders fail to notice that primitive accumulation of wealth is an illusion that evaporates with the progression of years and the onset of wisdom.

Greed inevitably never satisfies but eventually annihilates its victim.

The more this lust for prestige, wealth and status is fed, the more it consumes and impoverishes the protagonist.

Kenyan leaders should learn from the Spartan victory and tame their hideous covetous streak lest it destroy them.

The third observation is that boldness is prideful while courage is humble.

In our society today, we have men and women who lead with arrogance rather than humility.

They behave like God-given gifts to Kenyans and believe success comes more from hustling and tribal mobilisation rather than honest effort.

They feel they were born for glorious exploits and they pursue success without sacrifice as they hack their way to the top.

Let us learn from the Spartans and embrace the courage of discipline and honest work.

The fourth observation is that boldness seeks glory while courage seeks honour.

In seeking to honour, support, and protect their fellow citizens, the Spartans lived for a purpose higher than self.

In contrast, the Athenians lived only for their own glory guided purely by personal ambition.

The similarities here are that some leaders do whatever gratifies their basest desires, and flatter their bloated egos.

If cheating will get them to their goal, they cheat.

Even worse they plot against and disparage those who aspire for higher standards of virtuous living.

Let them realise that seeking honour results in true victory.

Let us identify and vote for leaders who embrace courage over boldness and, as voters, give them the true victory they deserve.


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