The tragedy of this world is that history always conveniently chooses to overlook the contributions of the precursor. My reverence for Alexander the Great stands undisguised! He achieved so much in such a little time and displayed such incredible wit in doing so that you cannot help but marvel at the splendour of it all. An ignored fact of history is that he would never have achieved any of that were it not for Phillip II; his father, who no doubt figuratively set the canvas and provided most of the hue his son used to paint the masterpiece the great Greco-Macedonian dominion became. The great scholar and tutor; Aristotle, was also in part responsible for both the philosophical and pedagogical formation of Alexander III. Unbeknown to many, in his youth Phillip II was the archetypal ambitious if not just rambunctious child who would not let anyone hold him back from attaining what he wanted. He was born and brought up as one of the heirs to the Argead dynasty of Macedonian Kings. He was the youngest son of King Amynas III and Queen Eurydice I and so had to throw his weight around to improve his lot in the royal succession mix. The men of his day earned respect not by scholarly pursuit but by valour in the battlefield. For his headstrong nature he once got himself captured in an infantile excursion, trespassing into the Greek nation state of Illyria at the impressionably tender age of 14. He was held for ransom there and later in Thebes. His insight and unyielding mien even under captivity reigned supreme ensuring he was soon taken under the wing of renowned Theban commanders Epaminondas and Pelopidas, enlightened souls who bequeathed him with a copious amount of tutelage on military organization and diplomacy. He was repatriated on a prisoner-exchange deal back to Macedon 3 yrs later having grown in both physique and psyche. In due course, the cruel hand of war took its toll on his two older brothers weaving a clear path for his ascension to the Macedon throne on his father’s death 6 years after his return. As one of the more capable rulers; he instituted the Macedonian Phalanx – involving longer spears than the opponents for the infantry, an unheralded tactical formation in battle that laid waste to all of his opponents. On conquering the city-states of Athens and Thebes mostly thanks to his expansionist vision, Phillip II consolidated his authority over his massive see. His conquest over the two vanquished titans ultimately saw him elected; albeit under duress, the paramount Hegemon for the federation of Greek states dubbed ‘The League of Corinth’ additionally serving as Commander-In-Chief of the entire sovereignty. Not a creature to eschew the rolling of the proverbial sleeves, 3 years into his reign he got his right eye wounded by an enemy archer in the heat of the battle of Methone, a sphere of influence of Athens but soldiered on to win that battle. He lost his eye but won the war over a territory with massive reserves of gold and silver, a pyrrhic victory of sorts. It is this indomitable spirit that laid the foundation which Alexander the Great inherited to build upon. Alex III began getting blooded in battle from his teens and by the age of 16 reigned partially as regent and heir-apparent when his father; the Macedonian warlord, was engrossed in yet another military campaign. Alexander fully took over authority at the age of 20 following the assassination of his old man, incidentally being blindsided on the left-side by his son as his very own trusted bodyguard lurched upon a lapse in security to stab him fatally. On that fateful day, incidentally the wedding day of his daughter Cleopatra and Alexander I of Epirus; he let his guard down ceremonially and rather nonchalantly riding in his chariot, brother of the bride – the Crown Prince Alexander III in tow. Long but hopefully instructive digression I suppose.
In the previous blog I entreated the antiquated yet obstinate strongman to take the dignified step and call time on his decorated political career. This in itself is a simplistic outlook that ignores the obvious shortcomings of leadership in the third-world, in token by and large of the people being governed. It is an entire complex equation full of variables, functions of state, combinations, permutations, matrices and some other aspects of happenstance which are mutually exclusive and cannot all be replicated for two different sets of circumstances. There are well worn sentiments that the leadership cadre is just a microcosm of the masses being governed. In most cases the polity is not any different from the politicians they elect. Even the hallowed commentator on matters governance Niccolò Machiavelli in his masterpiece; The Prince, observed that there is never a real change in leadership even when power changes hands from one individual to the next. It is just a game of musical chairs by the same monkeys but in different forests. We as humans share similar traits that become even more indistinguishable and primal the less enlightened the individual is. Human nature is so complex that either hatred or adoration can be kindled by performing similar acts of good or evil for a homologous audience on different days. The factor here is time while logic is cast out of the window. The uninitiated will judge more by the eye than by the hand as everyone can see but few can feel or less still perceive. If a different person is given power he is vulnerable to commit the same acts of corruption for personal aggrandizement, sexual perversion to buttress their social status, tax evasion merely to dishonour Caesar, hypocrisy while hoodwinking the blind albeit foolhardy and witless of their none-existent love for the Almighty.
After 20 – 40 years in power, a head of state is usually too full of himself to even countenance advice from the men and women in his payroll expressly for that purpose. He oft views himself as a god – ‘Father of the Nation’ and even a Professor of Politics despite open defiance and betrayal of the trust of the electorate who put him in power the first time. His morning starts with the infernal massaging of his ego, “mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the most beneficent of them all?” In his considered opinion it’s obviously he. He deludes himself that he’s the best thing since buttered bread and goes ahead to abolish presidential term limits. Some use the most flimsy of excuses to move the tentative start date of their presidential term forwards basing it on the day a certain minor constitutional amendment was made. Election dates are affected, postponed to such an extent that they become fuzzy and someone ends up serving a 5 year term in may be 6, 7 up to 8 years. This is in absolute contravention of the same constitutional ambit they disregard with ruthless abandon in their refusal to retire. They fiddle with term limits until they ultimately drop dead and their game is mercifully over. There is no postponing the visit of the grim reaper! The more callous will just announce that they have decided to become ‘President for Life’ and whoever has a problem can go create his own country and become its leader. These are men and women way past the confines of basic decency with some displaying not just the onset of dementia but senility, both of which are crippling handicaps not worthy of my derision in token of my upbringing as the son of a medical practitioner. You have no doubt heard a few quoting the hard to locate Biblical verse about leadership coming from God. I have often mumbled under my breath; no doubt miffed half to death, why God would hate us so much as to saddle upon our collective backs an incompetent, conniving and quixotic ignoramus to lead us when there are so many worthy candidates in our midst? Instructive to note, the sagacious grey-head will look at the sunset and decide it is now time to groom if not anoint a fitting successor.
This begs the question – What constitutes a competent successor?
I will beseech any retiring supremos boasting grey-matter to take time and sift through the wheat and chaff to get a man or woman who best displays leadership qualities, a predilection for effective stewardship. This includes courage in adversity, resilience, integrity, a belief in hard work, analytical thinking and most importantly an effective communicator. Get a guy with charisma and gravitas to always rise to the occasion on a need basis. Get one who is aggressive in the pursuit of results but still affable as to keep the team under him happy to be his subordinates.
Make haste to identify the right protégé early when public goodwill is still on your side. Timing is of the essence as the patience of even your most ardent supporter is neither infinite nor eternally assured. It will get frayed and before you can blink evaporate in the heat of your tardiness in bidding farewell. Even a good idea at first instance loses its traction as soon as a better one comes into the picture. To illustrate this I will regal y’all with yet another anecdote. King David son of Jesse is the most celebrated of Jewish Kings. Even today the Israeli standard bearer has the Star of David, the royal insignia in its drapery. He wrote the Book of Psalms to give praise and adulation the Lord. His piety and gratitude for divine providence was such that he personally wanted to build a temple for the Lord. When he put this by his creator he was turned down but with a caveat. “The resplendent domicile for my habitation will be built by your son Solomon, the fruit of Bathsheba’s womb.” He was slightly pained but you don’t argue with divine precepts. He consequently spared no effort in ensuring Solomon was up to the task. He even fended off on his young son’s behalf the individual claims to the throne by his older half-brothers Absalom sired from Maacah and later Adonijah son of Haggith. Ultimately Solomon succeeded his father as King, prayed for wisdom and was granted, eventually building and consecrating a fitting sanctuary for his Lord. Furthermore, he authored the Books of Proverbs & Ecclesiastes as a fitting tribute to the seeds of discernment his father planted in him. He would almost assuredly never have attained all this were it not for the proper whetting of his leadership scythe by his father just in the nick of time.
Mentor your preferred successor to ensure he works in a manner more similar if not better than what you delivered. Mentorship is an important factor of success. It enables one to take a shorter time to reach the rhetorical ‘cruising-altitude’ for success while cutting out the unnecessary teething problems they would have experienced in the absence of a seasoned predecessor. There is nothing better than learning from a titan who has been there and done that. As a retiring statesman do not be selfish with counsel in clear obeisance of folk wisdom that though one candle lights the other, it will lose none of its current luminous intensity in the aftermath. Be the epitome of altruism. Veteran ruler, worry not about the overshadowing of your legacy by your apprentice as I am of the school of thought that the mentorship of a suitable successor will hold you in good stead with your assayers when legacies are ultimately compared. There is no better way in ensuring your successor follows through on your development agenda than this.
Tutelage is never enough as actions speak louder than words. Guide your successor on all the facets of the system that is government. How do you achieve this? Have your protégé in leadership positions for small committees, boards, office parties and the like. Elect him as your representative on a fund-raising initiative so that he sees how it is done. You cannot train a grown-up on morality but be sure to make it clear to them that IFMIS is a system to facilitate accountability in government expenditure and procurement not to rob the financier of its all, the tax-payer! In the sentiments well parlayed by the good book in Proverbs 22:6, “Teach your child in the ways they should follow and even in their old age they will not depart from it.” Stewardship delegation ensures that your successor not only earns invaluable experience in the art of governance but it heightens the prospect that when the time is opportune he will do the same with his potential successor. It’s a wholesome tradition to initiate. In Kenya we had this man, Professor George Saitoti. He had a well-calculated political career paying credence to his academic and professional expression as a Professor of Mathematics. He was the Kenyan Vice-President for 13 years; later in his tenure, additional to the portfolio of VP he grasped steadfast the critical docket of Planning and National Development for 7 years; Minister for Education, Science and Technology for 4 years; Minister for Finance for 4 years – without any of the mortifying ‘Computer errors’ in computation of the national budget one his successors had to explain away and lastly held the Ministry of Internal Security for 4 years until his untimely demise. I am left to rue what such a character oozing oodles as far as experience in high-level governance is concerned would have done for Kenya if he were to become President. If Moi would have considered either he or Raila Odinga instead of political green-horn Uhuru Kenyatta, wouldn’t the cockerel of KANU have continued to crow well past the half a century mark? Likely yes!
After retirement I would enthuse the long-standing ‘Father of the Nation’ to take an advisory role of the elder statesman. You could decide to have a quiet retirement but any decision is at your sole discretion or that of your successor. Attend national events from time to time making your presence felt. Also take time to tend to your livestock and spare some more to tell tales of yore to your grand-children and their children as they also need you for their dose of folklore. Make reparations with all you have wronged and set your affairs straight with both the Deity and fellow man. Catch up with some surviving village mates for a jig or two. They need it.
As Africans we are tired of seeing once venerable shining lights of their generation retiring as grizzled old men; our grand-fathers, being chiseled off the Presidential throne for the graveyard. We are equally tired of the instability that inevitably results from regime change in some of our banana republics. Imagine if Muammar Gadaffi of Libya had groomed a successor in advance, what a flourishing tale the continuation of his legacy would have been? Instead of forebears beating their chests and informing us condescendingly, “I told you so” when a handover leads to chaos, it is only proper that one grooms an able successor as an expression of not just maturity as a leader but also authentic patriotism.