Applying Historical Wisdom to Modern Political Realities


Context Matters

Throughout my years in little political leadership, I\’ve interacted with a mix of personalities. Some are pushed into politics or lured by the thinking that it is a financially enriching adventure, while others have genuine passion and willingly engage. Then, there\’s a distinct group that treats political leadership as a physical science, always in efforts to follow a procedural approach as if it is a lab experiment, something like titration.

In many instances, you\’ll frequently hear some referencing well-known global figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Napoleon Bonaparte, Hitler, or Obama. On alternate occasions, they\’ll share insights from Karl Marx or Machiavelli. Their convictions run deep, and some have become a composite of ideas from theorists, political scientists, and statesmen who spoke within the context of their eras. Now, they\’re advocating for the application of these principles to contemporary societies, by patching sayings in speeches, often blindly overlooking the differences between historical contexts and present realities.

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Take for example Obama\’s \’Yes we Can\’ or Kipchoge\’s \’No Human is Limited\’ and many others. While these are phrases that are truly inspiring, they should be left to be used in the right contexts. People should exercise their creativity based on the needs of their people to come up with inspiring speeches and ideas that resonate with them. For example, if you are not a surgeon, you can\’t professionally dissect human body, \’yes you can\’t\’ and for that reason, in that context you are a human who is limited.

Never believe political analysts and theorists with naivety. Mutahi Ngunyi recently said in an interview: \’I\’m a political scientist, I\’m not a politician. I\’m a man of words, I\’m not a man of action…\’ This statement should serve as a reality check, helping you comprehend the distinction between theory and practice. Ideas, are perfect. Action is trial and error. Every leadership involves experimentation and learning from experiences. I\’d say, leadership is a freestyle/impromptu art and not a premeditated script. More years in leadership merely offers the wisdom to navigate challenges more adeptly and make more informed estimates. Nothing is absolutely guaranteed.

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Oh, have I mentioned those individuals who enjoy appearing knowledgeable by occasionally citing works such as the 48 Laws of Power, The Art of War, and similar texts? I\’ve engaged in numerous impassioned discussions with friends about this, and my advice consistently remains: delve into these books, but avoid becoming dogmatic in adhering to their teachings. You\’re well aware of the authoritative tone these texts often adopt—dictating actions and outcomes with certainty. However, let me emphasize that societal analysis shouldn\’t be approached with absolutism.

Moreover, consider this: none of these \’experts\’ have experienced the intricate process of actual political leadership. The theory they advocate lacks the practical wisdom that comes from real-world experience. Take, for instance, the maxim \”In politics, keep your enemies closer than your friends.\” While this \’law\’ may hold true on occasion, sometimes your enemies may also kill you. It\’s crucial to remember that context matters, and rigid adherence to these maxims can often be short-sighted and overlook the complexities of real-life scenarios.

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Recently, I also shared with a friend that there exist two distinct categories of individuals: those who command the stage, driving action, and those who immerse themselves in libraries, studying (and often misinterpret) the accomplishments of others to derive their own insights. You have the option to embrace one or both roles, as both offer substantial rewards and distinct forms of satisfaction. However, it\’s essential not to conflate the two paths.

Young people should give themselves time to see the world and gain their own wisdom. Even individuals who have long experiences in leadership may not offer flawless counsel, and this isn\’t a fault – it\’s a consequence of the ever-evolving nature of society, influenced by its many factors. The best way is to develop your own capacity to learn from some experiences either yours, read or other\’s to mold yourself into who you want to be.

-By Boniface Muema Harrison

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  1. Giving ourselves time to see the world and gain our own wisdom because change is inevitable and it occurs on daily basis

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