Kipchoge's race a welcome cease-fire from usual toxicity
By Irungu Houghton | October 12th 2019
Eliud Kipchoge seems set to give the world a lesson in being a human without limits.
Watching the global excitement build, we may miss the deeper wisdom of what the marathon runner is attempting.
The real power lies less in whether he breaks the record or not, but in the attempt to do what has never been done. More provocatively, unless we internalise what it means for us as citizens and the country as a nation, we may miss the whole lesson altogether.
By the time you read this, Kipchoge may have broken both his personal and the world record for running 42.4 kilometres in under two hours, one minute and nine seconds.
His target is to do it in under two hours #INEOS159.
Kipchoge is already accustomed to winning marathons and breaking records. Having won the London Marathon four times and broken the previous world record by one minute and eighteen seconds during the 2018 Berlin Marathon, he is already the greatest marathoner of our time.
Predictably, the runner’s boldness has momentarily inspired and united the business community, politicians and the general population. Companies have changed their logos, bought adverts and are offering free air-time bundles for us to watch the run. Arch political rivals seem to be on the same side for a change.
At least for one day, we may experience a rare and temporary cease-fire in toxicity and cut-throat competition for control over the State. Everyday Kenyans, fresh on the heels of a public holiday, have already started calling for another public holiday.
There is nothing wrong with all of this. It is simply missing the point of what the fastest man alive is attempting to teach us.
Most human beings stumble to the end of their lives, weighed down by their understanding of their past and current circumstances and relationships and how they feel about them.
Most of us admire the courage of people like Boniface Mwangi to challenge mis-governance, the tenacity of Okoiti Omtatah to litigate in the public interest and the boldness of the Catholic Church for finally moving to partially regulate pulpit donations.
Unfortunately, despite our admiration, we don’t reflect on what it must really be like to live by these principles ourselves. In so doing, we miss the real lesson of what it means to not limit ourselves to the familiar and the comfortable.
If bravery is not the absence of fear, then perhaps innovation and leadership must include the presence of the unknown. Both have a degree of discomfort therefore.
This week, MPs unanimously voted to raise the legal threshold of how much public debt the Jubilee administration can accumulate in our name. Public debt currently stands at Sh5.7 trillion. One in every two shillings Kenyans pay in taxes now goes to pay off Chinese, European and other lenders. Knowing this, the lawmakers gave the green light to the Jubilee administration to expand this by another Sh3 trillion.
Around about the same time, 50 or so brave, young and mostly unemployed constituents of the same MPs organised a protest under the rallying cry of #SinaJobKE. After being teargassed, four of them spent the night at Nairobi’s Central Police Station before public pressure, the rule of law and sanity prevailed on the National Police Service to release them without charges.
Their voices sought to draw attention to the impact that shrinking economic sectors are having on unemployment.
From all time lows in trade surpluses, tea prices, inter-bank rates, private sector borrowing to dormant shares on the Nairobi Stock Exchange, the economy is suffering. The central point those young activists were trying to make when they were teargassed is that the number of formal jobs is at its lowest in six years.
If our law-makers were #BeingKipchoge they might have insisted that the administration fix the blood vessels causing such massive haemorrhage first, rather than extending another line of credit to a badly managed public finance system.
This would have been refreshing, bold and courageous. Instead, the National Assembly chose to follow the beaten path, play it safe and piously wish that somehow the administration will stumble towards a more sustainable debt level.
Kipchoge’s audacious run has profound lessons for us. Nature’s laws do not allow all human beings to think in one direction. Secondly, only those that declare no limits on their lives and choices are the ones we will ultimately admire together. Run Kipchoge run.
- The writer is Amnesty International Executive Director. He writes in his personal capacity. [email protected]
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