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Why Nobel prize win by prisoner rings a bell

Opinion
 Narges Mohammadi, winner of the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize. [VOA]

Lack of competent leadership is the mother of all problems in the Global South. Other common challenges, whether social or economic, are typically secondary or mere add-ons.

But a hushed weakness we hardly confront is the sheer lack of self-sacrifice among leaders and the led. Across generations in our world, levels of selflessness are by and large wanting.    

As one would expect, being selfless means forfeiting personal gain. It’s a conscious decision to give up our wishes to allow others to have what they want.

To quote Buddhist monk Dalai Lama, our purpose in life is to help others… and if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.

As a life principle, those in power have the challenge of showing a greater sense of selflessness than hoi polloi. This may be debatable. However, a cursory look today suggests that those we call leaders merely pretend to be self-sacrificing. They aren’t and should pull up their socks.

This week, I join the world in celebrating imprisoned human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, who won the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize for her fight against the oppression of women in Iran. Her tale is laden with great lessons on selflessness.   

Many traits endear her to the world. From her heyday in the trenches, she made the fight for equity and social justice a life goal.

She led demos across Iran to make a case for an expanded civic space in favour of disenfranchised populations.

In Nobel committee chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen’s words, Mohammadi’s struggle came at a tremendous personal cost.

Serving a 10-year jail term in Tehran, the Iron Lady has continued receiving cheers since her win was announced last week.

US President Joe Biden praised her unshakeable courage, which observers call an inspiration to the world to rise against manacles of doom and oppression. In Mohammadi’s own world and mind’s eye, history doesn’t begin with us. There were others before and many further on.

But now, she says, her Nobel award, even if seen by the Iranian government as ‘biased’, will only embolden her to soldier on even if it ends up in pain rather than gain. Her happiness is making others happy and hopeful.

Imagine Mohammadi is not a power and influence peddler. She is not rich either, but what she does with her life in setting out a path for positive change will outlive her.

In my view, her terrific resolve looks a lot like that of Prof Wangari Maathai – the invincible environmentalist who oftentimes spoke truth to power.

Then there are other noteworthy African women like Martha Karua, Nelly Cheboi, Tabitha Karanja, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Winnie Byanyima, who stand for something we can see and feel in their pursuit of a better society.

In Kenya, all of us can, individually or collectively, make an optimistic difference.

However, when top leaders begin to see government as a shareholding enterprise of tribes, something is certainly wrong. When bureaucrats show a suffering Wanjiku the middle finger when she questions ineptitude and corruption that has fuelled mystery in the face of the rising cost of living, we must be perturbed no matter how much we feign hope.

Where is the selflessness in our leadership when credible estimates suggest that more than 20 per cent of Kenya’s GDP is lost annually to corruption?

Who are these looting us dry? State honchos said they are aware of entities owning banks and controlling interest rates, with public policy allegedly angled to benefit a few people.

There was also talk about those who executed ‘State capture’ and other unforgivable offences.

Can’t they be prosecuted if we’re selfless enough to defend Kenya and its generations against looting, tribal hate, political exclusion and rights abuses like the extra-judicial killings we saw during Azimio demos? Like Mohammadi, let’s live and thrive by selflessness. 

-The writer is a communications practitioner. Twitter (X): @markoloo

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