As I move around a little bit and I observe life, I discover that one of life’s greatest challenges is to be in a place of authority and to do well therein. It is easy to stand on the platform of irrelevance and criticize those wielding power. It is only when you get on that platform that you discover that it is easier to play opposition than to be in power. All an opposition needs to do is to play on the weak points of the man in power (and every leader does have one or more), and he will have a lot of people agreeing with him.
I find it difficult to follow today’s stories because I know that most of them are sentimental in nature. It is preferable to read history, as Condi Rice said in her book, NO HIGHER HONOR, “Today’s headlines and History’s Judgements are rarely the same.” From the early days of Africa’s move for independence till today, we have seen the reality behind the fact that the people who are in opposition today, when given power, always find it difficult to maintain control. Apart from the likes of Nelson Mandela, I find it hard (I do not say they do not exist) to see African freedom fighters (ancient and modern) who when they climbed to positions of authority were able to maintain their integrity and sanity, and manage that authority well. It is the nature of man.
If we truly want to learn one thing or two about authority, we will learn it from God. One important thing I have learnt about authority from God is the way He uses authority. He has the power to force man to do what He wants, and He has the right to force things to go His way, but He has decided never to use all His authority and influence. God teaches us a serious lesson on limiting authority.
However, quite unlike God, we find ourselves in our various positions of authority trying to force things to go our way, and to punish anyone who refuses to do so. We are quite ready to use our authority for our advantage and to look with disdain on those who are under us. This is the everyday reality as you travel all round Africa. From the politician to the police officer, to the security personnel, to the boss in the office, to the civil servant, to the University lecturer or classroom teacher. Everyone utilizes his sphere of authority to drive benefits his/her way and to crush every opposition to him.
But that is not the spirit of Jesus. He said “Blessed are the meek”. The meek are not powerless men, but powerful men who decided not to use their power for their own benefits. Take as an example, a teacher in a secondary school has a lot of authority over the lives of those children. Now many teachers use that authority to intimidate and insult them, and to press forward their own egos. It is usually funny for me to see a teacher punish two students for fighting, but sees nothing wrong in getting into a ‘fight’ with a student (even though he does not see it as a fight). When you use your authority too much, you rob it of its usefulness.
I remember once when I called a student who was passing to come to.me, and she shrugged me and moved on. Ha! If it was some teachers, they would have rushed her and given her the beating of her life (meanwhile, to beat in anger is a sin). I had to let it pass and behaved as if nothing happened. Later in the course of the day, I had to call her calmly, knelt her down, and calmly confronted her as to why she did what she did. After explaining herself, I corrected her on that, and taught her on the appropriate thing to do. I cannot remember if I flogged her (because I do that sometimes), but she sincerely apologized. This is what a leader needs to do. He needs to confront dissension with calmness. Learn to stoop down and talk with people, even if he feels they are not worth it.
I pray daily and ask the Lord to honor me before my students, and He has. This is because I know that to make people obey you is an art that involves patience, respect, relationship and the utmost integrity.
So, I want to encourage everyone in a position of authority (be they parents, teachers, clergy men, politicians, security personnel, etc.), to limit the use of their authority, and to pursue the values of honor, respect towards all, prayers, leadership by example, and other godly values that will make their authority precious, honored and highly regarded.