A rapturous world Saturday watched and applauded Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge attempt a feat no one but him thought feasible — run the 42-kilometre marathon in under two hours! Put differently, that is running slightly more than five metres per second. That he did was absolutely outrageous. But what for me is remarkable is that he actually thought he could do it and went ahead to dare.
It required a military-like operation to execute — from choosing the day with perfect weather conditions and a location that met all the parameters of altitude, gradient and consistency; sublime physical conditioning, to a billionaire who saw an unmatched marketing opportunity for his brand to bankroll the operation. Every detail was ticked off.
And why not? Mr Kipchoge was competing with himself, against time. He wanted, in his own words, to show that there is no limit to human capability. In Vienna, he proved in spectacular fashion that our minds and belief in self are the biggest limitations to achieving extraordinary feats.
But this does not always need mind-blowing preparations because it is not often one feels compelled to run 42 kilometres in under two hours. It is a hugely powerful lesson for us Kenyans.
Teacher Peter Tabichi, now globetrotting to hang out with President Trump and other dignitaries showed that one can be world class by diligently doing what they are good at whatever the odds may be. Rather than deter him, the deprived circumstances of Keriko Primary School in a remote part of Rift Valley challenged him to be innovative in his teaching of Physics and Maths. His assiduity and dedication won him recognition as the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher 2019.
Kenya has many winners – athletes, nurses, scientists, and technology innovators. Why then has it failed so spectacularly to breed world class political leaders? The answer lies in what motivates Mr Kipchoge and Mr Tabichi — unselfishness. They were never driven by money or even fame. Kipchoge is already an accomplished elite runner. He did not need to do anything else. Whether the world recognised him or not, Mr Tabichi was already a hero at Keriko.
One cannot say the same about our political leaders. Selfishness is at the core of most decisions they make. Even their celebration of the audacity of Mr Kipchoge’s feat is laced with selfishness and hypocrisy. It is a matter of getting the best mileage from a situation. Deputy President William Ruto travelled to Vienna to support Mr Kipchoge. The President called the athlete and wished him Godspeed.
Virtually every leader checked in with words of encouragement through Twitter and other means. And they all invoked patriotism and love for country.
But as they did that, the promise they have made of world class stadiums to provide facilities for other Kipchoges to bloom remain unfulfilled. Hundreds of other Tabichis are still toiling in severely harsh conditions across the country as parliamentarians pilfer and misuse millions each year allocated to constituency development. Doctors that could perhaps innovate palliative breakthroughs if facilities were provided remain frustrated, many others unemployed. Leaders demand high standards of moral behaviour and fiscal discipline from wananchi. It will be too much to expect that the courage and humility of Mr Kipchoge will rub off on our leaders.
Tom Mshindi is the former editor-in-chief of the Nation Group and is now consulting. [email protected], @tmshindi