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Win or lose, let’s do it with grace

Next week Kenyans go to the polls again, to say yes or no to a new constitution. On Wednesday, some of us will lose and some of us will win. After Wednesday, we need to know HOW to lose and HOW to win.

The recent football World Cup final was an ugly affair. The Dutch team, fazed by the clear technical superiority of the Spanish, played dirty. They came out kicking and fouling, shaming many of their own countrymen. The match was ill-tempered and bad-spirited. But at the end a result was declared, and winners and losers felt whatever euphoria and agony they had to, shook hands, went home and got on with their lives.

The 2008 US Democratic Party presidential primary elections were an ugly affair. Candidate Obama and candidate Clinton went at each other hammer-and-tongs. They hurled accusations, insinuations and recriminations in equal measure. At the end of it a winner was declared, who went on to be crowned president. Hillary Clinton got up, dusted herself off, shook hands with President Obama and became his Secretary of State, a job she has handled with great gusto and commitment.

In life, you have to be ready to win and to lose. Both will happen to you, without a doubt. It pays to be able to do it with grace and dignity, and to move on. In Kenya, we have not yet learned that lesson at the highest levels. Winners generally crow and gloat and chant ululations and hold wild homecoming parties. Losers brood, sulk, hurl chairs, incite hatred and plot reversals and comebacks. This is sad. It prevents us from going forward, for we are always harking back to famous victories and egregious defeats. We flaunt our medals and display our scars for decades. We tell tales of wins and losses to our children, so that they too stay mired in the past.

We generally focus on losers and ask them to lose gracefully, but grace is something winners have to remember as well. The most famous example of grace in victory belongs to one Nelson Mandela. Why is this gentleman’s place in history secure? Because of a singular act of forgiveness. Despite being imprisoned for decades by his enemy, he harboured no ill-will when the tables were turned. He jailed no one, and instead reached out to his erstwhile tormentors and forgave and embraced them. That is the legacy he will always be known for around the world.

So, after August 4th when we complete our referendum on a new constitution, there will be winners and losers aplenty. Both sides have invested much time, resources and emotion into securing victory. Only one side can. Whichever side you happen to fall on, respect yourself and respect the result. Do not descend into indignity, and do not ask anyone to raise a finger in violence. We have hopefully learned the lessons of 2007 and will ensure a fair and transparent result. We have hopefully strengthened our tallying mechanisms and cleaned up our electoral institutions. We have hopefully learned that the shedding our own blood for the battles of others is a fool’s game. We have hopefully become better winners and better losers.

My final word is to the winners, whoever they are. Resist the temptation to beat your chest in victory. Understand the deep-seated fears and emotions that drove those on the other side. Place yourself in their shoes. Pick them up and show them why your victory is theirs as well. There is a result even bigger than a better constitution we can achieve this week: it is the ability to contest an election and come out of it intact and joyful. We could be a bigger nation by the time you next read this column.

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