I hardly paid any attention to Kenyan peace activist Dekha Ibrahim Abdi, until she died last month from injuries sustained in a recent car accident.
However, the way she was eulogised and her work by people whom I know not to be sentimental or emotional, got me Googling her story.
I generally get turned off when people start talking about “leadership”
It is one of those amorphous words and concepts like “development”. It is, therefore, no surprise then, that “leadership” is a subject on which I am blissfully ignorant.
So when I was reading all that glowing stuff about Ms Abdi’s great leadership qualities, I was really thinking about why she made a difference, and how women’s “leadership” is different from men’s.
A very unlikely and unsentimental man — my father — rescued me from my ignorance.
I was visiting with him some weeks ago, and one morning he asked that I drive him to our local “capital” of Tororo in Eastern Uganda near the Kenya border.
He times his trip to the town so he can collect the Ugandan dailies, and Daily Nation.
He is a certified crossword addict, and I suspect that he values the newspapers more for the crosswords than the news and their often-pompous editorials.
Now, I did not expect a profound view of women’s “leadership” to come from a crossword addict, but I was most definitely wrong.
The old man sits on a school board in Tororo. For decades the school languished until a few years ago it made several changes.
By fluke, it appointed a headmistress for the school.
The last six years have seen one of the most radical transformations of an upcountry school in Uganda including the addition of new classrooms and the building of a library.
The school also had something it had not known for a long time — a lot of money in the bank.
Tragedy has a long reach. Four months ago, the headmistress died of a heart attack at the steering of her car as she drove to town.
The old man told the story in a sorrowful voice. I asked him why the headmistress had succeeded where many before her had failed.
That is when he offered his theory of women in leadership.
“You need to appreciate two things about women”, he started. “First, women fear prison. A man might steal millions, calculate that he will be sent to prison and come out a year later to enjoy the money, ” he said.
“Women don’t think like that”, he said. “A man goes to prison and comfortably leaves his wife to look after the children. No woman will choose to go to prison and leave her husband to look after the children”, he pressed on. The reason is obvious.
Partly because of that fear, he argued, women are less corrupt than men.
Secondly, he said, “in traditional African societies, women don’t chase after men. It is still mostly men who chase women”.
So what has that got to do with anything? “Men feel they have to impress women, and many go to great lengths to do so”, he said.
“Because their desire to impress is often greater than their means, they end up stealing public funds” with which to buy nice cars, gifts, and so on.
He was not done. “Even where a woman chases a man, she does not have to buy so many expensive gifts to get him. So she is likely to get a man of her choice on her salary”, he said.
Being a man who is not loquacious, he ended there.
When you read all that stuff about the “leadership lessons” from Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Che Guevara, Bill Gates, and the likes, you get to expect some grand theory about why the great men and women of the world make a difference.
Yet there I was being given a most persuasive and commonsensical argument about why women lead differently.
After so many years in this world, I saw that among the most powerful forces for good in our world, are the basic need to have a nice cup of tea at home in the evening, the joy of tucking the children in for the night, and the humanity of helping a neighbour’s hungry child have a meal.
We drove in silence the rest of the way into Tororo.