5 Important Lessons Every Student Leader Can Learn from the Life of ‘Karl Marx’

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The story of Christopher Owiro, christened, ‘Karl Marx’ (the German revolutionist to whom Marxism school of thought is owed) is one that has been told in many ranks and one that for many more years to come may still be told, for there is a lot that depending on what you want to drive home concerning student leadership, you can always pick from his story, one that arguably intrigues as much as it disheartens.

Karl Marx led at a time when university politics and national politics were cooked from the same pot – at a time when the central thread that unified both was the clamour for multi-partyism and a fully-fledged democracy. It was a time when the student leaders of the day were a force to reckon with – forces that could not just be wished away. That student activism stemmed out important actors in the civil society and played a pivotal role in securing the rights and freedoms we enjoy today is a fact that cannot be downplayed. While his approach could have been the best given the times, I analyze his life and draw a few lessons, that had he probably observed he could have skirted walking the road that ultimately led him to the path of utmost destruction and ruin.

The first time I heard of Karl Marx’s story, it took me with great grief; at how such a brilliant and hope-inspiring young man could irredeemably get lost in the allure of alcoholism – that a man who had attracted so much awe and admiration during his lifetime could die one of the most unfortunate of deaths as a nobody. It is Karl Marx’s story that made me take a low profile when I got to campus. Today I decided to use his story to derive a few lessons that I feel may help a student leader avoid travelling the same road he travelled. I broke the lessons into five major ones though the list could be longer. It is an article that should surely awaken the thoughts of that student activist who sees nothing beyond student leadership.

Lesson 1: Lie Low if Situation Dictates

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Just as Robert Greene posits in his famous book The 48 Laws of Power, sometimes to ascend the leadership or political ladder – and remain there, it is paramount to lie as low as an envelope while in the lower ranks, even if it means going against a few principles you believe in – even if it is going to make you look like a coward. The great writer Chinua Achebe underpins this very thinking when he opines that it is in the compound of the coward where we stand to watch the ruins of what used to be the brave man’s home. You will remember that Miguna Miguna was also once a student leader and when the situation dictated he fled overseas. The great orator PLO Lumumba was also a student leader whom many critics have argued was an administration mannequin. Well, this could be true but weighing this against what he has achieved outside student leadership and imagining that this could have been impeded by fighting for students’ affairs with the gusto it commanded then it only tilts the balance to his ‘puppet’ approach. Probably, could he (Miguna Miguna) have insisted on staying, he might have met a fate similar to some of the student leaders who didn’t really have a good ending. In my opinion, Karl Marx could have violated this very first law of power.

Lesson 2: Practise restraint

At the end of the student leadership remember that you have a broader and higher duty to mankind in this life. Life is never just about student leadership. You will remember that Karl Marx was unable to secure a job despite the fact that he graduated top of his class – well he did secure a job but lost it barely a week after his employer realized he was ‘the Karl Marx’. Try to strike a balance between advocating for student grievances and burning the bridge that you could need to use in future. Student activism is something that, especially in this age and time, must be done with careful restraint because, at the end of the day, none of the students you so much advocate for their rights will be by your side when things turn against you. This again I must say must not be conflated to mean you should fail in your duty as a student leader. You must have the students’ interests at heart but you must remember that you too got a life; you too have dreams that could be thwarted in a moment of throwing caution to the wind to be that hero the students hope to see. You must remember that you could be that sliver of hope that your parents and probably the extended family are clinging on to save them from the mire of poverty. You must learn the art of compromising. Weigh options and make judicious decisions that may fundamentally, at times, go against what you stand for.


Lesson 3: Don’t Allow Yourself to Wrongfully Be Used

Some people out there are only meant to use you. Karl Marx dined with the high and mighty in the society. The opposition leaders of the day relied on him whenever they wanted to reach the masses. His mobilization skills were unparalleled. He would be used to marshal the students and organize demos and strikes but these same people never cared about securing him a job. They never batted an eyelid at his social problem of drinking. Few politicians did attend his burial. This is something that is perfectly captured by the thoughts of T. E. Lawrence in his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom. He aptly puts it that We lived many lives in those whirling campaigns, never sparing ourselves; yet when we achieved and the new world dawned, the old men came out again and took our victory to remake in the likeness of the former world they knew. My little experience has taught me that we are never the ones to change everything. Some problems are systemic and would take a different administration with the political goodwill to effect. You must live knowing that the society is very rigid to change. You must also learn to clearly delineate and mark a demarcation between that which is achievable and that which though could be achievable, may take you great unnecessary pains to attain.


Lesson 4: Never Expect Much in Return

I must admit that I was to coalesce the third and the fourth lesson for I see a little disparity on what they intend to bring out. Something I find so ironical about Karl Marx was the fact that he was never elected the Chairman of SONU. You are surprised! Well, the students could trust him with fighting for their rights but never entrusted him with the leadership of SONU. That to me is worrying. Could he have been just used as a means to an end? Could he have fairly lost all the three times he vied for the Chairmanship position? Could he have been rigged out every time he vied (as he always lamented after every election)? Could he have just been exploited by the opposition leaders and fellow students and left to his own devices when the tides started going against him? Well, I am as clueless as you are. I am yet to find answers to these questions.
Never should you expect much gratitude for the services you offer to humankind.

Lesson 5: Know God

I felt that this was really important. Ask me why. You will remember that there were hard-lined student leaders before Karl Marx. There were those who also faced almost similar experiences. Karl Marx plunged into alcoholism, something which in my opinion precipitated his sad ending and compounded his problems. Karl Marx was a social wreck himself yet he preached of social and political reforms. That has been one argument that his critics have used against him. Alcoholism aggravated the whole situation. Beyond the surface of that lavish lifestyle deep inside he was living an empty life.

As a student leader, you must try by all means possible to escape that allure of pomp and pleasure that always come with such positions. Spare some time for your spiritual and social life. Even Solomon in his great wisdom and untold riches observed that all under the sun is but vanity. He describes it as chasing the wind in Ecclesiastes. Have the end in mind from the very beginning. After four or five years, however, well you shall have served the students, you will have to leave that stage into another stage of life.



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