What NASA can learn from Gideon’s Army

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Bellum se ipsum alet. This is a Latin phrase that loosely translates to: “The war shall feed itself”. This was a common military stratagem in Roman times through the middle ages to Medieval times. It basically means once you deploy an army, the army will feed off conquered lands and recruit troops from conquered nations.

But while a war can feed itself, it can by no means lead itself. What does this have to do with NASA and Gideon’s Army in the Bible? Let me bring you up to speed if your Bible knowledge is rusty. Gideon, a dyed in the wool coward was asked by God to form an Army to take on some Eastern tribes that constantly harassed him and his nation.

Gideon worked to raise an army of thirty two thousand men. On his way to the battlefront God says to him that his army is bigger than it needs to be.  So he stops his legion and tell them that anyone unwilling to take on the rigors of battle is free to go home. At this offer 22,000 men desert.

God again says to Gideon that his army of the remaining brave 10,000 is still too big. So he takes them down to a river where God will further downsize the  army. At the river while the men drink, God says to Gideon to set apart the men who get on all fours and drink straight from the river as dog would. Only 300 men drink from the river as a dog would. The remainder drank from cupped hands. God says to Gideon that with these 300 he shall go to war and send the remaining home. This is where the interesting bit comes in. Why does God select 300 men who lap water from the river as a dog would?

In military practice if a squad (a group of between 7 and 14 soldiers) drink from a river, they shall not all drink at the same time. Some will drink while others keep their heads up and watch. Men are quite vulnerable while in such position consequently conventional wisdom dictates keeping a lookout. It would then seem that the 300 who lap up water as a dog would have no fear, no doubt and little alertness in them. These must be the bravest of the brave 10,000 left in Gideon’s army.

Bravery often comes with a generous portion of folly. Men with no fear; just eager to get into the thick of battle. They just want in! These are men who have their orders in their minds and are going to execute them clinically with little regard for personal glory or safety.

What causes a man to grow cajones like this?! Later Gideon inspects his troops and hears that these men’s bravery comes from the firm belief that God is on their side, that Gideon is the chosen one to lead them to victory. Whatever idiotic strategy Gideon comes up with shall win the way (in the Bible story, it eventually does). The success of Gideon’s army comes down to two things: soldiers with no regard for personal glory and a unitary command.

So why should NASA learn from Gideon? Two speeches in the recent past have prompted this article. The first Kalonzo Musyoka in an attempt to rubbish opinion polls says “Yaani Wetangula ni mtu, unaweza pea 2%?” (would you really give a 2% score to Wetangula). He then goes on to lionize his co-principal Wetangula and shower praise on him. The second speech, former prime minister Odinga declares “… Kalonzo ni Mwanaume!!” These two speeches do two things. First they place emphasis on the strength and attributes of the principals. While this builds enthusiasm with the foot soldiers and makes a grand show of unity, it also serves to send the key message that that these are the centres of authority. In an attempt to make a show of a democratic party structure they have wasted time picking out a presidential flag bearer. Every Kenyan who knows anything about politics knows who the flag bearer will be. It is common sense. Instead of portraying an egalitarian party leadership it wastes time and wastes enthusiasm which would have now boiled to a euphoria.

While wars are fought with weapons, they are won by men and strategy. One man from NASA has to step up, he needs to over shadow anyone else. They have to sing his praises, they can’t take turns singing each other’s praises. This is political foreplay. They need to give the foot soldiers a rallying cry, something to believe. A mission that is above everyone and everything. This could be real or perceived.

Lastly, they need to thin their ranks. Get rid of dead weight, soldiers not willing to go the whole hog. General who will share glory without bringing much to the table. Hangers on should be consigned to only to sing the praises of the leader or proclaim the mandate of the party.

Their competitors Jubilee are already well advanced on the strategy of pulling large crowds and conscripting regional leaders. There is little if any chance to win on that front. The NASA legion needs to pivot and attack from a different angle. When they do they may stand a chance of victory.

This movement will feed itself, it will not lead itself. Ama mnangoja Mzungu awaambie?

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