General Colin Powell was a good man!

Just as in any conventional war, no nation can win the economic development war without a few good men who are visionary leaders. General Colin Powell was a visionary leader and a good man. He was a Generals’ General who believed strongly that “leadership is solving problems.” He demonstrated his philosophy on leadership in public service during his lifetime. His leadership style was legendary. A soldier, public servant, and statesman who would always put his country above his personal ambition and partisan politics. In writing this article, this writer gazed at Plato’s allegory of the metal which classified men into gold, silver and lead. And with deep sense of responsibility, it is this writer’s opinion that General Colin Powell was an exceptional leader made of pure gold.

A General of higher standards. He came, he saw and he conquered. But General Colin Powell, the former first African American Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff and the first former African American Secretary of State, a war veteran and a diplomat, died as a result of COVID -19 complications. The American journey of the late General came to an end on 18 October 2021. COVID -19 pandemic – an invisible enemy – captured the amiable four -star general and wartime veteran. Very sad, indeed.

Colin Powell was born in New York City in 1937. Son of immigrants, raised in Harlem and South Bronx but worked his way consistently to the center of power in Washington, Colin Powell was trusted by most American presidents and the people. A Republican Party’s elder statesman whose political career made history in decades. Colin Powell understood early in life that “All work is honorable. Always do your best, because someone is watching.” This philosophy ought to inspire young men and women aspiring to leadership positions especially in Africa, south of the Sahara.

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In his autobiography titled “My American Journey”, Colin Powell shared his detailed experiences in the US Army. In an interview he granted a distinguished American journalist in 2008, he said emphatically that “He wanted to be remembered as a soldier.” He was admired by many in his life time because he was one of those few generals who saw war as a last resort.

No one is infallible. Can a four – star General who operated in the realms of politics, foreign policy and national security be a “saint”?

Powell’s Doctrine. General Powell had a doctrine based on his experience in Vietnam. Powell’s Doctrine was about diplomacy. Why go to war? Powell believed that before the US can go to war, it should have a clear objective, a sufficiently dominant force and an exit strategy. Would the likely benefits exceed the expected cost of fighting the war, Powell would ask? Drawing from how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ended, was Powell’s Doctrine ignored? Your guess is as good as mine.

As a military leader, he displayed the reluctance to use the military to solve political problems. General Powell would want to know how the initial use of military force would change the situation and what then?” It was this last question that triggered the slogan ascribed to him: “If you break it, you own it.” When you do, you win a gratitude of the people who have been suffering under the bad situation, Powell would always say in his lifetime.

By the time the General concluded his basic infantry course at Fort Benning, he came up with a few lessons in his autobiography as follows: “Take charge of this post and all government property in view” – the Army’s first general order; the mission is primary, followed by taking care of your soldiers; don’t stand there, do something; lead by example; “No excuse sir, ” officers always eat last. Officers always eat last. Never forget, you are an American infantryman, the best. And never be without a watch, a pencil, and a notepad.” “There is no profession in which life – and – death responsibility is placed on younger shoulders than in the military…”

He talked about loyalty in his autobiography. His idea of loyalty was aptly explained: “When we are debating an issue, loyalty means giving me your honest opinion, whether you think I will like it or not. Disagreement, at this stage, stimulates me. But once a decision has been made, the debate ends. From that point on, loyalty means executing the decision as if it were your own.” To the late General, trust is key in leadership. He was the US National Security Adviser to President Ronald Reagan and a distinguished Fellow of the White House.

The nature of war is constant. General Powell understood the nature of war. The nature of war comprises political dimension, human dimension, existence of uncertainty and that it is a context of wills. He knew that the measure of any military intervention is not how it starts but how it ends. That is why political leadership is always advised to weigh the pros and cons of fighting a war. It is easy to achieve the military objective of a war but the political objective is not easily attained. Political objective of any war can only be achieved by the political leadership, not the military. The decision to commit national resources to fighting a war is political, not military. So, politics must never fail.

No one is infallible. Can a four – star General who operated in the realms of politics, foreign policy and national security be a “saint”? General Powell’s legacy has been a subject of debate globally since his passing. But for his briefing sometime between 1990 and 1991 on the US operations to oust the Iraqi from Kuwait, many people in the international community wouldn’t have known General Colin Powell. In 2003 however, the General made a speech in the UN Security Council which undermined his legacy as he tried to convince the world that intelligence reports showed that Saddam Hussein of Iraq was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. “We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails.” Unfortunately, other reports showed that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. His reasons for occupying Iraq was murky at best, according to international relations experts.

Torrent of tributes to the Generals’ General. In an opinion column by Kathleen Parker in the Washington Post titled “Americans trust no one today as they trusted Colin Powell,” she said “Powell was everything we admire in a human being: a military man of conscience, courage, and honesty, erudition, loyalty and gentlemanly demeanor.” Friends and relatives have been sending a torrent of tributes about the life and times of the General. A colleague of the late General Colin Powell saw him as “friend, mentor colleague, role model and national hero. Colin Powell for all of his many accomplishments remains gracious, kind and humble……”

General Colin Powell’s greatest legacy, according to former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, is in the people he inspired. In an official statement issued by the 46th President of the USA, Joe Biden, “Colin embodied the highest ideals of both a warrior and diplomat. He was committed to our nation’s strength and security above all….Colin Powell was a good man.” We pray that God will give his family, friends and Americans the fortitude to bear the loss of the illustrious American, General Collin Powell. May his soul Rest In Peace. Amen. Thank you.

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