" . . . Spine and Testicular Fortitude . . . !” Patrick Rothfuss

At a recent conference, former President of Sierra Leone Ernest Bai Koroma stated categorically that, Africans must learn to speak truth to power. Based on his experience, some leaders stray from whatever well intentions they may have had, because they were not told the truth when they were going wrong.

Like Squealer in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” a ring of sycophants around African leaders prevents them from hearing criticisms/reality they think they should not hear. Ironically, many such sycophants are handpicked by leaders themselves to do their bidding.

When the young mosquito came back from its first solo flight/mission and happily told the mother that everyone was clapping for it, the mother simply replied, “nobody clapped for you. What you took for claps were actually slaps of death meant to kill you.” Unfortunately, such hard truths like mama-mosquito told her child are warded off leaders by a retinue of praise-singers, whose only aim is to amass wealth using their office.

 So, even when they are booed, leaders are told by their sycophantic handlers that, what they perceived as booing is actually cheering. But if it turned up to be booing, then notwithstanding its spontaneity, it was planned many years earlier, and executed by the enemy.

Speaking Truth to Power (STOP)

It is often said that, the truth is bitter! Therefore, the idiom “speaking truth to power” means telling a superior the bitter truth, irrespective of the consequences. It is the expression for “courageously confronting an authority, calling out injustices, and demanding change!” (Wikipedia). It is also called moral courage.

When King David, not only slept with his General Uriah’s wife Bathsheba, but had him killed in battle when he realized he had impregnated Bathsheba, Nathan the prophet confronted the King and told him in the face he had committed a heinous sin/crime. In a show of humility, David admitted his crime and begged prophet Nathan to intercede for God’s forgiveness for him.

Unfortunately, such “Nathan-ic” boldness is in short supply in Africa. Indeed, sometimes such boldness is frowned upon as disrespect for authority, and could be expensive. Similarly, “David-ic” humility as shown by the king is lacking in African leaders.

 Patrick Rothfuss

President Koroma’s admonition reminded me of the American author Patrick Rothfuss (born 6-July-1973.) Among the many quotes attributed to the award-winning author Rothfuss is;

“You lack the requisite spine, and testicular fortitude to study under me!”

What did he mean by lacking spine and testicular fortitude?

The spine is the backbone in our bodies that enables us walk, sit, squat and perform all physical activities. Without it, one cannot do any of the mentioned locomotive functions. The idiomatic expression, to have spine, is therefore synonymous with courage, determination and strength/sincerity. To be spineless is to be weak, ineffective and cowardly.

Testicular fortitude has been explained to include “courage in the face of adversity” and “showing strength, courage and sagacity in challenging situations.”

Leadership and Management

In a 2020 class on “Leadership & Management” with final year medical students of the Family Health University Medical School, I stated that while “Leadership” as an art can be traced right back from the beginning of man with Moses/Joseph/David, “Management” is a more recent invention as a social science started after the First World War (WW1.) So while Management ensures that “things are done right,” and the status quo is maintained, Leadership goes beyond ensuring things are done right, to ensuring that, “the right thing is done!” While the Manager’s job often entails ensuring improvement, growth and development, a leader must have the spine and testicular fortitude to go beyond peacefully managing organisations, to breaking barriers and the status quo. In the process, a good leader will often step on toes as he disturbs the equilibrim.

In the words of American President Woodrow Wilson who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919, “if you want to make enemies, try making changes!” In spite of the fact that change is the most permanent thing in life, human beings tend to resist change. This is particularly so when the status quo favours leadership.


President Koroma’s advice for followers to speak truth to power suggests that, many African followers, and indeed some leaders, are spineless and lack testicular fortitude.

However, in recent times during the individual bondholders picketing at the Ministry of Finance Accra, a female, former Chief Justice Sophia Akuffo joined the pensioners and picketed with them at the Ministry of Finance. While her action was considered admirable by most Ghanaians, a few attacked her for enjoying her freedom of an “ungagged” mouth. Her calm response and use of the English words “pinhead” and “disturbance” were educative. She taught Ghanaians that, arrogance must have its limits!

Indeed, for many, she proved to have spine and testicular fortitude, or the female equivalent of “testicular fortitude” thereof!

Whatever it is, leaders including President Koroma are not totally blameless in the actions/inactions of the people they surround themselves with. Leaders may delegate authority, but certainly not responsibility. Failure to check Squealer-type sycophancy can only occur and fester if the leader endorses it.

Until African followers learn to have spine and testicular fortitude, President Koroma says, leaders will continue taking followers for granted, while trumpeting meaningless poverty-enhancing democracy! In any case, were Ghanaians not told to be “citizens, and not spectators?”

Leadership, lead!

Fellow Ghanaians, WAKE UP!


Brig Gen Dan Frimpong (Rtd)

Former CEO, African Peace Support Trainers Association

Nairobi, Kenya


Council Chairman

Family Health University College


[email protected]