The Leader and the Led|Poem Analysis|Niyi Osundare

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The poem, “The leader and the Led” is a poem about Africa’s struggle in choosing competent leaders who will bring about a positive change with desirable leadership skills and abilities.

The poet Niyi Osundare, who now lives in the United States is an advocate of the freedom of speech of individuals. From this poem, one could argue that he is not happy with the current state of affairs of the African continent in terms of leadership.

In this article, we shall be looking at the poem, line by line explanation of the poem, themes, literary devices, structure as well as some questions and answers on the poem.

The Leader and the Led

Line by line Analysis

Line 1 to line 4 analysis

The first line immediately introduces us to the Lion and his domineering nature of thinking he has the right to lead. In the first place leadership is a privilege given to an individual to do the bidding of his followers not a birth right.

After the lion had had his say, the antelope who is constantly threatened by the presence of the merciless lion quickly makes it known that the lion is not fit to be a leader. The poet uses these lines to show his dislike for aggressive and arrogant leaders who put fear in their followers. Such leaders create an atmosphere of intimidation and insecurity.

Line 5 and 6 analysis

The next to make a case is the hyena but the impalas ( antelope ) points out it’s insatiable hunger for power and authority.

Such leaders who behave like the hyena have no control over their appetite for fame and wealth. What makes such leaders dangerous is that they are willing to go to every extent to take from the weak and vulnerable leaving them poor and defenceless. Greediness is indeed the hallmark of the hyena.

Line 7 and 8 analysis

The giraffe is the next to try to take up the leadership mantle but his weakness fails him miserably. His eyes are too far from the ground.

These lines describe leaders who do not understand the needs and realities of their followers. Therefore, they are unable see the struggles, hopes and dreams of their followers. Such leaders may boast of their achievements and how well their hard work is unparalleled but such claims may prove to be completely false if carefully examined. Indeed, the actions of leaders who do not think critically about solutions can do more harm than good.

Line 9 and 10 analysis

The Zebra’s character flaw disqualifies him from this leadership role. The use of the word “duplicity” shows one who is untrustworthy and deceitful, a common character trait of most African leaders.

The pack quickly rejects this kind because their administration is filled with lies, corruption, failed promises and pretence. On the surface, such leaders may appear as angels sent down from heaven but on a deeper level, they may use evil manipulations to trick their followers into believing in their lies.

Line 11 and 12 analysis

Well, since the elephant is big in size, shouldn’t he be given the opportunity to rule?

No, the “elephant leader” should be avoided as much as possible because of his bad temper.

He lacks wisdom because he only relies on strength and force in solving problems. Such leaders are willing to destroy everything on their way just to accomplish their selfish desires and satisfy their egos.

Furthermore, choosing a leader has nothing to do with physical attributes such as size or attractiveness. Unfortunately, in the African society, such is the case. Sometimes, shallow-minded individuals are deceived by eloquent grammar, educational achievements, height and good looks.

Line 13 and 14 analysis

The warthogs unpleasant nature does not allow for a leadership position while the rhino’s constant threat to peace and stability is nothing to write home about. Such leaders are likely to have poor communication and interpersonal skills which causes the pack to dislike and disregard their authority.

Line 15 and 16 analysis

In their pursuit of the perfect leader and finding none, the pack goes about with no vision. This results in a waste of time, energy and resources.

In the African continent, most leaders have no clear goals to steer their countries towards long term achievements. Without goals, the people become an aimlessly pack of individuals with no ideas and direction.

Line 17 to 22 analysis

Finally, the Forest sage, which symbolises the wisdom of the pack suggests a solution to the leadership crisis.

According to the forest sage, the ideal leader is supposed to have a mixture of qualities to create a well-balanced individual worthy of a leadership position.

“A little bit of a lion,” explains that sometimes the leader in carrying out his duties must be bold and ruthless when need be. On the other hand, he ought to have the patience and calmness of a lamb when the occasion calls for it. In other words, different challenges in life require one to use different approaches and strategies in facing them. The poet explains the same idea using the tiger and a doe, two animals with different behaviours and mindsets.

There comes a time where a leader has to be completely honest (transparent) especially, when dealing with his followers to avoid doubt and mistrust. Other times too, he ought to be secretive with some of his plans since revealing it could cause unnecessary tension or harm to his followers. Moreover, he should have the intelligence to know what to do at a particular time.

Line 23 and 24 analysis

The chosen leader should possess the humility to realise that the position given to him does not mean he is better or superior to his followers. Also, he should rule with the awareness that one who is given greater power and influence has the greatest responsibility.

The follower must not be idle but have a responsibility of holding leaders accountable for their actions. Sometimes when the leader is going wrong, it is only the follower that can point the leader to the right direction so as not to lose focus. In summary, the followers should be active participants in leadership not just mere spectators.

Themes in the Poem

1. The struggle for power and leadership in the African continent: The poet skillfully uses animal characters to create an awareness of the struggle for power and influence. The use of words such as “craves”, “tussle” etc shows how desperate people are to get into leadership positions.

2. An ideal leader should possess different leadership qualities and abilities: The poet uses the forest sage as a mouthpiece to tell us about the need for a leader to possess different characteristics. In times of crisis, these characteristics serve as weapons to be used for the betterment of the leader and his followers as a whole.

Some Literary Devices in the Poem


1. Tough like a tiger, Compassionate like a doe
2. Transparent like a river, mysterious like a lake.


The poet uses personification extensively by using animal characters to represent human behaviours. Also, his constant use of the pronoun “he”, referring to animals are examples of personification.


1. The ferocious pounce of his paws.

2. But his eyes are too far from the ground.

3. The pack points to the duplicity of his stripes.

4. The rhino too riotous.

5. Our need calls for a hybrid of habits.


1. “A little bit of a lion”

A little bit of a lamb”


1. “A leader who knows how to follow”
2. “Followers mindful of their right to lead”

Note: A paradox is a statement which may sound unreasonable on hearing it for the first time but may prove to be true when studied carefully.

Structure of the Poem

The poem has 24 lines and 12 stanzas. Each stanza is made up of two lines. The absence of punctuations allow the poem to flow freely from one line to the other without interruptions.

Punctuations are only visible when the forest sage begins to speak allowing the reader to pay more attention to the crucial parts of the poem.

The poem begins on a high note by the use of the most ruthless creatures such as the lion and the hyena and follows it up with less dangerous ones such as the giraffe, zebra, elephant etc.

This methodical style of writing creates suspense and interest in the mind of the reader.

Some likely Examination Questions and Answers on the poem

1. Comment on the diction of the poem.

Ans: The poet uses simple words to convey his message making the poem easy to understand. Also, the use of words such as craves, crown, leader, power, tussle etc. allows the poet reveal the theme of struggle and desperation for power and authority. Moreover, descriptive words such pounce, lethal, duplicity and trampling enables the poet to relate the character of animals to humans.

2. Would you consider this poem a satire? why?

Ans: Yes, there is an element of satire in this poem. For instance, the poet uses the hyena to criticise leaders who are constantly hungry for power and wealth. The giraffe is also used to criticise leaders who are out of touch with their followers’ needs and aspirations.

3. What character trait makes the elephant undesirable for the leadership role?

Ans: The lack of patience and the constant use of violence to get it’s way.

4. What function does the forest sage in the poem?

Ans: The forest sage functions as the embodiment of wisdom that brings out solutions to the problem of leadership.

5. What solution does the poet offer to resolve the leadership crisis?

Ans: In a nutshell, the poet suggests a leader with a mixture of non-negotiable qualities and followers who are willing to work together with their leaders to achieve set goals and objectives.

I would love to hear your comments and suggestions on the poem. Thank you!


George is interested in self-education, knowledge building and self expression through writing!

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