Kenyans keep longing for the day of the messaiah. On that appointed day a political superman will burst onto the political scene and within a few days or weeks neutralize the corrupt, end tribalism, restore public services and turn Kenya into a first world country. Fairy tale or fair optimism?
I have thought of the above scenario and wondered whether it could be Kenya’s path out of its deep crisis of leadership malaise and unremarkable economic progress. Its obvious that for a leader to bring about such sweeping changes he would need massive powers. We would have to exchange our freedom and democracy for economic prosperity. There is a fair chance that we would succeed. Maybe, maybe not.
However dictators come with a lot of baggage. History has many examples of liberators turned oppressors and one doesnt need to go very far from kenya to encounter the dinosaurs. The dictator could easily mutate into a monster who silences even kills political opponents, spreads terror, erects statues and establishes a dynasty to rule for a billion years.
Well, perhaps when we formulate the declaration to install the ‘benevolent’ dictator we can make a few strict provisions to guard against the excesses.
We can put a short one term that is non-renewable. The political saviour could for instance rule for only two years by oath. Two years of nothing but pure cleaning up of the system. She may sidestep any constitutional provision that bars her from acting decisively. After the end of the mandate he will retire. If she fails to go, then any citizen should find it patriotic duty to institute a decapitation. By the end of the fixed term mandate , the nation should have achieved a total revolution then we can live in prosperity thereafter.
All this looks like a long path. The model comes with its own challenges. Difficult Constitutional changes would be needed. There would be uncertainities at the end of the two years. There would be no guarantee that we would not slide back into past transgressions. Its a gamble at best.
This then raises the question, is there any viable alternative to the messaiah model of leadership?
To answer the above question, we must start by asking a few more questions: Why is it that we are so deeply tribal yet all aspects of our lives outside the political discourse appear reasonably insulated from the vice? Why is competition for political office in Kenya so stiff? Why do leaders hardly retire from politics? Why does that old man who was a councillor in 1988 still yearn to return into political office to ‘serve his people’? Why does corruption appear indomitable in Kenya?
All these questions and many similar questions have a simple response; privilege of political office in Kenya.
Respected kenyan academic , PLO Lumumba has said it better than anyone before him. That ‘the shortest route to ill-gotten wealth in Africa is through political leadership.’ The starting point of interrogating leadership in Kenya should therefore be at the point of motivation.
When the ‘unborn’ politician is sitting at home entertaining the idea of vying for the position of member of parliament, what be his motivation? What gets her to declare, taking out life’s savings to campaign?
Political office in Kenya brings instant wealth without any serious hardwork. It immediately sets one a part from the rest of society. As soon as one is elected member of parliament, your children will say goodbye to public schools, your relatives will bid kwaheri to public hospitals and your spouse will never see the inside of a matatu until the second coming. Once elected, a Kenyan leader will immediately move from dusty Makadara to the leafy Runda. Salutation changes to ‘Honourable’ many months to election day.
I opine that the high privilege of Kenya’s political office is the beginning of many of our chronic evils.
We are a tribal nation always staggering towards the brink of self-annihilation Almost always we dont know why we hate each other on the basis of some invisible, intangible, disputable construct called tribe. It is the obscene reward of political office. Political office is so rewarding that the aspiring politician, motivated by pure greed will not hesitate to excite the most basic instincts to get elected, consequences not withstanding
For the same reason , violence, insults and bribery will be employed.
I am convinced that a few good people, even in Kenya will join politics. A few (very few) will go in with the intention of faithfully serving. However, the high privilege of office soon blinds them and transforms them into ordinary cunning politicians. Its difficult to imagine that any elected who has tasted power will share these thoughts. On the contrary this kind of thinking will be resisted even violently. That should tell you something about the extent of our challenges.
Because political office comes with unique rewards and no sacrifice, it is extremely rare to find a kenyan politician who volunteers to retire after one or two terms of parliamentary privileges. They all claim that they still have ‘some unfinished work which they had already started and it would be wise if they got a chance to complete it.’ LIARS!
The only reason why kenyan politicians dont retire is because being elected in Kenya is a gateway to opulence without sweat. It is the reason why a senior citizen who was once a councillor in 1988 will easily declare that he is now vying for MCA , claiming that he has realised the position is very important and only someone with his level of experience can carry that important mantle. JOKES!
The only way we will get serious leaders in Kenya is when we make political office less attractive. Tanzania is far less tribal than Kenya because Mwalimu Nyerere created a model of servant leadership in which a leader must live an ordinary life. Pombe Magufuli is following suit through personal austerity. When leadership is a ticket to paradise, there will be every incentive for using extreme measures like tribalism to get elected. When getting into leadership means making real sacrifices by leading a modest life, greed will be checked by the system, automatically selecting the selfless and preferentially rejecting the greedy.
We cannot travel back in time to reset the trajectory of this country but we can do something about the future. How about organising ourselves as citizens and getting certain pre-election pledges from all these aspirants who are already campaigning. Lets forget about parties and manifestos for a moment and ask for simple deliverables that are verifiable. How about getting these aspirants to sign contracts that bind them to use public services once elected. Their children going to public schools and relatives being treated at public hospitals. If the governor of Nairobi can only be treated at Mbagathi district hospital , will his county govt not set aside funds to improve the services?
These citizen-leader pledges can extend to salaries. If MPs have the power to increase salaries, definitely they can reduce their salaries, its even easier. The SRC would have no problem with that. All we do is have them commit to us in legal agreements that they will reduce their salaries to a certain figure as first order of business after swearing in. The whole point is that we need leaders who are not insulated from the realities of daily life in Kenya. We want MCAs who get into matatus with us so they can appreciate the challenges of a disorganised transport system. We want them to live with us in our insecure estates where water comes for two days in a week.
High privilege of political office fuels corruption. Some of these leaders become corrupt after going to parliament. The rewards are so high that the leaders need to steal to rebuy the power and continue swimming in opulence. We agree that some of these guys dont steal to get rich , they already are. They steal to buy new political power. Vying for political office in Kenya is the one endeavour in which the resources needed must be indeterminate. A vicious cycle becomes apparent.
When we reduce the privilege of leadership, its not necesasarily the balance of resources that matters most but the fact that we will get more serious leaders who are focussed on service delivery other than staying in office.
We should stop wasting time on personalities. We should stop sitting here hoping that a messaiah is just about to appear. We should stop giving ourselves false hopes about yet another liberation that will “FOREVER” change the country. Our efforts must go towards creating a system which by itself will attract self-less characters and repulse the greedy. We should yearn to live in a nation where you dont see the president everyday in the news. Few people know the leader of Norway, Denmark or Switzerland yet the citizens of these nations live long decent lives.
If we must have a revolution let it not be about voting out old leaders and voting in new ones. We have done this many times. The best revolution in Kenya today is one which strips leadership of all the obscene privileges and makes public service a platform for selfless service.