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Kenya’s march forward possible only if we refuse leaders selling us fear

ANDREW KIPKEMBOI
By Andrew Kipkemboi | October 17th 2021

The desire for a better Kenya is down to the type of leaders we choose. [Courtesy]

“When choosing a person to vote for,” cautioned The Economist last year, “do not underestimate the importance of ordinary, decent competence.” The respected newspaper was reacting to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s shambolic handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Derided as recklessly incompetent and ineffective, Johnson has plunged from one crisis to another the latest being the fuel shortages precipitated by lack of truck drivers to deliver fuel to petrol stations.

It is unfathomable that the world’s fifth-largest economy by gross nominal GDP was contemplating fuel rationing.

Even before that, because government was not well organised, response to the pandemic was tardy leading to prolonged lockdowns unlike in most of the developed world. Most liberal establishments and politicians feel sorry for the country for electing the populist Mr Johnson, a former journalist.

If the UK, with one of the most educated and sophisticated electorate, could elect Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, what about Kenya, the cynics will retort.

The UK’s electorate folly was entrusting their country with a man who had sold them fear- fear of Europe and outsiders – those who didn’t look like them and hence Brexit. Fear is the currency of all lousy politicians.

The genius of democracy is renewal; no one person could rule in perpetuity. “So long as elections take place, there is always the possibility of kicking the rascals out.”

And so with elections in just under a year, the progressives and the optimists must seize the chance to shake the kaleidoscope and reorder things around.

The desire for a better Kenya is down to the type of leaders we choose. Good leadership is a possibility so desirable we shouldn’t spare any effort in its pursuit. The desire for selfless leadership, clean politics, sustainable development and ultimately, stability that we hope for at every electoral cycle starts with the choices we make at the ballot.

Why Should Anyone be Led By You? ask Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones in their seminal book. The key word throughout this very illuminating piece of work is authentic leadership.

According to the Harvard professors; authentic leaders “display a consistency between words and deed; leaders who do what they say; who practice what they preach.”

They list four elements “authenticity, significance, excitement and community” that followers want from their leaders.

All those countries that have pulled themselves into middle-income economies in the last 30 years have one thing in common; leadership. The transformation in South Korea, China, Thailand, Brazil, Chile, Malaysia, Singapore including Vietnam was because of selfless, authentic, charismatic and visionary leaders.

Besides being authentic, these leaders made good use of globalisation- the flow of ideas, goods, people, capital into their countries. Why should we fall for those who sell us fear and division? How does a Luo or Kikuyu neighbour suddenly become an enemy at election time?

Good leaders will splurge money in public goods like education, security, health and sanitation, transport, electricity and food because they appreciate that the task of any serious government is to raise income, improve public services, fight crime and eliminate corruption. For example, a good education ensures that those at the bottom of the pyramid have a fair shot at life. Education opens doors and gives their young ones an opportunity to pursue their life’s choices.

A good health plan eliminates obstacles that could otherwise undermine the gains made with a good education; a broken-down healthcare system will wipe away life’s savings and impoverish families.

David Brooks, writes in The Road to Character that President Dwight Eisenhower (the 34th President of the US) implored on Americans to “avoid the impulse to live for today, plundering, for own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow.”

Sponsoring and signing the Civil Rights of 1957, balancing the budget three times and ending the Korean War are some of Ike’s (as he was fondly known) key notable achievements. How did he do that?

As Americans have shown with the voting out of President Donald Trump, that starts with the people refusing “the temptation to be short-sighted and selfish” to be sold fear and being taken as masses to herded into voting blocks. After all, there is no homogeneity of needs, beliefs and aspirations.

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