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To aspiring leaders: Leadership is more than just ambition, it’s God-given

By Anyang Nyongo | December 14th 2014

When I first mentioned to my party leader, Raila Amolo Odinga, that I would like to relinquish my position as ODM Secretary General after last year’s General Election, he was reluctant to entertain the idea.

After extensive discussions, including our conviction that we begin hunting for young and able talent to progressively take significant positions in the party, we both concurred that the idea was not outlandish.

It is unfortunate that some opportunists who got wind of this discussion through some surreptitious means bastardised it for their own selfish ends, and almost created an unfortunate contradiction between senior party members and some young arrivals in the National Assembly.

Age, by itself, is just but a biological factor. Age, with knowledge, conviction, competence, courage, honesty, sacrifice, vision and humility, is a potent weapon with which a person can serve in a position of leadership, easily earning the support of those who are led. In that regard, both the young and old can lead. But the clock of time demands that we pass the button to future generations at one time or the other. And I feel that clock of time, in my own case, is nigh: the hour has come.

The hour has come for a person—born after the heyday of our struggle for national liberation, inspired by our modest achievements in the Second Liberation and challenged by demands to implement progressive changes in our new constitution—to take over the mantle of the secretary general of this party. That person must realise he will be like a donkey drawing a cart behind him in which all and sundry will put their luggage and rubbish for him to carry along. He must not tire of being the beast of burden of the party; always determined to get it moving, always focused on the future, always loyal to the leader and party members.

Leadership is a calling; it neither belongs to a job group nor is it a purely personal trait. It is given by God, nurtured by up-bringing, fortified by cultural norms, cultivated through education and association and finally driven by the “drum major instinct” that resides in the psyche of all individuals who at one time or the other get the drive to want to lead. There are good and bad leaders: those who have the drum major without the qualities to lead (the “dealers”); and those who have the drum major with tremendous qualities of leadership (the leaders).

In an orchestra (and my son who plays the saxophone in orchestras has taught me this) or a band, the drum major is essentially the leader who keeps the rhythm and beat of time with the use of his baton. He must therefore be in tune with his team, give them the correct signal at the correct time and know exactly how the band or the orchestra delivers together successfully, effectively and musically. To be a drum major may look attractive to the onlookers: but it is not an easy undertaking.

You will remember in the New Testament – and the story is told with equal measure and weight in all the four Gospels as well as the Acts of the Apostles – that when James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and asked him: “Teacher, there is something we want you to do for us.” Then Jesus asked them: “What is it?” Then they answered: “When you sit on your throne in your glorious Kingdom, we want you to let us sit with you, one at your right and one at your left.” Then Jesus said to them: “You don’t know what you are asking for. Can you drink the cup of suffering that I must drink? Can you be baptised in the way I am baptised?” And they answered: “We can”. Then Jesus told them: “You will indeed drink the cup I must drink and be baptised in the way I am baptised. But I do not have the right to choose who will sit at my right hand and my left hand. It is God who will give these places to those for whom he has prepared them.”

In a democracy—and ours is a democratic political party—all aspiring leaders will have the legitimate ambition to climb to the top, and such ambition is legitimate and valid. But there is a democratic process which requires “ascent by performance and approval by the people.” That process of baptism is neither given nor assumed: it is earned.

ODM, from its origins in the struggle for constitutional reform from 2005, has been committed to three core principles of democratic governance: freedom, justice and equity. In that regard, we have eschewed authoritarian rule in preference for a democratic polity; we have defended an open society as opposed to a closed and police state; we have advocated that public power and resources be used to promote the common welfare of the people rather than protect and serve capital accumulation by the few at the expense of the majority.

In other words we do not abhor capitalism as a system, but we welcome its productive powers to promote social justice and equity in a social democratic polity. We cannot do this if we as leaders are “value neutral”. We must be able to make bold decisions regarding the destiny of our nation. We must not fear to make such decisions nor need we make such decisions in fear. The best courage we have is to know that we have the support of the people because we serve them and work to promote their interests.

In our context the people’s needs and aspirations are clearly inscribed in the Bill of Rights, the Devolution clauses and the fundamental principle that only the people are sovereign in our Constitution. In this regard, no government can be legitimate which does not practice inclusivity in all aspects of governance, the use of public resources and the distribution of public goods and opportunities. It is our calling to defend and promote these principles as leaders of a party that aspires to social democracy.

Currently, the Jubilee Government is trying to roll back the constitutional gains we have after a long time of political struggle by imposing on us a repressive state under the guise of fighting terrorism. This is blatantly wrong. It must be resisted by all progressive forces. The state should develop the competence to govern an open and democratic society as constitutionally already established. It should not develop the power to repress and control an intimidated and cowed citizenry in contravention of our Bill of Rights.

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