Why leaders must seek moral uprightness in their quest to lead

Even in politics, there is a big difference between being legally right and morally right. One can be legally right but morally wrong. Yet, morality is the precursor for justice. Seeking legal right without embedding morality is wasted energy, resources and time. There is so much effort by both Jubilee and NASA to get their act legally right. But nothing, if at all, is given to us in terms of moral righteousness in reducing the political tension risking our own national peaceful existence. We need law and order to govern ourselves. Every society has its mechanisms of creating and sustaining its systems of governance as well as public conduct of those running those systems. We are no exception. For that we have a constitution that we fall back to as and when need arises.


One lesson from the 2017 election campaign is that our political elite operate best within “legal frameworks”. Just like in cases of people convicted of crime they never committed, there is much ambiguity on legal ongoings from both Jubilee and Nasa aiming to “right the wrong” committed during the August 8 elections. And indeed both are entitled to seek legal redress. However, good systems of governance are not just about “righting wrongs” in courtrooms and in the legislature. It is not simply about getting oneself power. Politics must embrace morals, and therefore justice, to right wrongs. Legal redress should not be merely about fulfilling the law without considering moral implications. One reason why great leaders like Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and Nelson Mandela hold a lasting legacy is because of their prioritisation of moral obligation to state above legal duty. For Nyerere, many still find his spirit of national unity and care for one another, a legacy to bequeath future generations.

Nelson Mandela’s fight against apartheid has everything to do with his inner moral drive than just raw political ambition. As a president, he would have easily imprisoned many of the white supremacists who tormented the blacks for decades. Yet, he rode on moral righteousness to call for reconciliation and understanding. He went ahead to resign the presidency when he had a chance to rule till death. Political morality has three main characteristics that our political leadershipcould learn from. First, most if not all of our political leaders know very well Kenyans are not primarily looking for legally correct persons to lead them. We are looking for leaders who will fight corruption, nepotism, continue to improve Government service delivery and be accountable to the citizens.

The right leader

Kenyans are after a leader who has conscience and knows that power is exercised on behalf of, not against the people. No matter how legally correct we can be, when we withdraw to the quiet of our homes, we engage with our own conscience. Choosing to support legally correct positions without listening to own conscience is a great de-service to this country. However, we must not tamper with our conscience to justify wrongs for that leads to moral apathy.

The second component of political morality is acquisition of relevant knowledge. It is quite puzzling how political leaders can antagonize each other not at the level of political competitiveness but at a deeper level of planting seeds of hatred nuanced in both their speeches and actions. What kind of knowledge informs political actors to the extent of adulterating political discourse for ordinary citizens interested in nation building is beyond right political reasoning. We have a considerably high level of literacy in this country but political actions are painting us in bad light. Reading political happenings on various media platforms, one gets an impression, we lack capacity in self-governance. Let us not pretentiously hide under the cover “politics is dirty” to deny ourselves political decency.

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Thirdly, political morality guides us on the choices we make. It doesn’t matter what political party one supports. What is critically important is the collective value we derive by co-existing. Party loyalty is a means to an end which is a lower level compared to our common good and common destiny. In sum, political legalism should not be allowed to supersede political morality. After all, we are largely a God-fearing people.

 Dr Mokua is Executive Director – Jesuit Hakimani Centre

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