Why voters must raise the bar on leadership

One of the main reasons elected leaders in the counties and in the national government wobble and waver on service delivery, choosing to focus on campaigns barely a year after the last campaign, lies with voters. We have set the bar for leadership way too low for even clowns to jump into office and, as it were, start governing us.

For a while, following the controversial repeat presidential election last year, there were choruses calling for closure of the 2017 General Elections and “focus on development.” We listened.

But political doublespeak is now at its best. While most of us voters have moved on to our daily businesses as we wait for the return train in 2022, the political elite are busy luring us into the very train they say left the station last year.  

Let us face it. The campaign teams were never disbanded after the 2017 elections. They are active, laying strategies for the 2022 elections, or so we hope.

Fortunately, there is plenty of evidence on this; looking at our TV screens, reading newspaper headlines and following social media discussions on where we are with political campaigns.

Party members

Already, holding campaign rallies disguised in some form, pledging of loyalties, switching political parties, disciplining rebellious party members, determining successors and of course trading candidates from this to that party is in high gear. What else characterizes electioneering campaigns if not this?

Elected leadership is a social contract between voters and the leaders. In our case, the contract term is five years. But, when the contracted agent begins to ask for another term before a quarter of the first contract is delivered, the problem is not just with the agent.

If anything, the problem majorly lies on the party contracting. We voters have given too much leeway for elected leaders to please themselves with whatever action they want.

Clearly, a contract has terms and conditions. The early campaigns for the (future) 2022 elections are an indication that there was no binding commitment between the voters and the candidates.

We agreed and signed nothing on which the elected leaders will focus for the next three years – at least if the fifth year is for campaigns. Had we done this, the contracted agent would be busy meeting the contractual obligations.

In serious democracies, the contract will be terminated if either party is not honoring its part of the bargain. In our case, we come across a little bit helpless. The law is clear on when the election campaigns should take place. However, it is simply a law on paper.  Who can stand against the mighty?

Well, we can.  First, campaigns take money. Since the elected leaders have already started anyway, why not have an election on August 8, 2019? The reasoning is simple. The political elite have money they want to spend, specifically on election campaigning. Let us give them a chance to spend it.

The fundraisings

Second, it appears the 2017 elections came a little bit too early for the candidates. It is not normal that an election that is hardly a year away can attract “fundraisings and donations” meant to sway voters one way or another. Why not provide a wider chance for the fundraisings and supply of the donations as always happens in the year of elections?

Third, and most importantly, we, the voters, need to fix our expectations on what we want the elected leaders to focus on. Among the top priorities that pre-elections researches and opinion polls indicated last year was the fight against corruption, fixing the electoral process so that elections are not a cause for fear, displacements and deaths, addressing historical injustices and unemployment.

Agriculture and health also featured prominently, and yes, the government got this one right with the ‘Big Four’ agenda. However, other compelling priorities such as building nationhood for creating an enabling environment for development supersede sectoral priorities.

So patient

There are a lot of activities in county governments across the country, but hardly any is significantly transformative. How do we promise jobs to the youth when the local sugarcane industry, for example, is collapsing?

Where will the youth get jobs when value addition projects cannot stand competition from imported goods? Our youth are so patient because they have lived on many empty promises. Let us not overstretch their patience.

Unfortunately, most of the functions our leaders attend and the kind of priorities they are engaged in are mere maintenance operations to keep the country floating but in actuality making insignificant progress compared to the emerging needs.

We must raise the bar for political leadership. Demand for service delivery, accountability and transparency must be ingrained in our definition of who a leader is.

Dr Elias Mokua is the Executive Director – Jesuit Hakimani Centre

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