Hon Ken Okoth has joined the pantheon of the greatest Kenyans that ever lived. To understand how he lived his life, one needs only look at the country’s reaction to his untimely death. He was 41. A wide cross-section of Kenyans went online citing specific things he did, and why those deeds set him apart from other leaders we know. His former high school, Starehe Boys Centre, gave him special honours. Everyone was eager to highlight his tireless efforts to effectively use the national constituency development funds (CDF) to better the lives of residents of Kibra Constituency.
History will remember him as Kibra’s greatest Member of Parliament so far. He was the gold standard of the spirit of CDF. He was a champion of his people, always at the ready to invest in transformative change. That was his brand. With each school or library that he built, he laid the foundation for many young lives to be forever changed. May he rest in peace. And may his family and friends find comfort during these difficult times.
As for the rest of the country, may we all learn the important lessons about this great man’s short but immensely impactful life. Brought up in Kibera’s Kisumu Ndogo, Okoth excelled in his studies at Olympic Primary School before joining Starehe Boys Centre. After Starehe he joined St Lawrence University in the US. Thereafter he earned a Masters’ Degree in International Relations from the premier school of international affairs in the US – Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.
While at Georgetown he worked as a Teaching Assistant. Former students have fond memories of him – a talented and dedicated teacher. His lifelong passions were education and human rights. In other words, the empowerment of individuals so that they can take charge of their lives. Hispeople-focused leadership will be sorely missed.
Above all, Okoth was a man of deeds that voters could take to the bank. This is the most important lesson that our leaders should learn from the man’s life. He embodied a can-do spirit that is much needed in our public sphere. He sweated the details. Saw projects from start to finish. No unwieldy budgets. No stories of theft. No delays. He planned and then executed. His remarkable achievements stand in sharp relief against the standard story we hear about our leaders and their chronic misuse of public funds – through either theft or hair brained projects with little impact on lives of Kenyans.
Too many leaders lack the basic management capacity needed to see a cattle drip through design, construction, use, and regular maintenance. After we mourn Okoth and condole with hisfamily, we must work hard to ensure that his memory lives on in our public consciousness. We should never forget what is possible when we elect a leader with a good head on his shoulders and who is dedicated to serving his people.
Moving forward, this should be the guiding mantra for Kibra voters and voters across Kenya. Mediocre leaders with little to show produce mediocre results. Garbage in, garbage out. Servant leaders with actionable transformative visions are the way to go.
More concretely, we should work hard to protect the projects he started. The schools he built in Kibra, among other public goods, should not be allowed to crumble. The government and his successor as MP are duty-bound to ensure that the people of Kibra continue to access the public goods and services that they currently enjoy courtesy of Hon. Okoth’s efforts.
- The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University.
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