President Mwai Kibaki once shed tears in public upon hearing the stories of young people who had been supported by the Wings to Fly programme of the Equity Foundation.
To see a politician of any calibre moved to tears by the plight of Kenyans is rare. But it should not be. But aspirants exhibit a sorry vote-deep compassion. This is a tactically crafted empathy that temporarily brings politicians into the lives of people with no intention of remaining with them.
This plastic empathy renders even the best of promises rootless. Authentic compassion stirs sacrifice. Compassion gives love wheels. A public leader who is compassionate finds no price too high if it be the way to the dignity of the people.
They will put themselves on harm’s way as they protect the people they lead. Their anger is roused when colleagues get insensitive about the people. A decent leader needs a good serving of compassion. What we are seeing on the campaign trail is not compassion but obsession. An absence of compassion leads to oppression.
Bravado has bolted to its maximum volume. Pride is recording peak readings. With pride comes trivialising others. In mature democratic spaces, respect for competition is observed. But what we are witnessing is a bridge-burning arrogance. There is a misconception that political competition must come with chest thumping. This isn’t so. Humility makes a home everywhere it is welcomed.
Humility is misunderstood with timidity. Far from it! Humility is a way of seeing the world, where you have a good regard for the other and accord them neighbour treatment. This neighbourly attitude that drives humility makes one see themselves as part of a community of valuable people. Humility dispenses an honour based on humanness - not on class or achievement. Without humility, other-centerdness is not possible. Humility drives whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. Pride on the other hand fuels self-centeredness by propagating entitlement, ingratitude and hypocrisy. A read of the campaign mood reveals a huge humility gap.
New frontiers of thinking excite anticipation of the public. What is new in this campaign trail? That there are no instant answers to this question implies that the ideas we hear are old and only refurbished. Wajackoyah’s thinking is definitely radical but practically speaking, would face more hurdles than hands. With no strikingly new practical thoughts, our expectations in the upcoming five years are tamed. New faces but hardly new phases. Old order packaged in new boxes. Old tales told by new mouths. Dwindling levels of patriotism have contributed to the sad reality that hardly anyone thinks hard about this country. We are a copy-paste nation, idea plagiarists. Our nationalistic originality is absent. While the corporate world has discovered and is mining the creative wealth in this country, the political world remains ancient. Younger politicians who should play the disruption role serve as megaphones of the older. They yield no brow-raising approaches. Prevailing campaign narratives raise no new frontiers.
Propaganda is rife. Information distorters are highly paid. Anything goes as long as it achieves a defacing of competitors. Truthfulness is packaged as a liability. The only truth allowed is the maligning type. Exaggeration is a key. Even candidates present themselves not as mere leaders but as messiahs. In the name of being closer to the people the very wealthy present themselves as poor. Politicians are often shocked that people believe their drama! The lies on the campaign trail should be an early warning that what we hear is unlikely to be what we get. Our political leaders do not value truth. Truth is easily sacrificed and cover-ups made at the altar of interests. But while the political field is murky, a sound should build a reputation of leaning on the side of justice. Leadership is complex and involves unpopular decisions but this is not a license to a culture of deception. As demonised as it is, truth is an asset.
Absent in the campaign narrative is climate change. The campaign is happening in the context of drought and failed rains. But whether for lack of interest or absence of information, this looming crisis is hardly featuring. The best we are doing is fertiliser talk. While fertiliser is critical, what if the natural rain cycle is not reliable anymore? What if the short rains come as floods? The leaders assume a country of abundant rain. They assume a Mt Kenya whose glacier will sustain big rivers for years to come. This is not true. A climate crisis can disorient an entire political plan. Mother earth can ground any manifesto. Relegating climate deterioration as a lesser agenda is a weak link.
Careless speech has intensified. Unfettered speech points to arrogance and sometimes desperation. Seems many of our leaders are talented in foul speech! Unbridled speakers are popular and deemed an asset on the campaign trail. That the public which has the power to cheer and jeer entertain foul speakers is a strange phenomenon. Fact is that even hard-hitting speeches can be decent. A speech can be characteristically gracious and still powerful; consistently inspiring and still mind shifting; fundamentally wise and still electrifying. But our leaders prefer the “attack and trash” approach. This is the low end of public engagement. More than maligning the character of the target, vulgar speeches also paint a poor picture of the speaker. They go further to cheapen the listeners who are often a captive audience as not worthy of respect. For a leader, every word matters. Every word should be pre-thought. But our leaders have the skill of undoing words already spoken and denying words on record! Question is: why won’t they give a decent speech in the first place?
A leadership that exhibits good quantities of compassion, humility, novelty and seasoned speech is promising. But a poor reading on these aspects depicts a leadership that is unlikely to effect a liberation agenda.