In politics, standing with people is good, but standing out is better

Concept of standing out from the crowd. [Getty Images]

In a campaign season, aspirants do a lot to create the impression that they are with the people. They endeavor to make the lowest and the highest in different orders in society “feel” them.

They stop at markets, eat in kiosks, go tea-picking and meat-eating. They participate in debates, converge with diplomats, invest in foreign trips and dine with those in big business. They pick up little children and hug the elderly. To borrow Chinua Achebe’s description, they do all to appear “a man of the people.”

But interestingly, people are more likely to grant leadership to one who is like them yet at the same time unlike them. Standing with the people is good. But standing out is essential. People embrace the ordinariness of the person as they vet their extraordinariness. Different aspirants will struggle differently. Some will struggle to stand with the people while others will struggle to stand out.  Of the two struggles, standing out is weightier. More than winning is loving the people. More than money is morality. More than ambition is an authentic vision. More than popularity is suitability. Beyond talk is evidence of work. Beyond earthly clout is God’s approval.  

More than money is morality

Many leaders want their money to work for them. This “working” includes covering their messy tracks and erasing memories of their ills from the minds of voters. To crop phrases of an old hymn, “What can wash away my sin, nothing like the cash I posses!”  But in the school of standing out, money is important but morality ranks higher. People accord more respect to one with a strong sense of right and wrong. Unfortunately, this combination of money and morality is rare in Kenya.

You are more frequently to find an aspirant with a lot of money but questionable morality or one with commendable morality but without much money. In contemporary Kenyan culture, the clarity of right and wrong is blurred, smudged and even deleted. But money without morality is a tragedy.  Ignoring the moral aspect is re-energizing the scandals factory.

More than winning is loving people

Kenya is built on top of the graves of people who gave their lives as a price for dignity. They loved this country to death. This type of loyalty has grown rare. Loyalty has shifted from dignifying the people to sacrificing them at the altar of greed.  But love for the people is what makes one who seeks leadership nobly stand out. 

As evidence of loving, one needs to have a rich CV of self-sacrifice. Patriotism – the love for a nation – is a rare word in the present political scene in Kenya. Contemporary politics have replaced the concept of patriotism with that of interests. The equation of interests is a business one where actors should not lose. 

They must gain and return a worthwhile profit.  To lose is to fail. When patriotism was more active, to lose once life on a nationalistic front was regarded heroic. But today, one who fails to profit from a political position is labeled a fool.  As we assess different aspirants, mark a weak CV of self-sacrifice as a red flag!  

More than popularity is suitability

A leader may be popular but that popularity must be scrutinised. There is natural popularity, which is based on the significant impacts that a person has made in the community. But there is purchased popularity where one carries money bags to the “people supermarket” and purchases a fanatic following.

Suitability is about matching the present needs of the people with the leadership qualities of an aspirant. A suitable leader is a solutionist. Politicians in Kenya have popularised purchased popularity which, unfortunately, places those with relatively less money in a category of popularity that hardly converts into political office. 

Kenya has many talk stars. But work has a mouth on its own. The more a leader shouts of their exploits the greater the likelihood they could be exaggerating. Wangari Maathai was hardly celebrated at home, but her work had a universal volume.

Kenyan athletes may not be highly honored at home but that does not stop them from breaking records and red carpets rolled out for them abroad.  The Kenyan national anthem plays to millions in the world every so often thanks to the diligence of our sportsmen and women. They are not talking shops. 

More than ambition is an authentic vision. Kenyans fall victim of manifestos that never manifest. They are launched in pomp and colour, spinning lights and blazing flames but it is all razzmatazz. A vision should not be crafted as a decorative tool to present upon request. A vision is a heart-based conviction, a sacred calling that makes the leader restless until they see it come to pass. When a ceremony to close down the last “under-a-tree” school in Kenya is held, tears will flow freely from the eyes of an authentic visionary. Why? Because the vision has come to pass! 

Beyond earthly clout is God’s approval. Recently, a renowned politician hauled unprintable abuses at his rivals and strangely ended his nasty speech with “God bless you and God bless Kenya.” As prodigal as we are, we are a God-centered nation. Most public and private gatherings begin and end with a form of prayer.  Prayer is a key part of a politician’s strategy. Aspirants seek to be prayed for, hoping a divine wind can improve their chances of victory. But this God-centeredness makes room for the question “Who does God prefer?” If there be God’s choice then there also is the “rejected” one.