We must bring back character in politics for Kenya to prosper

Ballot boxes outside Ruaraka tallying centre on August 11, 2022. [Kelly Ayodi, Standard]

Three generations ago, we embarked on what American scholars would call an experiment in self-government. We erected a republic and its attendant institutions. But just how successful is that experiment?

That we are not doing as good as we should, is evidenced in our public discourse in the last ten years. At one point we called for secession. We said what we call Kenya as presently constituted is a cruel marriage worthy of nothing but dissolution. What family law practitioners call divorce.

Other public commentators likened Kenya to a wayward child deserving nothing but tough love. Kenya, deserves a benevolent dictatorship, they said.

They went fishing for examples and cherry picked success stories from those purported benevolent dictatorships in a bid to sway public opinion towards neo-autocracy.

Let me say from the outset that Kenya, for all its imperfections is a great wonderful country that we shall continue to tend with tender, loving care. It will and must always remain the republic of Kenya. To paraphrase the words of Abe Lincoln “One nation under God.”

In the same vein and breath, there is nothing benevolent about dictatorship. But the truth is Kenya led by the political elite did not see a banana peel it did not want to skid on. Even in instances the banana peel is well across the road, Kenya has crossed the road just to skid on it.

The beginning of 2024 should force us, the people to introspect; turn our eyes inwards and ask “what is it we can do to have a more hopeful country where security and prosperity is guaranteed for all?”

Part of the answer may be found in the conversation between Christ and the Samaritan woman in the book of John 4:22-24. “…A time is coming and the time has come when true worshippers will worship the father in spirit and in truth.”

A time has to come elect leaders in spirit and in truth of our most fundamental values. Leadership based on character.

That our politics has held us back cannot be gainsaid. The bane of its politics has been over-emphasis on charisma without an equal emphasis on character. This has seen leaders shift positions, values and principles to suit their expediencies without a second thought.

If in doubt look at the people who called themselves reformists. They have become a mashed potato of everything undesirable in politics. For example, when the President expressed his frustrations at inability to hit the ground running due to endless litigations that his administration has suffered in the last one year, those who just around this time last year were lecturing us about ‘judicial thuggery’ have now again become paragons of judicial independence.

Individuals whose politics and life’s work was about rooting out the so-called Nyayo dictatorship have today become purveyors of violence. Even promising to offer free legal services to those who will mete out violence on “those outsiders”.

The problem EACC is grappling with now (influx of wash wash and money laundering suspects in Legislature) is a societal issue. We elected into positions of privilege individuals who didn’t espouse highest ideals. We settled on those who were charismatic and flamboyant. We did not pose to ask, in their flamboyance, what are they hiding?

The mistakes of the first decade after enactment of the new Constitution were mistakes steeped in lack of character.

Start with the security laws amendments of 2014, the handling of the Eurobond, the election management of 2017 the subsequent armistice between the then leading protagonist. All these were premised not on some fundamental values but on compromise emanating from self-preservation.

We must engage in a revolution of values to protect ourselves from extinction. We must inculcate integrity back into our actions and speech. We must re-introduce oneness between a leader’s actions and a leader’s utterances. It’s only a leadership of character that can help us, to quote Aeschylus, “Tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world”.

-The writer is convenor of the Inter-parties Youth forum. [email protected]

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