Since 1902

By Zacharia Chiliswa

Is there a distinctively Kenyan understanding of leadership? If so, what moral order does it impose on us citizens? What would be our greatest values and principles that bind us as under this leadership? Would it be values and principles meant to further peace, social justice, human dignity and integrity?

These questions could be crucial in beginning to appreciate our fascinating political culture – beliefs, attitudes and ideals we exhibit politically.

Perhaps our political culture has helped to establish a certain moral order which not only shapes expectations we have of leaders in public offices, but also provide lenses through which leaders view us.

National ethos

For instance, our behaviour during elections time exhibits the deep-seated beliefs and attitudes we have towards political processes, where the entrenched narratives of ethnic alliances and money are more appealing than anything else.

In the ongoing political process, what matters most to those seeking political office are not the leadership ethos they bring forward, but their ethnic blocs. What effect would these kinds of transactions have on the Kenyan nation?     

For a while, Kenyans have debated the subject of leadership and integrity to the extent that it seems now lost in political rhetoric. The public discourse on leadership and integrity is meant entrench national ethos that could fulfil the moral and ethical demands of Article 99 (b) and 193 (2) (g) of the Constitution.

Without this ethos, it is difficult to appreciate demands of Article 73 of the new Constitution that imposes on every person aspiring or seeking to serve in the public office, a moral order that among other things demands for a demonstrated respect for the people, and honest representation of public account. On this ground, people have been questioning why individuals with doubtable character still want to hold public offices.

Some argue it is a people’s right to choose their leaders. However, capacity to freely choose presupposes that one has necessary information on what they are exercising their right. One cannot make free political decision when the process is steeped in misinformation, sectarianism, vested interest, political patronage and lack of national ethos. 

We might also wish to interrogate, what effects the outgoing government has had on the people. Travel through the countryside, what can you sees? People plying their trade unperturbed?

It depends on where you stand. Peace and security seems to be the greatest concern for many people nationwide, insecurity – criminal gangs seem to be on the free and people can barely survive under these harsh economic conditions.

What about the relationship between citizens and their leaders? Do people trust each other? What about faith in their leaders?

The relationships of the political leadership could be seen through the institutions which political power is exercised – the police – how do they relate with the public and whose interest are they serving?

The tax collection and redistribution – how is social justice realised from taxes remitted to the national government? Whose interests are elected MPs serving, the people or their own? What policies are ministries implementing?

Public interest

Are they in touch with people’s aspirations or they are just syphoning tunnels for public resources? And the municipal councils – is there order in our cities? Or it’s just another band of rogue individuals? Under the political leadership of the Executive, how do these institutions embody the moral and ethical demands of leadership and integrity?

As we near March 4th, voters ought to ponder how political choices collectively taken by the outgoing government made them poorer or better off and whether incoming leaders might make it worse or better. And we can’t have clarity of these issues when our political beliefs are constructed around ethnic bigotry and intolerance that have obliterated space for political dialogue.

Uncertainty and turmoil

Time and again questions have been asked what is driving the 2013 political campaigns. Granted, one would wish to interrogate political candidates’ motivations and how the change they are proposing is mirrored in their character.

Without publicly subjecting the character of individuals offering themselves to serve in the public trust to scrutiny, as a nation, we might end up supporting faulty and lofty public policies as has been the case in the past. 

Therefore, what are likely political leadership scenarios to emerge out of the 2013 elections? In Africa, going to an election is like approaching a steep cliff, the odds of uncertainty and turmoil increases as the date draws near.

We need a social dialogue to provide a mechanism through which we can build mental pictures of the outcome of our political choices. Would it be a Government built around power over the people, power with the people, power to people, or power within people to chart their own destiny?

The writer is Programmes Co-ordinator, Jesuit Hakimani Centre.