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Leaders must boost citizens’ well-being

By Billow Khalid | Apr 27th 2019 | 3 min read

What is the principal purpose of any leadership? Someone argued and I think he is correct, that the core business of leadership in a country are “to have a nation where all women are strong, all men are good looking, all children are above average in school and all households wild with happiness.”

How much of this core business of our leadership at all levels have been accomplished since 2010 when we turned a new page of governance structure under the current Constitution? What ratio of our ten million or so households are indeed amazed, yes, excited with happiness? What is the very purpose of life, if it is not to be happy?

In light of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) report which ranked Kenyans as the sixth most depressed people in Africa (STD April 11, 2019) and the World Happiness Index 2019, that placed Kenya at number 121, where Finland is ranked position one and South Sudan is last at number 156, its not misplaced to say that the ratio of the nation’s households delighted with their current socio-economic situation is not impressive by any standard. To find out why this is the case requires a fair understanding of the nature and dimensions of happiness and depression.

Happiness is a mindset. It’s a subjective, self-reported feeling of well-being of satisfaction with oneself and the world around us. The rationale of the Constitution, Kenya Vision 2030 and Big Four Agenda are all premised on making Kenyans happier by improving their quality of life. Social scientists agree that happiness is multi-dimensional. As the Chinese say, if you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune, but if you want happiness for a life time, help somebody.

Pursuit of happiness is both goals for the individual and for the larger society. At the level of the nation, the leaders at all critical levels: National, county governments, legislative, the Judiciary, the private sector; are strategically and functionally best placed to deliver happiness to the greatest number of households. Those leaders who take care of their own, the people too, will take care of them. Studies show the better the governance, free of corruption, richer the country, the happier its people. There is no doubt that comparatively and in absolute terms, in 2019, more Kenyans are a lot richer, healthier, better educated and even better governed than their less endowed counterparts of the 1970s-90s.

Extreme poverty

Yet as World’s Happiness Index 2019, demonstrate we are largely unhappy, depressed nation. It’s reported that Mathari Mental Hospital receives an average 800 patients weekly. We also know betting and gambling are becoming “wild fires” consuming majority of our youths in its path. Incidents of homicides and suicides are becoming too frequent. This is worrying.

There are many explanations for this sad state of Kenya’s societal affairs. Extreme poverty, unsatisfactory health services, poor governance and lack of social support are some of the common factors frequently cited as culprits. Psychologists however, mostly cite what they call Easterlin Paradox to explain the increasing unhappiness of people in the midst of economic growth. According to the theory of social comparison, “people’s happiness is determined by how well they think they are doing relative to their compatriots, so as the country as a whole get richer, no one feels happier; indeed, if their country become more unequal, then even if they get richer, they may feel worse.” The “Yellow vests” demonstrations presently going on in France is evidence of this paradox.

Happiness is both a leadership approach and positive choice. Leaders are more than institutional enablers and vision providers. They are indeed institutional life givers. We learn from history that nations fail or succeed because of disastrous social values, inability by leaders to conceptualise and anticipate societal challenges and deterioration of public social welfare. Its time therefore for leaders to appreciate that it’s their business to ensure Kenyans are happy. The buck stops here. The Constitution, duty, honour, Kenyans, expect nothing less.

-The writer is a strategic consultant in Nairobi

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