Fifty years ago, one of my all time favourite movies was released. Anthony Quinn starred in The Shoes of The Fisherman, an epic story of a former political prisoner from Ukraine who was unexpectedly elected as Pontiff when the incumbent died suddenly. Pope Kiril proceeded to introduce a brand new style of humble, servant leadership that ruffled the feathers of the stuffy, ecclesiastical, clerical culture in the Vatican.
After spending many years in detention he was determined to not become a prisoner in the Vatican. So to ensure that he was in constant touch with the needs and aspirations of his flock, he would escape by night incognito into the Roman streets and engage with the street people, the hawkers and the common folk. As a result of this encounter, he acquired the courage to sell the Church’s treasures and give the proceeds to famine relief pretty much in the tradition of the fisherman from Galilee.
Pope Francis is very much a disciple of that style of leadership, choosing to live within community in a modest guest house instead of the Vatican Palace and driving around in a Fiat 500L. People can identify with a leader who walks in their shoes and drives around in a small car like their own. A leader that is humble and unpretentious is listened to and in touch with his flock. Prelates and Presidents can become prisoners within their palaces and state houses, completely out of touch and disconnected from those they serve.
Imagine if Mr Kenyatta could give his handlers the slip and escape from State House in disguise; ride a matatu to River Road or a boda boda to Mathare and spend hours just listening and engaging with his people. What would he hear? Would he marvel at the ingenuity and creativity of the masses that eke out a living in the most difficult of circumstances? Would he still inquire as to how Kenyans are broke? What would happen if he or his Cabinet were genuinely immersed in the joys and misery of their people? Would that shape his attitudes, appointments and policies? Would he forget about his legacy and destination and instead focus on changing his current direction?
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Yet, instead of immersion in the lives of their constituents most elected officials escape from their people and shield themselves from the public with security personnel, steel gates and mbwa kali. In Mombasa no sooner does an MCA get elected than he migrates to Nyali and reappears five years later. Elected politics is mostly an opportunity to escape from poverty rather than a calling to address it. So is it any wonder then that just about every politician is completely out of touch with the reality of Kenyans and living a life of luxury at the poor’s expense? They also are taking the nation’s tolerance and patience for granted, but that meekness will not placate the young generation.
During last week’s celebrations to honour Prof Yash Pal Ghai, a young man with the most inappropriate name of Happy Olal let loose his rage on the invited guests, including the Chief Justice, MPs, ambassadors and other dignitaries. The Social Justice Network leader shattered the façade and ridiculed the structures which we sometimes imagine are serving the promotion of justice. As he described the slaughter of young men in the people’s settlements of Nairobi, he chided the three arms of government for their indifference, arrogance and contempt for the rights of the poor. You could sense the discomfort of one half of that audience and the sheer delight from the others present. Koigi Wamwere warned that if such language was representative of the masses, then those in power should tread cautiously. The seasoned champion of change is right as the leadership of this country is not reading the mood of the millions at this time. The discontent, poverty and desire for radical change is evident everywhere.
Happy and his colleagues castigated the secretive BBI Report and rejected the handshake as a betrayal of those who want social justice. Those views may not be the full story but woe unto those who would dismiss the youth whose outrage about the looting of the country and their destiny is genuine and contagious. Closed door meetings among the power elites like that of Sagana mean nothing to the masses. They demand open meetings that address the oppression, hardships and tough economic constraints that they experience daily.
- Gabriel Dolan [email protected] @GabrielDolan1