Given the political intrigues and realignments already in high gear towards 2022, it is good to offer thoughts to aspiring presidential candidates on what will make or break them. More specifically, there are critical issues that a good candidate should consider important, not necessarily because such a candidate would believe in them, but because Kenyans desire a felt realisation of the independence dream of experiencing freedom and plenty within their borders.
First, national unity has been elusive in Kenya for many reasons, including an entrenched culture of tribalism. We have not had a leader who significantly inspires a spirit of patriotism to the extent that Kenyans respect institutions of governance for the sake of national unity. Our Fifth President should therefore be someone who has capacity to rally individuals, tribes, institutions and diversities into one force that drives our identity as Kenyans. Strong leaders across the world have left a legacy based on their capacity to rise above narrow interests to give priority to national interests.
Second, a prospective presidential candidate should be ready to draw blood in promoting accountability and transparency. Many of our young graduates are a wasted resource. All the education they received in schools is largely a wasted investment. Yet, we know that with greater accountability in the way public funds are utilised, most of the graduates will get job opportunities. Besides, in a corruption free environment, entrepreneurship will thrive, hence provide the much needed formal and informal employment opportunities. Our problem is that we have nurtured corruption in all its forms but even worse, accepted people who ruin the future of our children as benefactors.
Third, a candidate should know something about living within means. Running a trillion shillings budget without the resources at hand is what, many years ago, some musician called “loan bila plan”. We are sustaining ourselves on huge loans that will take the future generation their sweat to repay. Meanwhile, those borrowing are having a good time, running campaigns, fixing those who question them, suffocating the poor and demanding we live within a slender budget. We need action in ensuring Kenya’s assets are not auctioned to some of the ready “investors” masquerading in town as our “development partners.”
Fourth, we need a president who loves his country. I will call this president a 'chicken president'. This is why. A chicken picks food and gives to its chicks. A cock picks food and eats alone even if chicks are around. Now, we don’t want a cock president. We want a president who has a heart for people. Some of our leaders, beginning with some governors, harvest where they did not plant and distribute to those who already have their fill. The hungry (chicks) struggle to find their own food even as they follow their leaders with the hope something better will “soon happen”, but actually not much changes in their lives.
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Fifth, our next president should be someone who knows that Kenyans are very creative and resilient citizens. There is talent and amazing gifts in this country. We lack a leader who can tap into this resource so as to promote local innovations and local solutions for a range of our development needs. It is not very kind to keep benchmarking everything we do on foreign ways of doing things. For that, Tanzanian President John Magufuli stands tall in Africa. He dares walk a road less travelled. We cannot copy paste all kinds of models, including those that are purely meant for western cultures and levels of development. The way we have insisted on washing hands when some people have no water, using masks when people cannot afford food, social distancing when people don’t seem convinced on how it actually helps check the coronavirus spread are good example of a copy and paste solution to a very complex reality.
Last, a prospective candidate should be a believer in law and order. Politics must be practised within law. We cannot run a country as if law and order depend on which “restaurant” you enter. While law is essentially a matter of interpretation and application, it is, at the same time, not an open-ended essay where every character comes around and writes what they want. Impunity has caused much suffering to many people. Civil liberties must be respected if people have to enjoy their rights. Beginning with who votes, who counts the votes and who announces the votes to respecting people’s privacy, our next president should demonstrate that constitutionalism is a foundation for development.
Dr Mokua lectures in media and communication studies