Kenya’s leadership is dead, who will emerge and lead?

Deputy President William Ruto, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Former Prime minister Raila Odinga at the Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi during the official launch of the Building Bridges Initiative report.[Stafford Ondego, Standard]

The country is in a bad place, crying for leadership. The Jubilee Party and the National Super Alliance (Nasa) are dysfunctional. Nasa began ailing when ODM leader Raila Odinga pulled out of the repeat presidential election. It died the day his co-principals snubbed his self-coronation in January 2018. It was buried by the March 9 handshake.    

Jubilee dragged on for a while. Yet it was also on the line. In the full order of time, the ruling party has succumbed to internal attrition. It has imploded. National focus is on the wrong stuff, amid confused leadership. The global Covid-19 pandemic that rules the world today has shifted attention almost everywhere else to containment of the virus and cushioning of livelihoods. Lives have been put on hold, all over the globe. Jobs and homes have been lost. Families are destitute. Tomorrow looks uncertain and bleak.    

The silver lining for much of the free world is state concern and intervention. Apart from social support, governments in diverse places in Europe, Asia and the USA are focused on supporting vaccine research. Active vaccination campaigns are on course, with timelines and targets.

Kenya lags behind, like the proverbial laggards in the rest of Africa. They even talk of the odd notion of “vaccine apartheid.” They blame those who have gone ahead for “ignoring Africa.” Really?

Our best interventions are clueless lockdowns and curfews. We imagine that the world owes us protection against the adversities of Covid-19. Majority remains unvaccinated while the few who got the first jab have no idea whence comes the next injection. The virus is itself a welcome excuse for everything not working. The economy is performing below par, because of the virus. The cost of energy is up, because of the pandemic. We have got just about the finest scapegoat. Even when funds are stolen, it is because of the pandemic.    

Meanwhile, disproportionate energy goes into toxic electoral politics. The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) has been all about next year’s elections and how power should be shared at the top. The election is an end in itself. Absolutely nobody knows how much public money has been pumped into this assignment. It is about the oddest state funded non-state initiative.   

At a time when the fate of the initiative hangs in the balance before the courts, a brazen Cotu Secretary General has the nerve to announce that there will be no elections next year, if the BBI referendum does not go through. “We will push for postponement of the elections for a year, or two,” Mr Francis Atwoli recently said. 

When the umbrella trade union entity goes to bed with the state, the workers are in trouble. In these days of pandemic-driven uncertainty, trade unions should be focused on reducing suffering among their members. Many have lost jobs. Others have had to take pay cuts. Many more have lost homes. Then there are those who got in trouble with banks and other lenders over loan servicing.  

These are the issues Cotu and Atwoli should be addressing. Instead the dry-eyed Cotu boss brashly tells Kenyans that he is worried that the president might become jobless, if the BBI does not go through. Could sycophancy get worse? Like the government and opposition, trade unions are a huge let down. The squabbling government has failed. The Opposition has lost it. The trade unions are dead.  

Opposition leaders are salivating for probable presidential blessings, as they seek to replace the incumbent. The incumbent, meanwhile, holds them in contempt – together with the law and all other institutions – as indeed he should in the circumstances.

Occasionally, just occasionally, the Deputy President says the right things that the Opposition and Cotu should be saying. But it is not enough. If he is serious about the things he says, Dr Ruto may have to come out more frontally, regardless of the short term political implications. The country is crying for leadership. If he will not, someone else must now emerge and lead.   

The writer is a strategic communications advisor.