Roadside declarations best left in the dustbins lest they haunt you

One of the dustbins painted by the team from Creative Spills along Kenyatta Avenue. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Amazing how Kenyans have shifted drastically from the Nyayo days when one o'clock news was a must-listen. It was the unofficial designated time when significant government policies were pronounced and announced, whether by the President or his ministers. Thus, a radio was a must if you were associated with government, and especially if you were a senior government official.

Life could change rather fast and without notice - for this was the hour when government shifts and shuffles were announced. But things were to change significantly with the end of the Nyayo era.

At President Mwai Kibaki inauguration in 2002, among the many issues he raised in his speech was the end of roadside policy declarations. These, in his view, encouraged oligarchy - a product of de facto governance ran on whims of powerful individuals, without due regard for the Constitution and rule of law. And indeed under his leadership, the Constitution review and its eventual promulgation, dealt roadside declarations a major blow.

Entrenched into law were various measures demanding due diligence and public participation in decision making - especially on critical policy matters. Though the implementation of these provisions turned out to be a double edged sword that affected even the President himself, eventually Kibaki went down history as the President whose government rarely made roadside declarations.

Unfortunately, as we have noticed in the recent past, what President Kibaki worked hard to abolish appears to be finding its way back to the dance floor. As the new team appointed by President Ruto takes up their place in government, there seems to be an unusual zeal to outdo each other with radical pronouncements.

Though many promises can be made on the campaign trail, professional administrators and implementors of policies understand the work and effort required to formulate and implement policies devoid of populism and wishful thinking.

Impromptu policy declarations undermine the professional policy implementation stages that support existing programmes and financial situations of an institution. They lack systematic and objective ethics in the means by which desired ends are achieved.

By their very nature and impact, impromptu policy declarations have potential to cause more harm than good to the economic prosperity of the nation. Therefore, government officials should carefully consider ideas and agenda before announcing them to the general public. As part of building personal credibility and long term legacy, it is honourable to be identified as a thought leader who gives careful attention to issues before making any public pronouncements. Extemporaneous policy declarations are often driven by populism, in which a leader seeks to excite the crowd and appeal to the masses. However, in good governance and leadership, leaders are often advised against making critical decisions, especially policy decisions, in moments of high emotional experiences - such as excitement, anger, or disappointment.

In such moments our sense of judgement is often impaired, and you could easily find yourself - like Herod - giving away John the Baptist's head on a platter. Interestingly, it is natural that newly appointed leaders often are in an emotional high. However, leaders with high emotional intelligence - with capacity to perceive and manage emotions - are often able to remain sober and follow due process in policy formulation and pronouncements. In view of this, the new government should work on discouraging impromptu policy pronouncements before it gets re-entrenched into our national culture. Otherwise it may result in confusion where government officials contradict each other, or the embarrassment of courts reversing such pronouncement.

Furthermore, leaders should be keen on the consequences of the failure to implement their roadside policies, as it would impact negatively on their integrity and credibility. Similarly, a leader going back on their word undermines the trust citizens have bestowed on them.

What is clear is that in this new constitutional dispensation, the government faces the challenge of not only being accountable, but also being respecters of the Constitution and rule of law. Hence, roadside declarations are best left dead and buried.