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Why Kenyans feel let down by the leadership

By The Standard | October 20th 2015

Today, Kenyans mark Mashujaa Day, a day set aside to celebrate the country’s heroes and heroines. Previously named Kenyatta Day, it was renamed after the promulgation of the Constitution in 2010.

At first, the day celebrated those who fought off British colonialists in efforts that culminated in independence in 1963. In the run-up to the 2010 referendum on the Constitution, there was a feeling that the day was limiting; that since independence, other heroes and heroines had been born and who merited recognition. From Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai to Olympic Champion David Rudisha and Vivian Cheruiyot, Kenyans bring joy and pride to their motherland.

From world-renowned scholars like Prof Thomas R. Odhiambo to Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Kenyans bestride the research and academic world. Indeed, Kenyan athletes have particularly risen to the occasion many times. Only this year in Beijing, they won the highest medal haul in a single competition and were crowned world champions ahead of the USA and China.

Even as we celebrate today, our Kenya Defence Forces are in Somalia putting their lives on the line in a bid to neutralise terror threats from Al-Shabaab. For this, we celebrate them. We celebrate the many Kenyans, the true heroes toiling day and night to make Kenya great.

Yet like all other days, Mashujaa Day provides us a chance to look back and reflect. It is doubtful we have lived the promise our forefathers hoped for us. A gloomy economic outlook dampens the spirit of independence. High inflation and interest rates, a depreciating shilling, a crushing public debt and mostly, a general failure in leadership is holding back this promise.

World Bank’s revised growth projections for 2015 from 6 per cent to 5.4 per cent was a rude awakening. Unemployment remains high with close to 50 per cent of all employable youth getting by without meaningful jobs. Yet underlying all this is the question of leadership.

In truth, the political class is the despair of Kenyan taxpayers. It is regrettable that Kenyans must pamper their leaders at the expense of development. Because besides the celebration of independence from a cruel colonial regime, there is a disconcerting feeling that politicians particularly, have done too little to make the lives of Kenyans better.

The country misses leaders who can put country before self. For many Kenyans, their lives have been marked by false dawns. In fact, some of them exist in conditions worse off than those our forefathers fought off in the colonial times. Of late, Parliament (the peoples’ representatives) in particular, and the national politics in general, has been a near text-book case of the grotesque abuse of power by a self-righteous and self-conceited cabal.

Left to their own ways, MPs have been relentlessly self-promoting, short-termist, crude, vulgar and populist. Some of what goes on in Parliament is completely repugnant. In the face of mounting challenges, leaders must cultivate and gain public confidence to placate an increasingly cynical citizenry. We don’t see that.

Last week’s attempt to gag the media through the Adan Keynan sponsored Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill (2014) provides a case in point where the MPs used their “tyranny of numbers” to pass what they knew was ruinous to the country’s democratic ideals.

The benighted masses seek solutions to their problems and they should see their leaders providing those solutions or at the very least, a formula for attaining the solutions. We don’t see that. To them, servant leadership is alien. Leadership is an avenue to riches.

Yet it is foolhardy to rest the entire destiny of Kenya in the hands of politicians. It will require hard work, resilience and unanimity of purpose. In our own small ways, we can all make Kenya better for we are the real Mashujaa.

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