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Change and what it means for Uhuru, Raila and Ruto

 From left: Former Prime Minister and ODM leader Raila Odinga, President Uhuru Kenyatta and President-elect William Ruto. [File, Standard]

There is change in the air.

A transition heralds new possibilities not just for those lining up to take up positions at the high table, but even to those for whom the election was a perfunctory exercise of doing the same and expecting nothing much out of it.

They too can smell change.

Certainly, the gridlock on Nairobi's roads meant a throwback to normalcy, even if ironical. From their social media posts, CSs, PSs and MPs and former officials are greeting change differently.

By how they ride the wave of change, the three foremost leaders - outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta, incoming President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga - will define how history will remember them.

Change causes excitement and hope, but it also causes pain, anxiety and heartbreak.

Mr Odinga has gone mute perhaps to reflect on the things that couldn't be. Or perhaps he is going through the Kubler Ross change curve- denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

From his actions and utterances, President Kenyatta has grudgingly accepted change.

Henry Kissinger former Secretary of State writes in his new book Leadership- Six Studies in World Strategy that Charles de Gaulle, the most consequential post-war leader of France - used to say "you have to withdraw from events before they withdrew (sic) from me." President Kenyatta sorely lacked this. Coupled with poor delivery of the message, one then appreciates how the 4th President always seemed to struggle even to express his successes; or what happened between him and his estranged deputy, including accepting that it is all over for him.

Kissinger adds that "leaders must serve as educators, communicating objectives, assuaging doubts and rallying support... reliance on coercion is a symptom of inadequate leadership.""Good leaders," he writes, "elicit in their people a wish to walk to walk alongside them."The vital attributes for a leader in times of change are character and courage, says Kissinger. The courage "to choose a direction among complex and difficult options... character reinforces fidelity to values over an extended period."

 Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger speaks during a meeting in Beijing on November 22, 2019. [AP photo]

For William Ruto, change must mean more than just assuming high office. He ought to be careful not to get lost in the paroxysm of the change that he signifies.

He ought to remember that history bites back with great ferocity. "Leaders who alter history, rarely appear at the end of a linear path," warns Kissinger.

By being clear-eyed- balancing what is desirable with what is possible-he will be able to accomplish much. For as Kissinger argues, "leaders think and act at the intersection of two axes; between the past and the future" and between "the abiding values and the aspirations of those they lead."

Former UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill warned that "statesmen are not called upon only to settle easy questions. These often settle themselves. It is where the balance quivers and the proportions are veiled in the mist that the opportunity for world-saving decisions presents itself."

Mr Ruto just doesn't need to change how the government is run, he also has to change how it functions. Like Ruto and the Hustler narrative, de Gaulle cast a spell on French society.De Gaulle "presented himself as the emissary of destiny whose task it was to reclaim France's national greatness."

Having fashioned himself as an outsider, a disruptor of the status quo, Mr Ruto has to summon up enough courage to cause change by pursuing bold reforms across all sectors least of the sclerotic and unresponsive bureaucracy.

 President-elect William Ruto. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

He could do that by, say, dispersing more resources from the centre (Nairobi) to the marginal areas not just to signal inclusivity, but also as a realization that Nairobi can no longer withstand the weight of the whole country.

With that, he could disabuse the people of the notion that government is a doer of big things. Rather it ought to be an enabler.

This will attract pushback from those for whom a new order spells doom. A small price to pay.

He has in his ranks people like Musalia Mudavadi whose reforms in the telco and petroleum industries gave us Safaricom - the region's most successful business- and a liberalised fuel market devoid of fuel shortages and black-market shenanigans you see in other countries.

Yet de Gaulle had his downsides.

Despite his successes, like an "exceptional statesman" and "demonstrated greater gifts of intuition" Kissinger writes that de Gaulle could be "haughty, cold, abrasive and petty... he radiated mystique, not warmth. As a leader, he inspired admiration, even awe, but rarely affection."

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