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We’re in a health and economic crisis

By Ken Opalo | November 21st 2020

One of the hardest things to do is to admit being wrong. However, the historical record shows that the most adaptable people who practice radical self-honesty tend to be more successful – especially in public life.

They change course when appropriate. They are indefatigable hard workers who are hyper-critical of themselves and suffer no fools. They are their own competitor and pace-setter.

Such people also typically have an unwavering moral compass, with a good sense of right from wrong. This is the stuff of “good” leaders. They not only respond to external institutional and legal constraints to their power, but more importantly, have an internal voice and self-discipline that keeps them in check. 

It would be an understatement to say that now, more than ever, we need good leaders.

The country is in the midst of an economic downturn and a raging pandemic. Thousands have lost jobs. Children are out of school. And millions, in our urban areas and in the countryside, live precarious economic lives. Meanwhile, hospitals are increasingly overwhelmed by the pandemic.

Medical workers lack personal protective equipment (PPE) and are dying from infections acquired in the line of duty. Medical workers have issued a strike notice that, if it comes to pass, will further cripple our national response to the Covid-19 pandemic. We are already losing dozens of people per week to the pandemic. No one is spared, not even MPs. 

I recount these tragedies to focus our minds on the fact that we are in a state of medical and economic emergency, and that this ought to be reflected in the style and substance of our leadership.

Unfortunately for us, the entire leadership class has come up short. They stole money meant for PPE and our hospitals.

They continue to mismanage the school re-opening process. They just spent several weeks holding super-spreader rallies that will undoubtedly result in dozens of deaths. And they continue to mismanage the economy – blithely unaware of the human toll of the current economic crisis. Things are so bad that we have forgotten other major crises like the flooding due to overflowing of lakes in the Rift Valley. 

The questions confronting our leaders are: Can they change course? Will they change course? To answer these questions, we need to understand what is motivating the actions of the main players in our political leadership.

At the heart of everything is the question of the Kenyatta succession. President Uhuru Kenyatta is term-limited, and is in the process of negotiating an exit — either through the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) with Raila Odinga or a possible rekindling of his bromance with William Ruto.

Unfortunately, the Kenyatta succession has become a farce, with dubious constitutional amendments in the offing. The result is that all our national crises are subordinate to 2022 chess games. And it appears that no amount of death or economic anguish will change the minds of these men. 

For this, President Kenyatta bears the most blame. If he wanted to retire in peace, he should have thought about it in 2013 and strengthened the institutions created by the 2010 Constitution.

Strong institutions would have kept his successor, whoever it was, in check. It is disingenuous to want to change the rules late in the game in the name of national reconciliation through BBI.  

-The writer is a professor at Georgetown University

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