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Kenya's undoing: Too many politicians and few leaders

By Job Naibei | May 6th 2021
Tanzania President Samia Suluhu Hassan is escorted by Speakers Justin Muturi (National Assembly)and Kenneth Lusaka (Senate) and other officials out of Parliament chambers shortly after her address to the joint parliament session in Nairobi on Wednesday, May 5 2021 [David Njaaga, Standard]

I know someone who is planning to run for a political seat in my county in the next election.

He seems to be doing all the 'right' things, politically speaking. He is flashy, occasionally shows up at events in a chopper, holds much-publicised charity events graced by celebrities and has been named in a national scandal.

He seems to be on that typical path to political office. And he is causing quite a buzz back home.

He has a few billboards in which half the space is taken by his pictures, and they are conversation starters for many residents. A ride in and out of town would prompt a question from someone, “Do you think this guy will be elected in 2022?” Much of the conversation about him pertain to his flashiness and how he made his money. There seems to be an implied consensus that his chances depend on how much money he can spend and the kahunas he knows high above in his political party.

Sadly, I have heard nothing much about his vision and leadership abilities in the conversations. His presentation supersedes his content.

This is characteristic of the way most Kenyans perceive politicians. We don't necessarily admire them for their leadership skills but more for their politics. We are obsessed with politicians for their gimmicks, punchlines, stories, and that always overrides whatever they offer in terms of economic and social development.

That unhealthy obsession with their semblance is one of the reasons we have ended up with many politicians but very few leaders. Kenyans are preoccupied with politics, so much that they forget about leadership.

Most of our politicians are mobilisers, organisers, people you would rely on to pull a crowd, sensitise them, chant slogans, bring people together but most of them will be challenged to lead those people to a destination of realistic transformation. They are enthusiastic, energetic but very few are visionary. Some mean well but lack the skills to transform their good thoughts into tangible benefits for their electorates. Others are just clueless.

I reckon there is a place for mobilisers and organisers in political parties but it’s a catastrophe when such men and women end up holding offices where real public service is required. Someone who knows what to do needs to be at the helm and then choose the right people around him.

You have to ask yourself, why is it that we end up with so many politicians who do so little for the people?

The clue is in the process of becoming a political leader in Kenya.

It’s the loudest kids in class, the noisemakers, the activists who make it to the top of political parties. And they make it up in the craziest ways, akin to the young man in my county.

Majority of Kenyans believe that no one can make it to the top of political leadership in Kenya and be clean. No principled men make it to the top because they believe that it’s a path ridden with exchange of unspoken favours, underhand tactics, blackmail, betrayal, voter bribery and many others vices that you may know. Most of the electorate is fully aware of this but choose to look the other way during elections.

In admission of foreknowledge, they will say, “All politicians steal, so it’s better those who steal and bring something to us”.

Some politicians made it because they leveraged on their name, others had a moment of controversy that propelled them to regional or national conversation and others were merely handheld into the political inner circle to serve a particular purpose. All things considered; the rise for most politicians is not based on their servant leadership or a proven track record. And that is how we end up with so many clueless leaders.

Politics in Kenya is such a high-stake endeavour that can make people do anything and everything to get in. You know why? Because politics and political connections are the surest ways to “omoka” in this country. That is why it attracts the characters who are ready to get down and dirty and scares away the rational, sensible ones who often have the right ideas. Good people don’t want to tarnish their names and so they stay away. In 2022 we will most likely end up with more mobilisers, bullies, inciters, smooth talkers, violent men who will mostly make it because of their personality and connections, rather than their leadership substance.

But we should encourage the good men and women in political offices and keep the hope alive that one day our politics will be full of virtuous people when economic and employment opportunities will not depend on your last name or your connections when politics won’t be something to die for. Then we shall be on the right track.

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