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The authentic leader has love for people at heart of political strategy

OPINION
By Rev Edward Buri | June 13th 2021
Delegates during the official launch of the Building Bridges to a United Kenya Taskforce Report at the Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi on October 26, 2020. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

The speeches of the late President Daniel arap Moi had something about them–they were conversational and in their own way, inspirational.

He would give a formal written English speech, which seemed more directed to members of the diplomatic corps. Then he would get into the real speech in Swahili–unwritten, seemingly off-the-cuff but still carried weight that every line was to be taken seriously. During this second speech, his tone and posture would change. He would narrate experiences, address people directly and speak in a conversational yet presidential manner. This was the speech that Kenyans would wait for, and they would feel addressed.

For President Uhuru Kenyatta, immediately after he utters “Fellow Kenyans” his speeches delve right into culture, politics and economics–leaning towards a listenership of technocrats. His speech writers prefer essay-like talks that steer clear of emotion. Their tone is descriptive and instructional. They are full of details but empty of spirit.

Extending this to our political leaders, with their countless podium climbs, none takes time to remind us who we are and what we are about. Maybe they also do not know! What is Kenya’s point? What does Kenya exist to be? What does Kenya exist to give its citizens? Many speak of Kenya’s structures and laws but hardly anyone speaks of and to Kenya’s spirit and soul. The soul is unknown, or maybe forgotten–worse still, lost.

The rallying call of Harambee! was inspirational. There was something about the collective force of the chorus that was powerful, even spiritual, and not even Tialala! could come close. Like the speeches devoid of spirit, today’s rallying themes of Vision 2030, BBI and wheelbarrownomics cannot rally the citizenry into a transcendent collective force.

Their crafters have been unable to reduce these technical strategies into Harambee-like capsules which, like Moi’s speeches, can be consumed by all. On another plane, Harambee, in addition to being local, was also global–connecting expressly with other Pan-African ideologies of Ujamaa and Ubuntu. Well, it will require a lot of imagination to nuance and code the Hustler slang into a form that appeals on a global stage.

Harambee, Ubuntu and Ujamaa have a common denominator–the centrality of community and the significance of the neighbour. It is in this community and neighbourly commonality that we see an open door for the church to enter and take its place in the arena of politics.

At the heart of the biblical message is the affirmation of diversity captured in the analogy of one body, many parts. Central, too, is the elevation of the neighbour in the equation of life. The bridge between the neighbour and the community is love. If love is the greatest commandment, than hate is the greatest disobedience. Love is the soul of a nation. Lawlessness leads to soullessness.

Many political leaders are unidirectional when it comes to love. They believe that people love them but if this be so, do they love the people back? In their ruthless ambition, leaders invest in manipulating people and miss out on the powerful truth that people are loveable. People are not only heads and stomachs. They are, most critically, hearts. But ignorantly, some brand love as belonging to the domain of spirituality and consider it misplaced in politics. For the authentic leader, the heart must be the centre of political strategy.

Love envisions an output of abundance. Lupita Nyongo’s “Your dreams are valid” is an invitation to hope. It is a welcome to optimism. It is a promise of possibilities. It is a license to innovate. It’s sad that no Kenyan leader has made a speech and borrowed this line as a refrain. A government should not use its position to snuff out the hopes of its citizens. Overplaying the taxation card, for instance, is dream-deleting. That the government has power to overtax but no power to trap those who misappropriate the tax is dizzying. Such insensitivity sets up a tax funfair that makes fun of the dreams of the citizens.

Love speaks the language of the people. A scrutiny of the rhetoric of most political leaders reveals that they use the people alphabet to ultimately talk about themselves. You will hear them shout about how they are being victimised but you will hardly see them cry with the poor who are victimised daily by a soulless system. Importing the language of love into our political narrative will improve the heartbeat of hope and diminish the pulse of hatred.   

Love creates an environment of peace. The original peace-heavy BBI has been overtaken by a shillings-heavy BBI. The narrative of the handshake as a grand act of peacemaking disappeared in the woods of selfish ambition. Cameras are fixed on the principals and the people are out of scope. The world imagined a majestic bridge uniting Kenya’s communities. But it has regressed into a slippery log over the turbulent waters of power. Love prioritises peace–and not the type of peace that is the quiet of a voiceless people but the kind that renders restless those who thrive in chaos.

Love is a force for justice. Justice is the friend to the dignity of the people. Anyone who interferes with justice–a judge on the inside or an immoral person from the outside–is an enemy of God. Thieves of justice are walking demons and will knowingly send the wrong person to the gallows. Whether out of cowardice, conformity or corruption, denying one their due is turning the office of fairness into a fiery furnace. A country that does not vaccinate its justice systems against unfairness incites its angry citizens to set up their own justice systems. And a lawless country is a soulless country.

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