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Let's support, not condemn, those who resign to heed a higher duty

President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto with Cabinet Secretaries, Chief Administrative Secretaries and Principal Secretaries after their swearing-in at State House, Nairobi in 2018. [Courtesy]

A friend recently wondered why anyone holding a good job could resign to join politics. She was reacting to resignations of people from the public service following the February 9, 2022 deadline that urged public servants wishing to contest in the general election to resign.

“These people held lucrative positions; what is it they are looking for in politics that they couldn’t get?” she asked.

For many, a good job is all that they need. However, a significant number of people, earning a living doesn’t satisfy certain needs, certain strivings in their hearts. They grew up nursing certain ambitions, aspirations and dreams that go beyond the power and influence of the organisations they work for. The positions they hold cannot consummate the ambitions, aspirations and dreams. They consequently quit to join enterprises that can best answer them.

Without doubt, politics is one of the professions that provide opportunities to consummate human strivings. It is a profession, if we may call it, that determines or settles how the material resources at the disposal of a country can be produced, and distributed—for the betterment of the lives and fortunes of the citizens. It is one profession that establishes and determines how institutions mobilise and allocate resources to meet this or that problem or combination of problems.

The environment, education and experience cultivate in some people certain visions, values and purposes; visions, values and purposes that make them question things.The presumed lucrative positions  they hold do not necessarily have the power someone needs to address a socioeconomic issue, problem, or challenge dear to his or her heart. The position may have only such power as is relevant to its mandate.The mandate may either be outside the person’s ambitions or limiting. He or she cannot therefore, act on certain things because the position he holds is limited or outside the scope of his strivings.  

That is why most resign. Politics, or legislative positions have unlimited authority and power over nearly everything within the jurisdiction of Parliament. Its policy and law-making power is, subject to common decency, extensive. A politician with the background knowledge touching on an issue or issues has the chance to push for legislation that addresses policy problems that existing statutes don’t address or don’t do so adequately.

An important function of members of the Parliament is, in the words of English Political Philosopher, John Stuart Mill, is: “to watch and control the government; to throw the light of publicity on its acts; to compel a full exposition and justification of all of them which any one considers questionable; to censure them if found condemnable

None of the positions from civil servants resigned from have such wide-ranging power over the government and all its institutions: Ministries, Departments and Agencies. In fact, all of the institutions some of them resigned from are subject to the oversight power of Parliament. An educated and highly public-spirited person who gets into Parliament has the latitude to propose legislation that address momentous public policy issues facing the country; influence the tax power of Parliament to address salient policy areas and exercise watchdog role over the public administration. Some cynical Kenyans argue that those who join politics do so because it is a job with lucrative income.

Former President Richard Nixon said that some people go into politics to become something, while others go into politics to do something. A good number who resigned have joined politics to do something. We must think about those who join politics, who quit established positions, to join politics in order to do something. I have in mind such Kenyans as former President Mwai Kibaki, President Daniel Arap Moi, Dr. Robert Ouko, John Michuki and Josaphat Karanja. And each of them did something Kenyans enjoyed. Tom Mboya was already well known as a Trade unionist when he joined elective politics.

Kisumu Governor Prof. Anyang Nyong’o was a household name long before he joined elective politics. All these Kenyans were something already before joining politics. We have President Woodrow Wilson, previously the President of Princeton University who quit the Presidency of an Ivy League University to become Governor of New Jersey and later, the President of the USA. He joined politics because of a higher calling—the trumpet call of politics—to address problems the US was then facing and which his position as Professor and an administrator of a Great University could not address.

The question Kenyans should ask is not why they are leaving well-paying positions; they should ask whether they have the broad education of mind, heart and soul a nation such as ours needs in our legislature and at the helm of executive organs of government. A country cannot move without men and women of wider mental and moral horizons in the halls of legislation in the National Assembly and in the County Assemblies. These halls need talented and purposive people. They need not simply men with university education as important as it might be, but men and women who have burned the midnight oil studying and reading books relevant to all that makes an effective legislator.

The civil Service has some of the most educated and experienced people the country has. Their experience in the civil service has given them the opportunity to understand the foundations and operations of government. They know the institutional framework of government, the potential and constraints it faces in solving problems or serving the legitimate aspirations of the people.

They can use this wealth of knowledge and experience to point out ways and means of leveraging on the strengthening the government has in dealing with problems and at the same time, point out ways and means of minimising impediments so that the government can serve Kenyans better.