Mahatma Gandhi, India’s foremost democracy icon, once said that a good leader is not known by how many followers they have but the desired change they bring and how many other leaders they create.
When I was a boy growing up in the sprawling Kibera slums in Nairobi, one of my dreams was to be a political leader.
I told my mother: “Mum, I want to be a politician.” Mother asked me: “Why? “Because I want to be a leader,” I answered her. She looked straight into my eyes and said: “My son, you don’t have to be a politician to be a leader. Most of those people joined politics to make money or to protect their wealth.”
Courtesy of my mother’s wisdom, I beat a hasty retreat after learning that one doesn’t have to be a politician to be a leader. My mother told me about priests, community leaders and health workers who were leading change in the areas they are in and yet they were not politicians.
Mother always told me the best way to serve God was to help the less fortunate. As I grew, I came to appreciate leaders who never held political office
And as I made baby steps into leadership without being a politician, I learnt about Marcus Garvey.
Although he did not hold any political office, we remember him more than thousands of politicians who ever existed.
Another global icon was Martin Luther King Junior — evangelist who stood for what was right and fought for civil rights. Another leader was a woman called Rosa Parks who became the face of struggle for equality.
Think about this. How many ministers and MPs were existing by then and yet we don’t remember them?
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It is true that you can be an impactful leader without being a politician.
It hurts when selfish individuals want to come to support communities only when they want to run for political office in the near future. I wish they genuinely believe in uplifting communities and has nothing to do with payback.
I hope that Kenyans will be enlightened and people will vote for whom they believe in and not those who do transactions with them and their votes during elections.
However, the good news is that there is great promise in the youth today. I have seen changes in Kibera which point to a brighter future.
Ten years ago, you could not be a councillor if you came from the slums. It was for the outsiders who contributed money for small harambees here and there. Today, Kibera residents are electing their own.
In the past three ward elections, leaders elected have been from the community.
And mostly it has happened in Sarangombe Ward, and soon even the MPs will come from the community as wananchi are getting tired of selfish leaders with hidden motives.
For a long time, I have been asked to run for political office but I always tell them my work in the communities has nothing to do with me getting into politics as that sounds like I want to use them for personal gain.
It would be great if those leaders, who give money to churches, would still do it if they were not running for political office. Let’s challenge these leaders that they should not peg their contributions in seeking for votes.
Let’s build our country together without excepting anything in return. We must also salute other leaders in our communities.
There are women who adopt orphans with their little money to feed and educate them.
People who have less and yet they give more to the less fortunate in society. Let’s support them so that our children will know that politics is not the only way to be a leader.
Lastly, it is imperative to stop worshipping those stealing our money because they don’t deserve praises. There’s no doubt.
Some of them are dangerous criminals who are hiding under our politics.
The writer is CEO of Shofco and USAid Advisory Board. Twitter @KennedyOdede