It would seem that in nearly twenty years of multiparty democracy, this electoral season bears the highest number of elected leaders who have demonstrated record setting failure. From wanton theft of public property, to shooting of unarmed civilians, to inactivity, to zero impact in society, to a failure to understand basic issues… you name it. The electorate has every reason to lament and feel aggrieved. Moreso, when a good number of these ineffectual or corrupt, or criminal leaders were promising activists, or young, or bore some form of outsider tag prior to being elected. It would be tempting to consider this a wasted season. However, I want to point out a silver lining in this: invaluable lessons.
What Kenya has paid for at such a high price, in electing these people, are lessons on what not do. We have very clear and practical examples of what could go wrong when we waste our votes for the wrong motives, and based on incorrect inspirations. We bear the pain today of not having paid attention to the power of our votes, as well as our collective voice in accountability. And these lessons are very well necessary as without them, we may take for granted good leaders: and there are many in society today, as well as in the elected space. That said, as with all lessons, the students may choose to learn or not. The real tragedy will therefore be us not learning anything from the theatrics we witness daily, and our collective pains, and repeat the same mistakes in future.
Allow me to highlight a few signs of failed leaders:
The despot in the making
This variant is best demonstrated in a number of governors. The idea behind county governments is that it is a structure that brings services to the people. There are numerous roles, some electoral, to be played by persons on whom authority, duties and responsibilities, are conferred through offices and structures established in our constitution and laws. The overaching principle however, despite the diversity, is service to. Unfortunately, in many counties, instead of service, we see Kings: monarchs to be served. Totalitarians, focused on the power they hold, and who are not shy to wield that power, or exceed it, to exert their authority. People who, holding certain positions, make all the decisions, and everybody has to bend over backwards to please them. If you do not align yourself adequately with them, or you offer an opinion that goes against theirs, you will be dismissed. They surround themselves with yes men and goons. Their motorcade exceeds that of the president in length, and they harass motorists as they pass. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s do ourselves a favour and avoid such people in future. Make no mistake: such leaders have the full capacity to be the next Idi Amin Dada. Governerships are like presidencies. What we need are people’s presidents and people’s governors, not despots and tyrants.
Unfortunately, this is all too common. It seems that when we say corruption, we don’t see it as theft. It is. This is the category that colludes with suppliers to inflate bills, pay for non existent services and so on. This is the group that forges documents to make payments for fictitious payments. This is the lot that has close friends and families set-up fake companies that get huge contracts to get public money for either poor quality or no services rendered. This is the lot that accepts kickbacks and bribes to give a service, or advocate for a position. This is Kenya’s bane. This lot should be promised jail terms: even if it takes 20 years. Future leaders should take note and promise to hold these leaders to account as the main point of it would be deterrence.
The vile agent of evil
Unfortunately, every so often, in a country that is more than 80% religious, we elect leaders who allow themselves to be agents of evil. Their greatest weapon is a vile tongue that lashes out at other tribes, and opponents on the other side of the divide. They thrive on spreading division, and fear. They get us to vote for them, not by the merits of what they promise to do, but out of fear of the monster they have portrayed the other party to be. It is this kind of rhetoric that fueled the 2007/2008 post election violence that saw Kenyans butcher each other on the basis of tribe. Listen carefully to what comes out of the mouth of your leader. If it is vitriolic, avoid that person like the plague and save Kenya from the hatred they peddle.
Why do you want to be a leader? Unfortunately, for most leaders, the answer to this is a sense of self-accomplishment. It is never really to do anything meaningful. It is pursuit of significance, but then they mis-define significance to mean being famous or holding a big office. What they don’t know is that true immortality is achieved by public service and leaving a lasting legacy that sells itself. This lot is engrossed in their own election. Any “act of goodness” is either a campaign tool, or a tool of control. They are always in scheme mode for the next big thing. To tick the bucket list. What they don’t have however, is an agenda for Kenya. Indeed, once they get to the elected office they sought, their goal is met and they begin planning how to retain that position or move to the next big thing. What will stop them? Often, not even moral or ethical boundaries. It is not uncommon for opponents of self-seekers to disappear in which case they become self-seeking agents of evil. As far as leadership goes, they are failures through and through.
The Yes Men, standless, spineless, and blind followers
This is the category of leaders that do not realize that they have been elected to contribute and give direction. They don’t have their own stand nor are they courageous enough to go against the grain. If this day their “leader” or party says China is good, they will sing the goodness of China all day long. If the following minute they hear the leader saying China is bad, they will immediately sing of how bad China is. This type of leaders are blind followers of their leaders. They may speak eloquently to defend a position that has been taken but that position has not benefited in any way from a decent quality of the mind: thought. This is a dangerous person who is well suited to be a heckler, not a leader. However, they can be loud, persistent, know how to position themselves next to leaders, and are therefore often elected by association to the detriment of the electorate. They are a waste of electoral space/office/power/authority and can be counted upon to vote along party lines regardless of the issue. Despots like such people, but such people hold back countries and are really an enemy of their countries.
The incompetent but proud
This is not as bad as the others. This is person who finds himself in the deep end of a pool without knowing how to swim. Only that what stands to sink is the aspiration of the people. With focus, such leaders can actually learn to be effective. However, accepting that one doesn’t know is one tough thing that only the strongest of leaders can achieve. This requires humility. Humility is rare and pride common. Pride is what stands in the way of the incompetent leader as Kenyans are generally bright people. They only have to accept that they don’t know, purpose to learn, and work at it.
Unfortunately, these vices are not mutually exclusive and can be found in varying combinations in some people. There may even be leaders who hold all the above traits: self-seeking thieves who are incompetent and proud, with a vitriolic tongue and has no stand on issues. I bet you may know one such person.
Who voted for them?
We did. Let us learn our lessons and realize that if we fail to learn these lessons, the tough economic times, the pilferage of public property, unyanyasaji of the common man, lack of basic services, injustice, inequity and hatred will continue. If however we learn our lessons and avoid such people regardless of how good sounding their fake promises are at election time, or how much they try to whip up our emotions to blind us, we will prosper.
All in all, we should thank these failures for the painful lessons they have taught us. We should thank them in advance for the lessons they will teach potential future leaders: the pain of vices in leadership. This latter lesson will only be possible once the current crop is adequately punished for their vices.
Please also look for my post titled, “the good samaritan” to make the electoral question complete. Hopefully, we will make correct decisions gong forward for our own sakes.