Leadership must flow from the top to the bottom
President Uhuru Kenyatta wants you to be your brother’s keeper. This is consistent with his leadership ideology, one that demands that citizens do half of the leading for themselves. He’s a ‘small government’ man in the sense that he believes in giving power back to the people – as well as all the responsibility when things go wrong. From the presidential point of view, the people must always be kept accountable, but the State? Not so much.
Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States of America and one of the authors of America’s Declaration of Independence put it thus: “That government is best which governs least, because its people discipline themselves.” The key principle here is to get government out of the way as a means to give citizens full agency to make their own decisions. The idea is to expand individual freedoms so that the people do not feel stifled by the State. In the US, small government is a Republican school of thought.
Democrats tend to err on the side of big government; a leadership style wherein government tries to be everything for every man. Critics dismiss big government as intrusive, inefficient and even corrupt. Corrupt because of the high levels of public spending and the opportunity for that cash to be misused. Here at home we’re being governed under a leadership hybrid, or perhaps more accurately, a mutant. We are required to take much of the responsibility for the failings of Government, but none of the power.
The Government of Kenya reserves the right to govern as it sees fit with the assurance that when things begin to crumble, the blame will rest comfortably on the backs of the people. After all, we are our brother’s keeper. The irony is that within this warped version of the ‘small government’ ideology, corruption is rife. Politicians hawk their candidature by promising citizens the world.
Manifestos promise to spend more money on services and less on paying off debt; Increase Government workers’ pay and improve conditions of service; Create one million jobs; Generate more business opportunities for the youth; Introduce affordable State loans to subsidise fertiliser and farm equipment; Give women entrepreneurs priority when bidding for Government tenders; Provide loans and grants to small businesses. Roll-out free Wi-Fi in all major towns; Build a standard gauge railway; Provide quality and affordable education and healthcare; Tackle corruption through IFMIS; Et cetera.
Most of these things require big spending in a ‘big government’ kind of way; they require that Government intrudes significantly into the lives of citizens as a means to raise their standard of living. But because the hand of the State is everywhere, it becomes quite a big chore to enforce a system of checks and balances, even when that system is digitised and integrated. Even with our state-of-the-art financial management system, when a Government has all this money to spend – ostensibly on big projects that will benefit the population – the temptation to misappropriate funds is perhaps too high for the average human being.
You need look no further than the shenanigans at the National Youth Service to realise that IFMIS might be top-of-the-range when it comes to managing monies but it is no match for the people who manipulate it. As we head into the 2017 General Election, this is a good time to come to terms with the truth of the matter. As a people, and as a democracy, we have not matured to the point where we can self-govern. That is the plain and simple truth. What we need is a Government that can discipline itself.
Kenya is a country that demands strong leadership, the kind that can make tough decisions and take responsibility when things don’t go as planned. The kind that is willing to be accountable to the people. At this point in our history, just 53 years after independence, we are in a political space where true leadership cannot start with the governed, it must with the Government.
To be clear, this is not a ‘naomba serikali itusaidie’ appeal. This is in no way to suggest that as a people we should blindly follow the leaders we elected hoping against hope that they will take us to the Promised Land. This is a call to action for our leaders to use our taxes and our goodwill for the purpose that we intended. Enough with wanton theft of public resources; with the provision of mediocre services, pursuit of selfish interests, nepotism and cronyism. Enough is enough.
When President Kenyatta begins to talk about foreign forces trying to control Kenyan voters through civic education, and Opposition chief Raila Odinga reverts to the ‘tyranny of numbers’ rhetoric, we know that an election is round the corner. As Kenyan voters, let’s not waste yet another opportunity for meaningful change. In his Jamhuri Day speech, our President was forceful in his claim that Kenyans should not be influenced by outsiders because we know how to vote. Fellow Kenyans, whichever way you chose to cast your ballot, you must follow that decision up with an unequivocal demand that your leaders leave your county a better place than they found it.
ILLUSTRATION | JOE CUMMINGS