I saw you in the news recently, looking visibly frustrated and complaining about corruption, as you like to do. I must say, you have really nailed the act. Well done. The delivery was quite sympathetic, and for a moment there, I almost fell for it. Allow me to quote you for reference.
“As president, if there is one issue that has frustrated me, it is this issue. And I will say why. Because the pressure is on me…Show me any one administration since independence that has taken action on corruption like I have done. I have removed everybody. I have done my part, at great expense also, political, by asking these guys to step aside…Then where do we go from there? They say, ‘I am innocent’. I don’t know where they are innocent or what, move aside…
I have taken the actions that I can take, within the Constitution. When we sit down, and I challenge all the agencies here, they say we don’t have the resources, we don’t have this and that. I challenge them here to stand up and say we have been denied the resources we need …The Judiciary, I even have no role. I challenged them and they went…but yet I stand accused that the executive is not doing enough. Ladies and gentlemen, what do you want me to do?
We have the Auditor-General who says Eurobond money had been stolen… What do you want me to do? I did not appoint you, I can’t even sack you. Corruption is just being used as a political circus. Do you expect me to go and set up a firing squad at Uhuru Park so that people can be happy? Are we not a country that respects the rule of law…? If we as Kenyans want to make progress, then we as Kenyans must do our part. The only question we should ask is, have we been given resources we need. And the answer is yes. Even in the last budget, we added you money…
And those charged with investigating. Stop the blame game…do your job.”
As you can imagine, people didn’t take this well. But I saw this for what it may actually be – a cry for help, and thought I should answer your questions.
It is true that this issue frustrates you. That is, if your facial expressions whenever you address the issue are to be believed. What is not true, however, is that there hasn’t been an administration that has taken action on corruption like yours has. You see, in the work most of us do, we measure outcomes to establish effectiveness. Thus your colleague could have worked for 2 hours and she generates 20 sales, while you worked for 5 and generate only 10, and you would not be able to tell your boss that you work harder than she does. Because that doesn’t mean anything for the bottom line. It’s sad, but that’s how things work. You sir, have corruption at between 25 and 27, (out of 100) based on Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index. This is similar to Daniel arap Moi’s era, which many (including myself) would call a dictatorship. Do you work harder than Mr. Moi? Perhaps. But your results are the same, and given the direction we are going in, yours are getting worse. This is not a comparison we should even be able to make.
You are quite adept at pointing fingers and shirking personal responsibility, and you have done this with the Judiciary, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Auditor General, and your employer – Kenyans. You are one of the few people in the world who is able to fail to meet most of your performance targets (that you set for yourself, lucky you) and still get to keep your job, enjoy its benefits AND blame your employer. Imagine for a minute that the guards at State House let in thieves (oh, the database was down, CCTV wasn’t working) and blamed it on you. You’d laugh, right? These things could be true, but it is still their job to ensure that you and your staff are safe. They should be scrappy and figure out a way to do this anyway. That’s what you pay them for. You’d probably even fire them. So how come you don’t get this about your role?
You ask repeatedly what we want you to do – we want you to do your work. And that is the work of leadership. We are facing multiple challenges as a country – corruption, poverty, insecurity, inflation, poor infrastructure, unemployment, poor healthcare and education, violence against women – and are desperately in need of serious leadership to help us solve them.
You need to be able to have a bird’s eye view of the problem as opposed to being on the ground pointing fingers with everybody else. You of all people do not get to do this. The people have vested their power in you – you are the head of state, and you lead the executive branch of government. You do not get to complain like the ordinary citizen given all your power – that is patently unfair and quite possibly immoral. Once you have a bird’s eye view of the problem (by being on a higher ground), you will be able to spot the patterns that have brought us to this sad, sad place. These patterns may be operational, or they may be strategic. Can you imagine that by doing this alone, you will be able to identify the “mashetani dark forces” that plagued you in 2012? Not so bad, hey?
You are called to do greater than get caught up in the field of action – your work is that of a visionary. Do our value systems need to change? Our work systems? You need to set the stage for radical change, and set the people and events necessary in motion. You will inevitably run into a lot of pushback, and cause many people who benefit from the status quo distress. But that is how you actually know that what you’re doing is working. Your work is now to balance the levels of distress with the work that needs to happen. To ensure that people understand that with their positions in government, there are tradeoffs that will have to be made for progress. For each of them.
The first to go is the idea of exulted leadership. You and your staff instead need to embrace the idea of servant leadership, and realize that you serve at the pleasure of the Kenyan people, and are their agents. You need to unify them on this principle, rather than divide them by pointing fingers at them – that is no way to lead. You need to imbue them with the confidence to do their jobs. You need to protect the leadership and the voices of those that come from below you. Since you are the president that means everyone else in your government.
There are well meaning, effective people that are good at their jobs in government. Many. The reason they are not felt is because you have not given them the confidence, and the assurance, that you will have their backs as they do their jobs, even when their work means painful consequences for the powerful and those close to you. How do I know this? Because you may have asked people to step down, but what happens after that? Do they get arrested? Do they get prosecuted? Do they get jailed? Why is that? We haven’t seen you saying this at every event you attend: “Arrest, prosecute and jail corrupt public officials!” Why?
Instead, you fly to Israel to represent us, your employers, and call us “experienced in stealing and perpetuating other crimes.” How do you think this makes you look as the leader of such people? Especially given that members of your own family have been implicated in a multi-billion shilling theft scandal from the Ministry of Health? Or are you going to say you didn’t know? How can you have your lackeys busy saying that it is your family’s right to transact with government when it clearly goes against the law of the land? When companies like Safaricom are running competitions, they do not allow the relatives of people working in the organizations putting the competition together to participate, because they realize that there is a conflict of interest. Is Kenya not greater than Safaricom? Why are you so keen on hustling backwards?
You may say that what I ask of you is hard, but it has been done before. Successfully. There is no shortage of role models. You just need to look around our continent to see them. You have Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, and my favourite, Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara.
Thomas Sankara, who ruled for only four years and was only 37 when he was assassinated, embodied the transformational, accountable and revolutionary leader we need in our country today. He embodied the vision he had for the Burkinabe himself. He had high integrity, and thought deeply about the role of women in his society (he outlawed polygamy, FGM, forced marriages, and hired women to top positions in his government) and climate change (he launched a tree-planting program to stem the advance of the desert on fertile land, and more than 10 million trees were planted in its first year). He also fought actively against corruption and indebtedness to our former colonizers. He was a man of letters, who clearly articulated his thoughts and hopes for his people, and he was extremely committed to the spirit of nationhood, and to his people. (Please note that this doesn’t mean wearing a Kenyan-flag-themed wrist band and leaving it at that).
He believed strongly in the self-reliance of the Burkinabe, and of other African states. He eschewed foreign aid, fought for debt reduction and cancellation, reduced the IMF/World Bank footprint in his country, and championed local production and consumption of these goods/services over importation. He enabled every village in Burkina Faso to build a medical dispensary, and over 350 communities to build schools using their own labour. He built almost 100 km of rail with little external assistance, and total cereal production rose by 75% between 1983 and 1986 (they were plagued by food scarcity before that).
Thomas Sankara knew that leadership started with him. He was disciplined, and voluntarily declared his assets and handed over to the treasury the gifts he received during his travels. He also made it clear to his relatives that they were not going to receive special treatment because he was president. He also did not engender any fanfare due to his presidency – and was keen to lead an average life. He even slashed his salary to US $450, making him the lowest paid leader in the world at the time. This is not to say that he was not without flaws – he had many, but he also took responsibility for them. Nobody wants you to be perfect, either.
This is the kind of leadership our country needs if we are to have a chance at becoming the people we say we want to be. If we are to live the dream the Mau Mau fought for. Our freedom is not free – many lives were lost so that we could have this country, and each day our country operates as it does is another day we spit on the graves of those who died, and in the faces of those who fought that are still alive.
Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.
You need to take up the mantle of accountability yourself. We need a great leader, and there is still enough time for that to be you. Remember that history is very unforgiving, and will judge you harshly for your failings of the Kenyan people. What you will have done and failed to do will not be undone. There will be no one singing your songs, and we will see you plainly for who you were, and there will be many others to compare you with. Some who, like Thomas Sankara, chose greatness. I hope you do the same.