Cabral Pinto: What it takes to be a good leader in Kenya

One positive development from the row over the Cabinet is the emergence of the debate on the quality of political leadership Kenya deserves.

It would be a great development for Kenya if the debate continued so that the country may have comprehensive criteria for determining whether or not actual and potential leaders meet them.

Let us examine the criteria that have emerged from the debate and others.

Nobody suggests that Kenya’s political leaders be angels. What is being suggested is that leadership should definitely not comprise devils. There is, therefore, a terrain of political virtue that can guide us in determining how far the leaders are from the devil’s vices.

There may be no consensus among Kenyans on this value, but respect for women should be a fundamental one for holding a political office.

Some Kenyans say they want a “clean” Cabinet and, by implication, political leaders. Others argue that corrupt politicians are not clean. Yet others say politicians who have murdered or conspired or paid for other people to be murdered are not clean.

RAPISTS, LAND GRABBERS AND DR-ug barons or traffickers are definitely not clean. Politicians inciting racial, ethnic, regional, religious, gender and clan hatred are not clean either.

Donald B Kipkorir, in the Saturday Nation, has argued that allegations of being “unclean” pertaining to political leaders are simply allegations until the individuals in question are found guilty by a court of law.

This argument is cogent if we are guided by the wisdom that there is no honour among thieves and that the rest of us who are supposedly clean should keep out of such disputes among the unclean.

What this argument means is that we are stuck with our political leaders. Since our courts currently face a crisis of integrity, independence and competence, we surely need other yardsticks for positive political leadership.

A moral yardstick takes us to the biblical Ten Commandments which our political leaders, who regularly flock places of worship, internalise.

Three of the Commandments are useful, although Jesus did not prioritise them when a question to that effect was put to him. The three are “thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal and thou shalt love your neighbour as thyself”, as paraphrased from Exodus 20.

Religious doctrine may give us values that are better than currently shown by our political leaders. Thus, as the country is fairly religious it should not be difficult to mobilise Kenyans to reject tainted leaders.

Kenyans praise the current Roads minister, Mr John Michuki, for his performance at Transport.

Indeed, the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights gave him an award for it. Expertise, dedication, drive, courage and a sense of purpose are important values for political leaders. What is clearly wrong is judging Mr Michuki on this value alone.

Integrity is a great value in political service. Kenyans say there is no such thing as a clean politician and others that politicians tell the truth only by accident. South Africans say politicians are like a bunch of ripe bananas — all yellow but hanging together, although none is straight.

Politics and public service can be cleaned up. Former Ethics permanent secretary John Githongo is one public servant who has taught us the value of integrity, courage, patriotism and the positive use of technology for service to the people.

The culture of dedicated service and the desire to have a positive legacy when one ceases to be in political office is a value politicians should aim to have. Such role models like South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere readily come to mind.

Genuine concern for the people’s rights to food, quality education, health, clothing, housing, work, a clean environment, peace and security as well as generally improvement of the people’s material well-being exist among our political leaders.

WHAT WE TOTALLY LACK ARE LEADers who will act on the worries and do something about them. Politicians who seek positions of power to unjustly enrich themselves when Kenyans are dying of preventable diseases, when the number of poor people is increasing and the youth have no future they can cling to, are a breed of leaders that we must make extinct.

The word “nationalist” has disappeared from our political vocabulary. It is argued that, given the current global environment, the value of nationalism in politics is virtually useless. Such a capitulatory assertion is an excuse for allowing foreign forces to perpetuate a situation that enriches our politicians at the expense of other Kenyans.

Only political angels will rescue the country from the poverty of genuine political leadership by reflecting and internalising these values and more.

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