Ken Kamoche: Kenya is facing a poverty of leadership

After the Kenyan election fiasco, President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister-designate Raila Odinga, the two protagonists in the ensuing political soap opera, spent weeks in acrimonious exchanges, trading demands and taking the country to the brink.

They then emerged from conference rooms, chaperoned by the ever-diplomatic peacemaker cum kingmaker, Kofi Annan, grinning and shaking hands, and announced that all was well.

A calamity had been averted because they supposedly rose above the fray, put the interests of the nation above their own. And so it came to pass that two new-fangled heroes of the new democratic revolution basked triumphantly in the adulation that followed.

And the similarities in their personal interests in power and wealth are almost identical. I was slightly bemused but not altogether surprised when a friend got their names mixed up and asked, “What is happening in your country with this Raila Kibaki and Mwai Odinga?” As this person inadvertently implied, they could well be the same person.

What is worrying is not the potential identity problem, or even that they seem to go round and round in circles before reaching consensus. Rather, it is the degree to which each is so beholden to his respective henchmen, and hence is held hostage to forces that purport to fight his battles and those of his party, in total disregard of the national good. That does not bode well for the future.

How can any power-sharing scheme work when it is so difficult to agree on how ministries might be shared?

What might have been a simple arithmetic exercise gets lost in the political equation because ministries are not perceived to be what they really are: vehicles for mobilising State resources for the development of the nation, but a proxy for individual fiefdoms.

And what is more, President Kibaki’s creation of a mini-government was misguided and altogether in bad faith.

It might have looked like a brilliant pre-emptive move at the time, but is tantamount to tying one arm around your back before climbing into the boxing ring.

The unfolding situation now confirms to the ordinary mwananchi that all these politicians who are hell-bent on wrangling for power and positions have little interest in the future of this nation.

If they did, if they cared about the livelihoods of millions who have to live under uncertainty and the constant threat of violence, displacement and utter mayhem, control over ministerial spheres of influence in a grand coalition government would be secondary to the services those ministries provide.

What we are seeing in Kenya today is a poverty of leadership, a rudderless ship in which the captain is sleeping on the job, unable to rouse and call to order equally drowsy mates who are drunk on power from a lifetime of raucous partying.

The lack of vision that has traditionally characterised the Kenyan political landscape is at its most glaring right now.

Some months ago, someone wrote, tongue-in-cheek, that we should invite Britain to recolonise us. I’m not sure there would be anything in it for a colonial power as Kenya currently offers little in way of oil and similar vital resources.

Perhaps we should ask Mr Annan to come and govern us as some sort of expatriate leader. After wading for several weeks through our political jungle, he has an excellent grasp of what ails this country.

But Mr Annan has already done enough. It would be unreasonable to ask any foreigner to shoulder the burden of salvaging a political and economic infrastructure that has been damaged by our very own.

At the root of the current problems is a lack of trust and goodwill, greed for power and poor leadership.

Our politicians have failed to grasp that leadership is not merely about possessing power, but about having the gumption and humility to take a step back, to compromise for the sake of a cause bigger than yourself.

It is about recognising when you and your selfish demands have become the obstacle to peace and progress, and then removing yourself or your demands from the debate.

Olympic torch

The Olympic torch has endured an ignominious journey on its way to Beijing; being hijacked and extinguished by pro-Tibet protesters in cities like London and Paris. The Tibetan uprising couldn’t have been better timed. After decades of trying to bring their plight to the international arena, Tibetans saw a window of opportunity, an opportunity to make the world understand their grievances with China.

With only a few months to go before the games, there is little time for China to come up with a lasting solution, and the hardline response offers little hope.

The sometimes violent protests that have accompanied the Olympic torch are by no means a propitious sign about what to expect come August.

The very act of extinguishing the flame, while regrettable from the point of view of what the Olympic games signify, is also a sad and powerful reminder.

It shows that for many, not just in Tibet, but around the world, the games might as well be an extravagant charade for all the difference it makes to lives whose meaning has already been extinguished by repression, poverty, bad leadership and the denial of human rights.

Professor Ken Kamoche is an academic and a writer.

Bookmark the permalink.