Let’s take a leaf from the sports world and elect leaders on merit

Monday October 07 2019

Kenya's Timothy Cheruiyot (right) poses with compatriot Ronald Kwemoi after winning the Men's 1500m final at the 2019 IAAF Athletics World Championships at the Khalifa International stadium in Doha on October 6, 2019. We all recognise that, in the sporting arena, the ‘Face of Kenya’ is represented simply by excellence. PHOTO | KARIM JAAFAR | AFP


It’s that time when we put aside endemic political vitriol and turn our attention to the things that really matter.

The recent World Championships in Athletics held in Doha, Qatar, provided the perfect tonic for a country that on a daily basis has to suffer greedy and selfish political leaders who thrive only in dividing the people on ethnic lines.

In Doha, we were reminded of what it really means to be Kenyan. We saw the indomitable spirit of world-class runners, who proudly carry the Kenyan flag to universal adoration across the world.

We take pride in their victories, applauding and celebrating our athletes as Kenyans — not as Luo, Kalenjin, Giriama, Kikuyu or any other community.

We can all stand tall and proud on the world stage, knowing that we are a superpower competing alongside the likes of the United States and China, and by far eclipsing Russia, Germany, India, Britain and other ‘big’ countries.



It’s instructive that whenever a team is named to represent Kenya at the World Championships, Olympics or other global sporting event, we do not hear the usual voices crying foul and demanding some ethnic or regional balance.

We all recognise that, in the sporting arena, the ‘Face of Kenya’ is represented simply by excellence, not politically inspired false balance.

Whether it’s in athletics, rugby, football, volleyball or any other sporting discipline, we understand without question that we will only be competitive when the best men and women are chosen to wear the national colours.

If sporting excellence is one of the things that defines Kenya and earns us global recognition, there must be lessons towards making this a better country.

One is that we must celebrate success rather than mediocrity. Another is that victory only comes from hard work, determination and planning.

Also, we must no longer allow ourselves to be divided by politicians only in pursuit of their self-interest.


An important lesson is that the twin cancers of ethnicity and corruption are what pull us down, and prevent us from really achieving our true potential as a nation.

Selection trials for Kenyan athletics teams are about the most competitive in the world. They are open and transparent, with no room for bribery, favouritism and other shenanigans.

There are no ethnic quotas or attempts at regional balance. If the team happens to be dominated by athletes from a certain part of the country, we still accept that it is the best Kenya has to offer.

And, of course, we will never countenance politicians and ethnic chiefs coming in to apply pressure for their favourites. Even the newfangled demands for public participation do not feature.

If we demand only the best for our sporting ambassadors, why don’t we demand the same for Cabinet secretaries, judges, government administrators, police chiefs and state corporation bosses?


And when we elect our leaders, why do we allow ourselves to be sidetracked by base politics and elect thieves and scoundrels instead of those with the superior qualifications, expertise and platforms?

If Kenya is failing on so many fronts, we must all take responsibility. We can perpetually whine and blame bad leaders for all our problems, forgetting that we are the ones who put them in office.

We elect thieves and act surprised when they steal from us. We elect warmongers and feign outrage when they incite communal conflict.

If we elected our leaders on the same principles we demand on the selection of our sporting teams, we would be a superpower in more than just the running track.

With good and committed leadership, there is no reason why we can’t have double-digit economic growth, functioning public health and education systems, proper public transport networks, electricity and piped water in every home, highways to the remotest corners, safety and security for all, and all the other accoutrements of a modern state.

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Every so often, the government declares debt write-offs on loans from Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC) and other State agencies.

These populist roadside decrees come with no clear instructions on implementation and how beneficiaries will be identified.

The scandal of sale of the land owned by the estate of former Vice-President Joseph Murumbi may just be the tip of the iceberg from AFC.

Evidence is emerging of many other cases where the land of defaulters was seized, despite the debt forgiveness, and bought at ridiculously low prices by a corrupt clique of AFC managers before being sold off at handsome profits a few months later.

[email protected] @MachariaGaitho