alexa Great followers make the best leaders - Daily Nation

Great followers make the best leaders

Monday June 2 2014

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In my past few posts, readers have taken to blaming leaders for all manner of failures in our society.  Let me take this early opportunity to present a different view. 

But first let me say that I take full responsibility for any of our failures and hope each one of us does the same.  This is how we can begin the process of change.  I subscribe to the growing school of thought that it is us, the followers, who make the leaders.  And for the purpose of this article, a leader is someone who has the authority to tell a group of people what to do.

We get confused when we think too much about who is a leader.  In Some Mistakes of Moses, Robert Ingersoll wrote:

“Let us forget that we are Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Presbyterians, or Free-thinkers, and remember only that we are men and women. After all, man and woman are the highest possible titles. All other names belittle us, and show that we have, to a certain extent, given up our individuality, and have consented to wear the collar of authority—that we are followers. Throwing away these names, let us examine these questions not as partisans, but as human beings with hopes and fears in common.”

As we examine our hopes and fears, let us just think we are just men and women.  We have been there before.

In August 2010, Kenyans were all song and dance, having successfully promulgated a new Constitution.  A great achievement indeed.  We were individually Wanjiku.  No other collar of authority spoke louder than Wanjiku.  For the first time we had devolved power to the grassroots. 

Unlike in the past when some parts of the country were marginalized, this new dispensation is non-discriminative whether you voted for or against the national government.  Members of Parliament have real power over resources, not just in the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) but on the budgetary process, to make real changes on the ground. 

The national cake is equitably distributed.  Church and professional leaders have the freedom of holding their own and those of other men and women to account for any transgressions. Chapter Four (Bill of Rights) of our Constitution made we men and women of this land our brothers’ keepers. In simpler terms, if my neighbour is using his wife as a punching bag, I have what lawyers call the locus standi to take him to court.

In my foolish stupor, I thought that our elected leaders would compete on the basis of utilization of resources and showcase the changes made in their respective constituencies.  Instead they are on the campaign trail barely a year later, whipping the emotions of the poor as unspent funds go back to Treasury.


Surely, Kibra needs less than Sh50 million to build decent sanitary facilities to reduce disease and the continued erosion of the confidence of its inhabitants.  Our people in the increasing number of shanties defecate in the open when we know that there is value in aggregating their excrement to create light that will reduce crime and encourage decent living. 

In Baringo, the drought threatens the livelihood of thousands as newspapers report that governors have not been able to spend their allocations.  We have not heard the voices of the clergy on the drought.  Professionals hide here in Nairobi watching misery on television. 

I blame ourselves – the followers – for we have power over the leaders. Here are some lessons we can learn from and begin to exercise our authority over leaders of all walks, not just politicians.    

Sinéad O'Connor is an Irish singer-songwriter who rose to fame in the late 1980s with her debut album The Lion and the Cobra. O'Connor achieved worldwide success in 1990 with a new arrangement of Prince's song "Nothing Compares 2 U". In 1992, she courted trouble in this clip. She tore up Pope John Paul II’s picture while singing an a cappella rendition of Bob Marley’s “War” — with lyrics slightly altered to protest the sexual abuse of children.

The scene was edited out of re-runs of the Oct. 3, 1992, episode (often replaced with a Pope-less version taped at dress rehearsal), and has since become one of Saturday Night Live’s most controversial and spontaneous moments.


Her followers in America and Western Europe deserted O’Connor and financially crippled her.  While most media reported that O’Connor’s actions “largely derailed what had been a promising career with this most infamous of her many controversial acts and urging viewers to “fight the real enemy”, the Pope in this case, it was her followers who punished her most.  They were unanimous that her actions were out of order. 

Nobody went around organizing the audience to boycott O’Connor.  They were guided by a common understanding of their unspoken moral code.  This is the very basis of our cognitive dissonance with the way we treat our leaders every time they are at fault.

Ferdinand Marcos was President of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986. He was a lawyer and member of the Philippine House of Representatives between 1949 and 1959.  He later became a member of the Philippine Senate between 1959 and 1965 and Senate President from 1963 to 1965.  His distinguished service and the implemented, wide-ranging programs of infrastructure development and economic reform endeared him to his people. However, his administration was later marred by massive authoritarian corruption, despotism, nepotism, political repression, and human rights violations. 

In 1983, his government was accused of being involved in the assassination of his primary political opponent, Benigno Aquino, Jr. Public outrage over the assassination served as the catalyst for the People Power Revolution (the followers) in February 1986 that led to his removal from power and eventual exile in Hawaii.

Although we spelt out a moral code in our Constitution, it is largely a public relations exercise.  It has not translated to any meaningful change in our behaviour.  Most likely we did not even read and comprehend its purpose yet it is the most civil way of responding to immoral acts by our leaders as in the case of O'Connor and Marcos.  The strength of our differences in ethnicity lies in a common moral code that we must subscribe to, if indeed we need sustainable development in our country.


We must individually and collectively hold all our leaders to account.  From a school Head to the Honorable Member of Parliament, they are all our leaders.  Indeed if a school Head with 1,000 students compromised his/her leadership, he/she will cause more damage to society than an irresponsible MP (MP) whose leadership is often nebulous. 

In assessing leaders, open data becomes the most objective tool.  In Uganda, the Ministry of Education shows that science exam marks have markedly improved in rural schools.  They attribute this to e-content that has changed the pedagogy of teaching science.  Additionally students began to be more knowledgeable than teachers, forcing the teachers too to improve on how to teach the subjects. 

In some districts here in Kenya, rural people prefer their own to teach their pupils making evaluation of teachers by parents a bit complicated.  Teachers in this case do not teach.  They are the local businessmen and women and have complex relationships with parents at the expense of the pupils.  Majority of Grade Eight pupils are not able to comprehend Grade Three literacy and numeracy. 

It is you and I who will pay the eventual cost of many uneducated people in the country.  Alternatively, we can arrest this impunity by asking the Ministry of Education to transfer all teachers to places that are not their usual home, to places that others will objectively evaluate them.

In 2007, the Ministry of Information and Communications and the World Bank mapped CDF spending and overlaid poverty distribution in the country.  It emerged that only Gatanga and Kangema constituencies had evenly distributed their CDF, with more spending in poverty pockets within their constituencies.  Some MPs put more resources in their home divisions even though some of them were richer than the most poverty stricken divisions within the constituency. 

Others did not even spend a coin of their CDF allocation, even though there were poor kids who needed bursaries to pursue their education.  MPs and members of the public forced us to pull down the visualization arguing that it was too near election time. 


In the past week, the Level Four hospital at Rongo refused to treat an accident victim. They read newspapers as the patient writhed in pain.  The Good Samaritan who had taken the patient to the hospital recorded the incident and sent it to media houses.  If we want change, it is us who must strive to put our leaders on their toes like this Good Samaritan instead of perennially complaining.

Since we all understand the concept of checks and balances, the citizens in each constituency must be enabled to check on financial decisions made by their MPs.  Open data will do.  Forget any performance contracting program that does not include the citizens.  It is perhaps a big mistake that MPs control development funds.  This is like buying goats and keeping them in the lion’s den. 

In Brazil, when citizens are served by the government officials, they have a cloud service where they press a button on the level of service offered.  It enables the citizens to constantly monitor service delivery in the public sector.  By so doing, citizens eventually shape those who are charged to serve the public.  Without such systems in place, leaders of whatever shade will always think that they are privileged over citizens. 

Leaders will always follow their followers.

Dr Ndemo is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Business School, Lower Kabete Campus. He is a former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information and Communication. Twitter:@bantigito