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Technocrat running mates could lift governors, or unsettle them

Monday June 5 2017

By BITANGE NDEMO
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“Always try to associate yourself with and learn as much as you can from those who know more than you do, who do better than you, who see more clearly than you.”

Although former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower said these words many years ago, they are relevant in Kenya’s elections for county governors today. 

Many candidates for governor have picked running mates who know more than they do, who have done better than they have, who perhaps see clearly than they do. 

Several candidates have raided academia, the private sector and global philanthropic organisations to find their deputies. 

These are experts that the public wishes were the candidates. However, they're not electable, for lack of political shrewdness and perhaps the accompanying massive resources and guile to buy votes with.

The change of tack to pick professionals was expected, considering the fact that political deputies were problematic in virtually every county.

'HOODWINK THE PUBLIC'

Most were too ambitious and spent most of their time undermining their governors. Some could not articulate issues and many never became effective deputies.

Will the new arrangement work? No one can tell, but the bigger question now is, will the politician governors exploit their deputies’ knowledge, or are these technocrats being appointed to hoodwink the public? 

It will most likely depend on each individual deputy.

There are those who will succeed in managing their bosses and delivering for their county. There are those who may end up fighting their largely clueless bosses, as happened in previous administrations.

Some candidates have picked highly seasoned managers who have overseen a wide range of people, so managing the governor to benefit the citizens may not be difficult.

HARNESS THE TALENTS

In Kiambu, Ferdinand Waititu picked a seasoned agricultural expert and former Rockefeller Foundation managing director for the African region, James Nyoro, as his running mate. Nyoro ran for the governor’s seat in 2013 and managed second spot. 

In Wajir, Governor Ahmed Abdullahi chose Mwalimu Ahmed Abdikhadir and in Nakuru, Governor Kinuthia Mbugua, before he was compelled to step down, and his opponent Lee Kinyanjui, named university lecturers, Peter Ketyanya and Erick Korir, respectively. 

In Nandi Country, Senator governor candidate Stephen Sang chose Moi University lecturer Yulita Mitei as his running mate, while in Nairobi, Senator Mike Sonko raided the corporate world, plucking Polycarp Igathe from his plum job at Vivo Energy.

Time will tell if this emerging trend will succeed in changing the way counties are run. If it does, it will be good for the country. However, it may not be easy, given that are there all kinds of leaders. 

Former US presidential candidate Ben Carson said of leadership: “I think one of the keys to leadership is recognising that everybody has gifts and talents. A good leader will learn how to harness those gifts toward the same goal.” 

It is our hope that these governor candidates will learn quickly to harness the talents they are looking for the benefit of the counties, should they get elected. Whichever the case, governors must learn to delegate responsibility to their deputies. 

NO SHAME IN ASKING

If well done, delegation improves efficiency when it permits work to be transferred to people with the skills needed to do it.

Professionals are often criticised for not offering themselves for political positions. However, through the marriages between politicians and technocrats we are currently seeing, perhaps we will eventually develop a new crop of leaders from professionals who may not be inclined to be politicians. Working as deputy governors is in itself a development programme for future leadership.

Most important is to understand that no one can do it by himself or herself. Even "Super You" needs help and support. There is no shame in asking for assistance. Push aside the pride and show respect for the talent others can bring to the table.

As this quote, whose author is unknown, says, "Remember that there is no such thing as a single-handed success: when you include and acknowledge all those in your corner, you propel yourself, your teammates and your supporters to greater heights".

Whilst governors intend the appointment of technocrats to deal with the problem of in-fighting with their political deputies in the past, they should perhaps not expect blind loyalty from their new crop of deputies, who have vast experience, especially if information is delivered asymmetrically. 

FACING THE SENATE

It is the building of open systems to enable insiders to ask the right questions that will ultimately benefit the citizen if improved governance emerges out of these marriages. Research shows it will not be easy. In Politics, Delegation, and Bureaucracy, John D. Huber and Charles R. Shipan say that:

given the vast array of policy issues that come before government, the complexity of these issues, and the resources needed to address them, elected politicians have no choice but to delegate at least some responsibility over these issues to bureaucracies…..once politicians delegate, they also face a potential loss of control over the issues that they have delegated. This tension between the necessity of delegation and the potential problems associated with delegation underlines the fundamentally political nature of bureaucracy.

One way or another, politicians will eventually feel these tensions. Governors should expect such tensions but there are no mechanisms to deal with them, even though they have been rampant throughout the country. 

The Council of Governors needs to create an internal conflict resolution mechanism, to not just deal with the conflict but also to sensitise its members about such a possibility and how to deal with it, before facing the Senate over what are sometimes mundane issues.

It is reassuring that gubernatorial candidates have realised that experience and knowledge are key to success. The departure from the past – where deputies were selected for their inability to grasp ideas in order to ensure the boss always looked good – is indeed a step forward in the leadership of our country. 

These pioneer technocrats, who have been appointed deputies in the ruthless political environment, should not let us down. They must be effective so that next time round it becomes common practice.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business. Twitter: @bantigito