We urgently need more stories of Kenyans who can lead

Monday November 20 2017

By BITANGE NDEMO
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Someone once said, “The truth may hurt for a little while but a lie hurts forever.”

There are many truths in Kenya that aren’t told. Whenever such truths are uttered, they hurt. 

Yet that is precisely what we need to do to save our country from degenerating into tribal kingdoms that may not guarantee the rights of the minorities.

There are mechanisms to deal with virtually every one of the challenges we face but in spite of a constitution that has been hailed as progressive, from utterances across the political sides, many people and more specifically politicians may have not read it. 

If they did, they would not say what they are saying openly in public.

Last week, Governor Ferdinand Waititu asked the National Government to allow the Kiambu County Assembly to hire Vice Chancellors for universities in Kiambu.  In his submission, he said that Kenyatta University and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology were:

not employing our people.  If you go there, the staff are not our people. We want to make sure that the head of such institutions is recruited through our assembly.  We want to ensure that that the person who is selected is from Kiambu.

He did not elaborate who “our people” were.

In Parliament, Homa Bay Member of Parliament, Peter Kaluma, in a draft Bill, wants some 40 counties to secede from Kenya.  Hon. Kaluma said:

The real issue about Kenya is not rigged elections. That is not the issue…The issue is just deeper than that of rigged election … When you see some governors stand up and say. We want to secede from Kenya supported by Members of Parliament and members of county assembly, then you must know there is something seriously wrong with project Kenya.

He too did not elaborate what the troubling issue was.

In some of his remarks, Hon Kaluma was perhaps making reference to a similar call by Kilifi Governor Amazon Kingi and his Mombasa counterpart Hassan Ali Joho. 

A number of counties have passed Bills creating constituency assemblies that run parallel to formal assemblies, yet the constitution demands fidelity to the law and the constitution in Chapter Six.

But none of these leaders has had the courage to explain why secession is necessary now, or sought the mandate of the people who elected them to create parallel processes outside of the constitution. 

ECONOMIC STAGE

Many will argue that the issue is as a result of a protracted electoral process in Kenya. To the contrary, in the eyes of outsiders, Kenya, in spite all the challenges we have, is a beacon of hope. 

I say this because there is not a single country that does not have challenges with the electoral process. 

Truth be told, in each election we learn something new, and we have progressively addressed many of the issues we faced in the 1990s. Politicians are pushing us more and more into what Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie refers to as a “the danger of single story” trap of political failure in Kenya.

This single story narrative is indeed becoming boring even to politicians. That is perhaps why in recent times some have shifted towards acts of economic sabotage and social disruption, visiting violence on people indiscriminately. 

Yet, devolution to a large extent has dealt with equality and equity.

WORKING FOR THE SULTAN

There is nothing in my view that the coastal governors can do better in self-rule that they cannot do today under devolution considering allocations to counties, the equalization fund, CDF resources and conditional grants. 

The difference perhaps would be a new crop of minorities seeking self-determination because of being marginalised by the majority. 

It will probably help those seeking to secede to first understand the perennial conflict in Tana River, Mandela, Isiolo and Migori for that matter. 

Underneath tribalism lies clannism, could easily tear apart a country whose many stories point to a prosperous future.  Be it sports, innovativeness to free market economy, Kenya stands out.

Failure by the political class to clearly explain what they want to achieve, and how they will achieve it, has brought about even wider confusion.

Some followers argue that they were never citizens of Kenya when the last Sultan ceded the ten-mile coastal strip to Kenya.  Well, the truth is that no African was a citizen of the sultanate. Africans were slaves working for the Sultan and got their freedom when Kenya became independent. 

TEST OF SINCERITY

Politicians, too, are confused, considering the fact that they are now calling for a Parliamentary system.

Indeed, the system has never been a problem. The problem in my view is the single story within our politics. We need to tell more stories about more Kenyans with leadership potential. 

The single story crowds out potential alternatives to leadership. There is dire need for stories about professionals who have succeeded in different fields to create a great pool from which we can consider leadership. 

Many stories will create hope, respect and the perception of unity that we envisaged in our constitution.

In promulgating the constitution, we had hoped that it “respects the pride of the people of Kenya in their ethnic, cultural and religious diversity and their determination to live in peace and unity as one indivisible sovereign nation.” 

When we create extra-legal structures to fight that which promised unity, we fail in the test of sincerity to work together as a nation. 

OUR OPTIONS

There are obviously areas of adjustment in our constitution and that was envisaged.

Instead of creating divisive unconstitutional structures, let us have the courage to make our leaders understand that sustainable change is only possible by moving along with friend and foe.

Adichie Chimamanda in concluding her TED talk,The danger of a single story said:

Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity……That when we reject the single story, when we realise that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.

Let's build a paradise in Kenya by telling more stories about the many Kenyans making their own contributions in civil society, public and private sectors. 

That way our options will always be representative of the many dimensions of our country.

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