OCHIENG: There are many ways to voice disagreement with one’s seniors - Daily Nation

There are many ways to voice disagreement with one’s seniors

Sunday January 14 2018

 Uhuru Kenyatta

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport before the president left for South Africa on January 11, 2018. PHOTO | PSCU 

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It was never by any fluke that, at one important point in Kenya’s history, William Ruto became Uhuru Kenyatta’s most important political ally. Every amateur historian can exhaustively retrace the road to it. The first thing a historian is likely to affirm is that the alliance was never a one-way traffic.

At one point, the twain desperately needed each other. Already in his own right, Mr Ruto represented a certain highly important national constituency. It is for that reason that the Deputy President must always remember that his support for the President need never be a one-way phenomenon.

The alliance must benefit the Deputy President’s own personal interests and caress his own national supporters. His side must demand from the other side what the ancient Latins called a quid pro quo (“something for something”).

Nobody doubts that Mr Ruto is extremely important to the President and that Mr Kenyatta always acts with the fullest recognition of it.


For, in a country dangerously highly strung ethnically, to appoint the Deputy President from a separate ethnically important community is one means by which the President can appease the voters of an ethnic community which is not his own. Yet, even for the beneficiary, whomever the President latches onto as Deputy President is a life-and-death issue.

That was why Mr Kenyatta once found it necessary to name Mr Ruto as his first national lieutenant, not only in terms of high-stakes politics, but also at the level of civic administration.

That, too, is why such a person’s Deputy presidential position can please his or her constituents and supporters only if that person is free to express disagreements with the President on particular issues. The only proviso I would name is for the vice-president, whoever he or she may be, to express all disagreements with full politeness to the president.

For, indeed – as I was taught at the Kenya Institute of Administration in Lower Kabete just before our national independence in 1964 – there are many ways of expressing one’s disagreement with one’s seniors without injuring anybody’s sense of seniority – namely, with finesse, with polish and with respect.


In the higher interests of forging political alliances, the only proviso that I was taught at Kabete is that both sides must express all disagreements in the politest and most respectful manner, especially language. Yet in my time as a civil servant (in the Foreign Ministry), I knew senior officials who habitually descended upon junior ones like a European kaburu of especially Kenya’s Euro-colonial infamy.

The colonial Caucasian’s thoroughgoing disrespect for and habitual rudeness to and mistreatment of human beings of other skin colours was heightened, of course, by the Caucasian’s own intense coeval racial conceit, a sense of biological ignorance of the kind that evolutionary knowledge now generally uproariously laughs at throughout the human world.

At any rate, the point I would stress again and again is that only if you are habitually polite are you likely to impress a fellow employee, no matter how junior one is, into obeying your dictates with gusto and with success, and a senior one into obeying you with all the respect that you think you deserve from him or her.


From my number of years in the civil service, I know that many senior officials in Kenya’s civil and other services are habitually and totally unnecessarily rude to their subordinates, many using insolent or violent language against partners or customers – no matter in what position. Such conduct is likely to demoralise and injure extremely seriously the very aims and spirits of your ministry, company and other organisation.

In a word, eagerness to help fellow employees  – especially juniors and new ones – to work successfully should be the very essence of the civil service – and, indeed, of all other organisations of human beings at work, including even in the self-declared private sector.