Leadership is about creating an inspiring vision for the future.
I attended a discussion hosted by the BBC at the University of Nairobi on Tuesday.
The key discussants were Nerima Waqo of Siasa Place, Joy Mdivo of the East Africa Centre for Law and Justice, Gladys Wanga of Nasa and Kipchumba Murkomen of Jubilee.
They are all generally intelligent and well-spoken people whom I have encountered personally at different forums in the past, apart from Ms Mdivo.
Hearing her analysis of the political situation was a breath of fresh air.
She outlined how the current crisis has been framed as a conflict between key political players (the National Super Alliance and Jubilee) and ethnic groups, when, in reality, the conflict is between the political elite and the masses.
The masses are the lot that lose every time the political elite fight.
They do not, however, see that they are the firewood that is thrown into the kiln.
Instead, they consider themselves “worthy” soldiers, fighting their communities’ causes. A cause whose cost is much higher than the payback.
JARAMOGI VS JOMO
The situation in Kenya today is that we have been held hostage to a family feud dating back half a century ago.
Because Jaramogi Oginga Odinga (I have a lot of respect for him. I was even once a national official in the party that he founded — Ford Kenya) and Mzee Jomo Kenyatta disagreed many years back, their sons feel entitled to pull the entire nation into their fights.
Certain sides may say that it is about democracy, and others will say it is about ensuring the country is ruled well, but all these mask the reality of the situation.
The current crisis exists because of a historical narrative that has been peddled over the years and is running the country down.
It does an injustice to the intelligence of the people of this nation to continually watch it play out year in, year out.
It does an extreme disservice to the people of this country to have to live according to its tenets, where it declares that certain ethnic groups are the enemy, because of things that were perceived to have happened in the past.
The BBC discussion, which focused on the current crisis, had each group taking positions that were unsurprising.
Ms Waqo and Ms Mdivo, the civil society folk, took the ground of sobriety; Ms Wanga and Mr Kipchumba, their party paths.
What was extremely surprising, however, was how the politicians blamed the audience, and Kenyans at large, for the current situation.
Ms Wanga’s was not as much a culprit of this as Mr Murkomen, whose utterances that the current leadership was ethnocentric and corrupt because it was a reflection of what Kenyans wanted, drew gasps and boos from the audience.
At one point, this Elgeyo-Marakwet senator, whom the show host had introduced as “the third most powerful personality in the political elite”, stated that it was Kenyans and not the leaders that were to be blamed.
It is frightening when leaders abdicate responsibility, when they fail to see their role in leading from the front and, instead, turn back and start engaging in blame games.
Leadership is about creating an inspiring vision for the future, or, at the least, identifying a place where the group should go, and guiding them to it.
It is not about standing still, lamenting about the existing situation or blaming one’s followers.
Ms Wanga, on the other hand, played the victim card, trying to deny that a big part of the Nasa fight involved throwing the young men and women from their part of the country into the woodpile, to carry out their fights, as the leadership sits back pretty, benefiting from the resultant hue and outcry when killings would then ensue.
We have to start calling things for what they are. This is dehumanisation at its worst level.
Politicians use human life as artillery, just because they can, just because they can afford it.
South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Bantu Biko must be turning in his grave to see what has become of Ubuntu.
Amid all this, what stood out with particular prominence was the lack of any attempt to innovate and change the political culture and system, especially from within the political elite.
Much as they verbally decry the political culture of negative ethnicity, corruption and violence, none of them is doing anything about it.
They are operating from these parameters, which work in their interest.
If any change is going to come that will get this country’s politics on course, it will only happen once the political framework, environment and culture have been radically altered.
This is the challenge of this new generation of political innovators.
They need to breathe in new and compelling narratives, that will not just hold the country together, but deliver it to its destiny.
Ms Kamencu is a writer based in Nairobi. email@example.com