There is a consistency of bad manners and juvenile behaviour that Kenya’s parliamentarians (and surprisingly senators) are exhibiting that is troubling but that is not too difficult to explain. The logic to the madness lies in the shirking of the moral that leadership is intended to serve a higher purpose. Once that lacks, leadership becomes a travesty.
The outrageously audacious, almost teenage-like adventure of 90 delegates from Kenya’s Parliament scooting, many on business class travel, to a relatively mundane event for legislatures in country music famed Nashville, Tennessee, earlier this month is just another example the extreme mendacity at play here.
In the past year, we have seen our parliamentarians gang up against every common sentiment and loot the public coffers for billions of shillings to pay for monthly allowances for their houses in Nairobi. They have also awarded themselves generous pensions once they have finished their tour of duty, even if they served for only one term.
As they feather their nests and live a life of extraordinary lavishness, they are, in a show of crass insensitivity, engaged in a seemingly zero-sum power game among themselves (Parliament vs Senate) over allocations of cash to counties. The stalemate now in court has denied counties cash to operate almost three months into the new financial year.
There must be a reason that these grandees are impervious to both criticism and pleas from almost everyone – including their party leaders – to ease off and behave as leaders elected by a vast majority of poor, disadvantaged men and women looking for guidance and inspiration that tomorrow will be a better day.
I think that reason is a generational deficiency in understanding the purpose of leadership. Our current parliamentarians are not inspired to lead, do not see any reason to lead and see leadership as an end in itself – a privilege to grandstand and indulge.
The logic is simple. The majority of the 349 members of the National Assembly – and a good number of the 67 Senators, are post-independence children that can’t relate their roles to an inner, self-propelling desire to serve or to an external drive that bestows on them the responsibility as the leaders best suited for the moment.
For the majority, leadership came as a reward for belonging to a certain tribe (or clan in situations where communities are homogenous by tribe), or consideration for executing a specific political interest (nominated by a party leader) or representing a defined constituency - like being a woman, being physically challenged or being a youth.
These are unlike their fathers and mothers that lived through a highly oppressive colonial system that required leaders to emerge from that situation to lead the liberation struggle. The objective was very specific – defeat the system that denied Africans their humanity and distorted their destinies. Once that objective was won, the successors to our independence leaders needed to read the times, recast the priorities and define their leadership objectives clearly. They have failed spectacularly.
First, the older carryovers from the initial leadership that should have midwifed that process became corrupt and tribalised politics by creating and encouraging political parties built on personalities and tribes. Then they polluted those parties by ensuring that structures do not work and that they only become active as tools for campaigns.
They were and still are devoid of any unique ideologies. It is why a mere handshake between Uhuru Kenyatta and the man he fought a vicious battle with over the presidency effectively nullifies any ideological difference between Jubilee and ODM. The ease with which Raila Odinga now “helps” run Kenyatta’s government surely confirms that none has a defining political ideology, or unique governance agenda for that matter.
It is the reason why we can expect no reprimand from either of these gentlemen against the people they have put in charge of their Members in Parliament or Senate. Speaker Justin Muturi and Speaker Kenneth Lusaka are not in administrative control of the Houses that they lead or they could not eschew the nonsense that the public is constantly subjected to courtesy of the parliamentarians.
I find it hard to believe that neither of the two gentlemen questioned the travel requisitions for the MPs or senators, but actually offered to lead the teams to a jamboree that, however important it might have been, could not require 90 attendees from Kenya! It may beggar belief but it is a scandal that they will breeze through with a smile, and even try to instruct Members to order! Sublime irony.
Tom Mshindi is the former editor-in-chief of the Nation Media Group and is now consulting; [email protected], @tmshindi