General Elections: Why Kenyans Must be Proactive
While politicians are using all tricks available to win themselves leadership positions, interestingly, among the Maasai, a well oiled system of picking leaders has been practiced for centuries. It entails a conclave of elders sworn to secrecy and guided by clear terms of reference anchored in cultural aspects that ensure checks and balance of power. During the “Eunoto” ceremony in which Maasai elders pick the chief and spiritual leaders of a given age group in the community; the elders make use of “special forces” to select leaders from over 2,000 assembled Morans. The selection process is marked with pandemonium and falling into a trance due to the fear of the leadership burden. According to the Maasai culture, selected leaders shoulder the successes and sins of their age group. What then makes Kenya’s elective politics a preoccupation to fight over?
|Presidential candidates Photo courtesy|
Kenya, like many African countries, is a young nation whose legitimacy has been anchored on what the colonialists created and safeguarded under the international order of sovereign statehood. Aspiration to leadership has over the decades been guided by the desire to access the “spoils” or “national cake” left over by mzungu. Since leadership in the country is based on jostling for proximity to the cake and the power to share it out, leaders are not motivated to engage in nation building. Political initiatives are viewed in terms of “eating” and “sharing” the cake.
Kenya’s ethnic nations pre-existed its current sovereign state mandate. Ethnic “constitutions” buttressed with the culture of respective ethnic communities consequently compete with the nation-state (Kenya) for legitimacy, control of resources and wielding of power. Kenyans are thus faced with a scenario where the state has for the last 50 years performed dismally in protecting and assisting its citizens. The international community and related agencies have shouldered this responsibility to an extent that the nation-state simply served as an implementing agent.
In an attempt to address this predicament and hand over sovereignty to the Kenyan people, Kenyans voted in a new constitutional dispensation in August 2010. The March 4th, 2013 elections are expected to usher a historical transitional period that is meant to inculcate a cohesive sense of nationhood; shared national purpose and responsibility into the country. It is hoped that after the general elections, a new era of genuine state legitimacy, credibility, predictability and clearly defined national interest will reign. All these expectations will, however, amount to nothing unless Kenyan citizens take proactive steps to participate in processes that will put life into the new constitutional order.
Participation in the upcoming general elections therefore is very crucial for the country to wean itself off the initial false starts after independence. It is also strategic to put to an end the culture of galvanizing populations around “eating” the national cake to “baking” new ones. Just like one reads product labels in retail stores, elective politics offer Kenyans an opportunity to check the “label” of aspiring candidates.
The country needs leaders who will embark on nation building. Nation building is not about car stickers and musical concerts – it’s about giving each Kenyan the opportunity to participate in making Kenya what it should be; a better place to live, work and prosper. It’s about inclusiveness and proactive policies to arrest the growing trend of a country divided along low, middle and upper class status in terms of access to state service delivery.
Kenyans desire leaders who recognize global trends, listen to the electorate and do not simply impose their will upon the citizenry. Tough economic times facing both developed and developing nations have escalated interventionism and watered down sovereignty driven by the fear of unplanned-for migrants flooding other independent territories. Emerging power centers such as Nigeria, Angola, Ethiopia, China, India and Latin America, among others, calls for focused leadership to enable the country navigate through the new ocean of opportunities they offer. Kenya cannot be an island in the international community. Cross border environmental challenges on energy, food and water makes it imperative for the country to play a proactive role.
The country looks forward to leaders who recognize the importance of institutions to put wind in the sails of the boats of prosperity. The Kenyan electorate should invest in leadership that will implement the new constitutional order, respect the rule of law and tap into the country’s human resource and talent as opposed to simply surrendering the drivers of prosperity to foreigners. Just the way the Maasai have their own conclave that has helped safeguard their leadership systems over the centuries; the new constitutional order gives individual Kenyan citizens an opportunity to pick the type of leadership direction they would wish this country to take.
By James Shikwati
The author firstname.lastname@example.org is Director of Inter Region Economic Network and Publisher, The African Executive Magazine.
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