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Who’ll lead Kenyans from dictatorship to democracy?

August 06, 2012

By TEE NGUGI* Kenya has an ambitious plan to become an industrialised middle-income country by 2030, aptly named Vision 2030. The country has also promulgated an ambitious Constitution that aims to transform it into a tolerant, democratic society rooted in the rule of law. To appreciate just how audacious these ambitious are, consider where we are coming from and where we are now. For 40 years under Kanu, independent views were viewed as sedition. Secret police were everywhere, including, as Kenyan poet Micere Mugo recently recounted to the media, at university lectures, listening for hints of subversion. The president’s name was spoken in whispers unless, of course, you were praising him, in which case you genuflected and shouted hoarse at rallies and churches, thanking God for loving Kenya so much as to bless her with a leader of such peerless morality, wisdom and compassion. Those who demurred at such scurrilous sycophancy found themselves in Nyayo House’s purpose-built torture chambers. The state became a law unto itself, seizing land and property meant for hospitals, schools and other infrastructure to award to its sycophants. If you sang praises like a parrot — as we were encouraged to do — you were rewarded. Many became overnight millionaires. The country’s economic growth rate went negative. We seem to forget that Kanu rule also left a county in a crisis of morality. It left a culture in which wealth — no matter how one gets it — is seen as a redeeming value; it bequeathed mindboggling selfishness, as exemplified in our driving habits; it inculcated a culture of mediocrity and short cuts; it taught us to see the world through tribalism, and to shirk personal responsibility in the execution of public duty... In a phrase, Kanu left a society whose value system will have to be re-engineered in order to support Vision 2030 and the new Constitution. The foregoing dictates the kind of president the country will need. First, a leader who will stake his personal prestige and sense of accomplishment on achieving the goals set in Vision 2030. This will mean assembling a team of high achievers irrespective of tribe or party loyalty, and demanding — by personal example, Paul Kagame-style — total commitment to the task at hand, personal integrity and innovation. Second, the country will need a leader who is keenly aware of our despotic past and is, therefore, totally committed to fully implementing the Constitution. This will mean acting, appointing, deciding only on the basis of enhancing the aims of the Constitution. Nelson Mandela understood keenly the human cost of apartheid, and on assumption of the presidency, went about with a singleness of purpose to banish completely its cultural, institutional and legal underpinnings. Third, Kenya will need a leader who can visualise the society anticipated by the Constitution, and inspires us all to see that vision and work towards it. This will mean re-educating us not to analyse our society through the prism of tribe, thereby creating a new basis for social interaction and political mobilisation. They should help us overcome the fear of changing times, changing norms, fading traditions, and like US president Roosevelt help us to see that “the only thing to fear is fear itself” With that in mind, let’s check on the leading candidates for president. One of them — at a rally in his ethnic backyard — asked whether his ethnic group was born to only aspire to the vice-presidency. Another exhorted an ethnic group to support him to avoid being locked out of the next government. Yet another, who reminds one of Charles Dickens’ Mr Pecksniffe, mongers fear and lies under affected piety. Others imply that their candidatures are divinely inspired, while those of their opponents are the devil’s work. Some have no agenda beyond the desire to block Raila Odinga from the presidency. Others have all the charisma and inspirational abilities of a tree stump. And don’t get me started on the residual Kanu mentality and serious integrity issues of others. These candidates simply do not inspire hope or confidence in the future. *Tee Ngugi is a social and political commentator based in Nairobi.Originally published at

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