Former ICT Permanent Secretary Dr Bitange Ndemo understands this bitter truth and has come out publicly to express it.
“It is no wonder a lot of African leaders cling to power and they don’t want to go because of the anticipated experience or depression they can go through if people are not singing about them. It is perhaps why people amass so much wealth so that they remain relevant several years to come,” he says during an interview.
“When you are in power, you have even your primary schools friends, those at the far end of the world, looking for you to just say hi,” he says.
Ndemo holds a PhD in Industrial Economics from the University of Sheffield in the UK, an MBA from the University of St Thomas (Minnesota) in the USA and bachelor’s degree in Finance from the University of Minnesota.
He is regarded as one of the key people who oversaw the transformation in the Kenyan ICT Sector while he was the Permanent Secretary during President Mwai Kibaki’s regime, from 2005 to 2013.
This was through various ICT policies and projects such as launching of undersea submarine cables, the launch of the Konza City, the mushrooming of business process outsourcing industry, the dramatic reduction in mobile termination rates (MTRs) , initiating of the Kenya Open Data and the growth of tech hubs such iHub and mLab.
In 2006, he was even awarded Chief of the Burning Spear of Kenya for his distinguished services.
When the Jubilee government took over in 2013, it seemed so obvious that Dr Ndemo would clinch the top position in the ICT Ministry. But that was not the case.
Instead, he would soon join the bandwagon of the forgotten personalities, who were once given all manner of accolades, every place they stepped.
“It’s quite an experience once you leave a big office. You wake up one day in the morning, you have no appointment, and your phone is not ringing. You are lying on your bed, looking at the ceiling and wondering what in the hell happened. I mean, nobody calls you. You begin creating new friends because the ones you knew are no more,” he explains.
What have you learnt out of this? Are you bitter? I ask him.
“The experience is that we are all fake. All of us. It is our culture that when you are in a position of responsibility we would do everything to you. We want to say hallo all the time and when you leave, that is the end. I think that is why I am saying we are all fake,” he says.
When he looks back at his experience while in office, Ndemo is quite satisfied of what he achieved. However his service was not without its share of challenges.
“Working for the government can be a very difficult thing. Some days I have said ‘should I write the truth about government so that the people should know what to expect when they get there’? But again, that would cut my life short. I have said several times that there are just too many cartels in this country that when you get appointed they are the first to come and say hallo, can we do this and that” he says.
One of his major disappointment however is that until now, Konza City has not kicked off. But he hopes that after a long wait it will come to materialize.
Now a lecturer and Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of Nairobi, Ndemo is not quite sure if he wants to get back to government but he tells me his focus now is on various projects especially in ICT and agriculture.
“I wish I had more time to spend with my children when they were still young. I am doing my best to have more time with them. Those in office, please spend time with your children. It is so important than that job.”
He may not remember the words of his enemies in his career, but the silence of his friends.