We must be partisan about Kenya’s next leader

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NGUNJIRI WAMBUGU

I have spent a lot of time and resources over the last four years learning about how to ensure the next general elections do not leave Kenya in the kind of mess we found ourselves in after 2007. However the most powerful lesson I have learnt so far is the folly of non-partisanship, a tag fronted by all manner of people every time Kenya is at a cross-road.

In 2010 it was the constitution; I was ‘YES’ and did everything I could to defend this position. However, I accepted that others had to be ‘NO’ for their own reasons. Despite this I stood on my position and did whatever I could to deliver on it. Now I have taken a deliberate position on who I prefer as the 4th President of Kenya and am doing what I can to deliver on it. My reasons for my choice are guided by a conversation I was part of slightly over a year ago.

In August 2011 I was invited to speak to a group of leading Kenya Corporate titans at a weekend retreat as they looked at what role they, and others like them, could play to ensure Kenya goes beyond the next elections peacefully. After dinner one evening as we were seated around a bonfire the conversation drifted off into the issue of leadership transitions in the corporate world.

We analyzed how nearly every successful transition at the very top of leading corporations locally and abroad seemed to follow a common route. New Executive Chairmen or Chief Executive Officers who took over corporations and led them to greater heights than their predecessors tended to be those who had initially been senior officers without portfolio under the previous leadership, with big-title offices and little or no direct power of their own, who had successfully navigated beyond the confines of such dead-end situations.

A key aspect was how for example a deputy chairman with no portfolio dealt with lower office holders who had direct power within the confines of their role, when such deputy chairman needed something done for them. Did they intimidate/threaten or negotiate? This was crucial especially in those cases where the lower officer had a direct link with the ultimate boss, knew the deputy chairman had no real power, and maybe even believed that the deputy chair did not deserve the big office. Maybe the lower officer could even be a rival with the deputy chairman.

We realized that in every case the person who succeeded beyond this ‘no-power’ office situation to become a good leader was ultimately the one who learnt how to negotiate with those below them, especially the rivals, who had lower offices but direct power. We agreed that only the deputy chairman who learnt how to convince the marketing director to a certain decision over a cup of coffee, would make it as chairman someday. Only those able to create win-win situations with junior officers through dialogue rather than force went beyond their present circumstances to ultimate leadership.

We accepted that going through such a process requires extreme humility, wisdom and a willingness to negotiate and see beyond ones interest. However the end result is a person who learns to see beyond their own interests, and who can create scenarios where everybody wins. Such a leader learns to build united efforts around him or her, rather than divide and rule to manage others. This is the only way a leader can survive in situations where they must work with everybody, whether they like them or not.

I am convinced this process applies even more in politics. Jomo Kenyatta had to go through it; Daniel Moi and Mwai Kibaki too. Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama had to follow this route. In fact Obama still has to do it, again.

If Kenya’s 4th President is to go beyond where Kibaki has reached, he or she will have passed through a similar process. Raila Odinga has not been perfect as he went through this process, but when I try to imagine what any of the other presidential candidates would have done in his shoes I have to admit that none could have done half as well as he has.
As prime minister, jokes have even been made by some PNU stalwarts about how he has a big office but less direct power than ministers and government functionaries that report to him. However he has not only survived in the office for over four years and achieved several things that he needed done; but he has done it despite attempts to humiliate and sabotage him at nearly every stage, and in spite of direct disrespect bordering on contempt from some officers below him.

I have made my choice and I am being deliberately partisan about it. What is your choice? Why? Can we all be deliberately partisan about who we prefer as Kenya’s 4th President, and why? It might be the only way we will prove that we actually care about what type of leader takes the helm after President Kibaki retires.

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