How Obama victory can improve Kenya’s democratic leadership

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JOSEPH LISTER NYARINGO

Kenyans are more inclined to American politics more than any nation in the globe since President Barack Obama, who has Kenyan ancestry, was elected President in 2007. The lingering question by many is what the Country is likely to gain during Obama second term in office.

Having enacted a constitution which borrowed heavily from the American model, and seen how US campaigns are conducted from the voting process, to announcement of election results, our country should use these experiences to improve our democratic leadership systems.

If you admire your neighbour’s manicured lawn, you should learn how to manicure your own lawn. Kenyans saw how ideas, issues and policies are key pillars in the US political campaigns through a people-based approach. We saw clearly how democracy is respected by conceding defeat even in a close election.

We saw the importance of uniting a nation even with different political standings and callings. The campaigns were peaceful, devoid of sharp divisions, name calling and hate speech which dominates the Kenyan system.
The winner and the loser evoked unity in their address to the nation immediately after the election results; promising to work harmoniously for nation building.

Why is it hard for our leaders to copy the American brand of politics when we have borrowed their model constitution and have also seen how well it has served them as the most powerful and democratic nation on earth?

Why do we continue to be shrouded in ethnic linens; often supporting leaders with dubious, divisive, selfish and questionable integrity merely because of tribal leanings?

Indeed, as the ancestral home of Obama’s father, we need to bring to an end ethnic hatred which is the cause of civil strife, political violence, and poor distribution of national resources, corruption and nepotism in Kenya.

If the US, a country which allowed racial intermarriage and voting rights for minorities five decades ago will accord a man of Kenyan ancestry to serve as President, we need to look critically beyond creed, race, social status, religion and tribe in electing our leaders.

We are tired of leaders who shun meetings of government officials who visit their region merely because of political differences yet they serve the same country. Truly, can such leaders heal a nation through ethnic harmony and integration?

Just before the US elections, one of President Obama’s ardent critics, GOP Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie warmly welcomed the President when he visited the State to assess the damages caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Being at the height of the campaigns, nobody thought the host governor will welcome Obama, but Christi even went ahead before national television to congratulate the President for his empathy to the hurricane victims.

This is the political maturity and tolerance we want in Kenya. As a show of nationalism and selflessness, political opponents should pick a phone and call each other after an election and focus on what is good for the citizens.

In fact, in his victory speech, Obama promised that he was looking forward to meet the man he defeated in the presidential contest to discuss the challenges facing the American people. Why can’t our leaders emulate this style if they truly care about building a united and cohesive nation?

During the campaigns, President Obama and his opponent Romney never toured their home States of Illinois and Massachusetts respectively to incite their supporters against each other; a trend which is common in Kenya especially during the electioneering period.

In fact, Obama ended up winning Massachusetts and Wisconsin; the home State of Romney’s Vice Presidential running mate, Paul Ryan.

It’s normal to rejoice over Obama’s victory but we must be ready to inculcate the ideals of nationhood especially now that we are approaching the election year. We need to shun leaders who want to incite the public.

As we continue to celebrate Obama re-election, the government of Kenya needs to encourage diversity in public service by utilizing exemplary skills and talents of people who are not necessarily of Kenyan ancestry.

We have many untapped talents in our nation if we can learn from what Dr. Manu Chandaria has been able to do as an entrepreneur and philanthropist as well as Suresh Shah, the former MD of Uchumi Supermarkets who helped the retail chain expand by reaps and bounds in the 90s only to see the retail chain plummet after his controversial exit from the company.

In the political scene, we need to see more of Pio Gama Pinto, Basil Criticos, Philip Leakey, Shakeel Shabbir and Irshad Sumra. This is the best way to celebrate Obama’s victory as a product of accommodating diversity in public life by the American people.

We hate to remember the assault to Safina party founder and environmentalist Richard Leakey during Moi’s repressive Kanu regime where they accused him of neo-colonialism.

As a nation, we need to build a leadership culture which is inclusive, representative and diverse. These will not only earn us respect in the global stage but will also help to build structures that will improve the lives of Kenyans in social, political and economic spectrums.

(Joseph Lister Nyaringo is a Kenyan who lives and works in New Jersey USA)

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  • Democracy has to be nurtured in order to take root. Some institutions have to play their part properly in order to achieve national discipline. Main institutions are largely government and the media. While president Kibaki might have done exceptionally well in economic sphere, his leadership in other areas has been lukeworm, if not practically absent. A leader is not only supposed to inspire the country, but also give guidance on all major issues. President Kibaki has miserably failed to do that. Infact, 2007/8 PEV had something to do with that ineffective authority. Had president Kibaki come out early enough and declared law breakers were to be punished heavily regardless of their status in life, may be the situation would have been very different indeed. But some times, you have to wonder whether he is still around! Noticed even asfter slaughter of 42 policemen, highest casualty number ever witnessed in the country, by bandits, instead of declaring national day of mourning, its business as usual? He is supposed to come out these policemen were just low-level government officers, but our best sons/daughters in the frontline. Certainly there is a serious crippling disconnect some where.
    While our media has done wonderfully well in all spheres of reporting, their take in politics is certainly wanting, if not outrightly below par. They are too tribal and have no hesitation in reinforcing a tribal idea. They give publicity to thats not even good for the country. Forinstance, if a politician is said to have “numbers” because he comes from a big tribe, the press never tries to correct that position. They only keep hyping on those numbers that are hardly good for the country. And such politicians hardly have anything to offer. Their deceitful words are however, roundly fed on gullible population without question.
    Good ideas from other leaders are quickly ridiculed and insulted. In run up 2010 constitutional referendum, that was pretty played out. While it was clear that no single Kenyan was opposed to the law, PM Raila Odinga was all over the place calling people names. He started by calling the clergy pretenders and non-reformers. Then VP Kalonzo Musyoka, whose was actually behind the new document, while attending church function cautioned that religious people were our brothers as well. Raila retorted that the VP was supposedly a watermelon. The PM apparently purported that VP was “opposed” to the document at night and in “favor” during the day. However, as earlier stated, no one was opposed to the law.
    The bottomline was “WHEN” to effect changes on 25% that was bad and more. However, the tribal media started overplaying these non-sensical pronouncements by the PM. Indeed unlikely “opposition” was created from no where. This just one example of how our media has helped discard important issues for the cheap tribal stuff. There are too many instances that indicate we are off target because twisted opinions. Even the so called opinion polls that have miserably failed to meet minimum of law, are highly publicised for self-serving purposes. Questions about their authenticity are never asked by the media. Infact, the latest polls purported to show that they conducted/produced long time ago. However, what they were talking about was clearly VP Kalonzo’s reported depture from G7 a day earlier!
    For ideas and issues to be the main items in our campaigns, respect for same must be there. VP Kalonzo Musyoka has been very idealistic and quite issue-oriented. Free education, 24 hour economy, 2,000/= for our old folks and presidential debate are some of his ideas. Needless to say, the other guys havent come up with even crude ideas! He is also the only character that has not stolen frm the public. His diplomatic skills, that have made internationally recognized peace maker, have served this country pretty well. If he were to be elected president of the nation, Kenya will comfortably side on the table of international community. Nevertheless, since he doesnt belong to communities that control media, these no mean achievements are actually dismissed. Hiw then are we to folow USA example? And remember, when VP Kalonzo declared his wealth in run up 2007 elections, that action laughed off by opponents who were not CLEAN AT ALL. The media made Kalonzo’s most decent approach to all important issue a laughing matter!
    The country is festered by poisonous tribal politics. But the media has failed to country that bad trend. Infact, they have only been too happy to pursue the empty tribal so called two-horse race. The two-horse is actually about two tribes: Kikuyu on one hand and the luo on the other. However, Kenya has 42 communities! Where are the rest communities, who might not be interested in these two outposts supposed to go? Kenyans must be allowed to definite their direction without tribal prodding. Press should make sure only those issues which are collective good for the country are highlighted. Anything short of that will keep us down forever.

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