Is Nancy Baraza a victim of hubris?


The decision by the Judiciary to ask the president to suspend Deputy Chief Justice Nancy Baraza until a tribunal investigates her for the Village Market incident shows how much distance Kenya has travelled as regards public officer etiquette.

At the time Chief Justice Mutunga was making the announcement I was a meeting with a section of the National Youth Council leadership in discussions on how to make ‘Siasa Mpya’ a reality. Nancy Baraza’s actions introduced a new twist we had not initially considered.

The public conversations about what happened and why are varied. There are those who see it as much-ado-about-nothing. Their argument is that no one creates a fuss when the security detail of the president, the prime minister, or some other ‘VIP’, pushes us off the road so that their boss can pass unhindered, or shuts up main highways for hours, as their bosses make their way from one part of the city to another. This group believes that any of these VIPs would have behaved the same way Nancy did, had they been the ones who in a face-off with a security guard like Rebecca Kerubo.

Then there is the conspiracy theory group. Within this group are multiple narratives: someone is out to make women look bad; present civil society as unsuitable for public office; those who lost the position to her have grouped and set her up; the police want to make the point that ‘outsiders’ should not take over leadership of government systems; the status quo is fighting back, etc. There is even a narrative that Nancy is being targeted because of the community in which she comes from!

Personally I belong to the group that believes that this incident represents a clear indication of an inbuilt flaw of public office. A few months ago Nancy Baraza was an ordinary lady with an extraordinary capacity for reform, thus her being nominated and accepted as the Deputy Chief Justice of Kenya. Before her elevation few would have picked her out from a crowd, a few months later we are told she is offended when a guard does not recognize her. If all that we have heard is true then she is a clear victim of her own ‘hubris’.

According to Wikipedia ‘hubris’ means ‘extreme haughtiness, pride or arrogance’. It comes from a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.

Maybe the lack of contestation and controversy during her nomination created a situation where she overestimated her own competence or capabilities. I remember that whereas the process of appointing the Chief Justice and Director of Public Prosecutions were controversial and both were taken to task about one thing or the other, Nancy was somewhat sitting pretty and she was the only one of the three in whom there seemed to be a general consensus that she was … OK.

Could this be the origin of her hubris? I do not know. What I do know is that if what Rebecca is saying is only but half-true; e.g., if Nancy actually pinched Rebecca’s nose for instance, then she is suffering from extreme haughtiness, pride and arrogance!

Whatever the case we must learn from this incidence. The new constitution has generated an environment for us to do ‘Siasa Mpya’ politics, and Nancy is one of the first beneficiaries of this. Kenya is at the point where we are closely monitoring who gets into public office to ensure we have people with the right reform credentials, capacity to deliver on the expectations of the office and regional/gender balance.

However the Nancy Baraza incident introduces another key element that we must consider; that we can do all this and still end up with leaders who overestimate their competence and capacity and behave in a haughty, proud and arrogant way when dealing with us, the voters who actually put them in office!

To counter this we need to make ‘humility’ a required attribute in each and every public officer we appoint or elect. Humility is defined as ‘having a modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance and rank’ and for sure if Baraza had exhibited humility we would not even know she went to the Village Market.

Humility is the direct opposite of ‘hubris’. Rather than aggressiveness, arrogance, boastfulness, and vanity humility introduces a courteous respect for others, whatever their rank. Instead of a “Me first” attitude humility allows a leader to “No, you first, my friend.”

Humility is what ensures that whatever your position, you know that you are first a human being, then a Kenyan, then everything else. It is the quality that lets us go more than halfway to meet the needs and demands of others. Humility means getting your self-worth from outside what you do, or your title(s). As we various candidates seek our votes for national or local public offices let us vet them on the area of humility. That is the only way we will make ‘Siasa Mpya’ a reality

(Please let us know what you think about ‘Siasa Mpya’ by writing to

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