BY DONALD B KIPKORIR
Depending on who is reading the Constitution, the next presidential elections will be held between August 2012 and February 2013. Till then, we have at least 16 months as a nation-state for sufficient reflection on who we want as our president.
And it is opportune moment for us to accept that of the three presidents we have had, Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki, none has taken us to the next level. Sycophancy aside, Kenya ranks at the bottom of all indices of wealth, health and education. It is only when we accept this, that we can now choose our next President whom we hope will lead us to true nirvana and not isolated meadows in the desert.
Time and again, the media tell us about the front-runner presidential aspirants and there is no surprise. Other than James ole Kiyiapi, all the others are MPs. Is it that one must have been in politics to be President? Out of 40 million of us, is the presidential gene pool a small 222? Mercifully, the Constitution allows all Kenyans to run for the office, whether sponsored by a political party or not, as long as you are Kenyan citizen by birth and have written support of 2,000 voters each in at least 24 counties.
This is the most powerful office, yet does not demand any academic qualifications or age-limits. But surely, our president must demand more qualities. Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte built those ancient and great civilisations of Rome, Greece and France. They were so successful that they thought they were literally divine. In the modern age, Franklin D Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Lee Kuan Yew and Recep Tayyip Erdo transformed America, Britain, Singapore and Turkey from depression, poverty and war to economic and military pre-eminence. These ancient and modern leaders shared common traits that we so sorely miss and so sorely want.
We will never answer why and how great leaders emerge. But we know a great leader when we see one. And at times, we know a great leader when in office.
Leaders are anointed by heavenly powers as Moses was, or rise to office by right of birth as members of monarchies, or elected in democracies, or by force. Whichever way one rises to office, it is the legacy that matters. In Africa, it is only South Africa, a democracy, and Rwanda, a dictatorship, which are undergoing genuine transformations; the rest of Africa is going nowhere if not declining.
When you listen to the budget speeches of Zambia and Malawi being read, you can think the countries are making progress; the reality is abject poverty. The scene is replicated across Africa. Kenya is a multi-ethnic society, and a conscious one. We may not admit it, but Kenyans first belong to their tribes before they belong to the nation-state. We always choose tribe above country.
Great civilisations like America and Europe subordinate the tribe to the nation; people there are proud of their tribal heritage but love the country first. Here, our leaders perpetuate our differences in tribe because it is by it that they continue lording over us.
It is for this that our next president has to be one to rise above tribe. One, whose prime constituency is his tribe should not be allowed anywhere near our State House. We can know them, by the advisers and hangers-on around them. If a political leader trusts his tribe only around him, how can we trust him to be our President?
The presidency is the highest and most powerful office in the land. It is the ultimate prize for anyone with ambition. If it were so, the holder has to be one that has the ideals and traits that we all wish we had. He must be between man and God in qualities.
He is one who by character and temperament provides leadership. When God asked Solomon what he wanted, he asked for wisdom so that he may "… discern between good and bad." Wisdom enabled Solomon to be a great judge and King. He provided leadership and direction for his people.
No country has ever developed without transformative leadership. Such a leader possesses and exhibits undisputed vision, character and passion. He is a decider and not a ditherer.
Alexander the Great did not hesitate to proclaim himself a deity when the moment demanded. The Oracle at Delphi was forced to make prophecies in his favour. When ancient taboos in form of the Gordian knot stood between him and Persia, he defied the taboos and cut the knot. In Kenya, our three presidents have been hostages to tribe and entrenched mafias. They have failed to be deciders.
Kenya has to have courage of experimenting with new leadership. It is only in leaving the comforts of our shore that we discover new lands. Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) was an Italian that believed there existed rich territories outside then known Europe.
King John II of Portugal whom he approached to give royal charter to his explorations declined; Queen Isabella of Spain accepted. And as they say, the rest is history as Columbus conquered the Americas for Spain. Kenya has similar choice; it can stick with the status quo like the King of Portugal and remain small forever, or be daring like Queen Isabella and discover new Americas. Our democracy, imperfect as it is, gives us that opportunity to elect the President we want.
We have enough time, to interrogate all aspirants with toothcomb honesty and integrity. We cannot expect a leader who was a tribal chief or vindictive last year to have changed this year. We have media records to tell us what our political leaders have been saying and doing.
A tiger does not change its spots. Pray, the General Election due next year will allow us to break with the past and choose a new future. Our next president has to be beholden to the country and country alone. He has to say as Eva Morales of Bolivia said, "Bolivia is my mistress."
(The writer is an advocate of the High Court.This article was first published by the Standard on Sunday)