While pursuing my undergraduate degree in Government and Politics (GVPT) as a returning student at the University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland in the early 90s, I had the privilege to study leadership as a student of the world renowned leadership expert Dr. James MacGregor Burns. I was one of a handful of students selected for this class sponsored by the Academy of Leadership, which was then housed at UMCP.
I also had the privilege while at UMCP to work for the great late U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy as a Congressional Intern in my last year of studies at UMCP through the GVPT Capitol Hill Honors Program before venturing on to law school.
As I embark on writing this blog on leadership, I have dusted off my notes from these experiences and added what I have learned and observed since then about leadership in both Africa and here in the US in the hopes I can provide a comprehensive and analytic basis we all as Kenyans can use to choose our national leaders chief among them being the president.
Before I dig into this concept of leadership and how to apply it in Kenyan context, let me state the uncontroverted and obvious upfront:
(1)There is a correlation between leadership and the development of a nation.
(2)Almost all that ails Kenya and Africa for that matter is directly linkable to bad leadership.
(3)Kenyan and African leaders, save for Nkrumah and Mandela have largely failed their citizenry.
(4)The failure of Kenyan/African leadership is not due to lack of information or resources.
(5)The continent of Africa has in it individuals who can rise to greatness in leadership anytime.
The term “leadership” is one that is used across the globe and in all languages and cultures and perhaps the most if not the only common concept all peoples of the world commonly have in mind from time immemorial when thinking and deciding about how to govern their affairs.
Yet, as Dr. Burns describes it, “Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth.”
To be sure, leadership is a subject that has been studied for centuries and many scholars have tried to define what it is exactly but none has had lasting acceptance. Analyzing these studies is beyond the scope of this piece but I have drawn from these studies qualities, attributes and skills (QAS) I believe are essential and a must have for the person we elect as our next president and these are:
- Religious Conviction
- Honesty, Trustfulness and Integrity
- Firm Educational Foundation and Wisdom
- Experience and Exposure
- Inspiration, Vision and Self-Confidence
It is my belief applying these QAS to select our next president will result in the election of the most apt and suitable president at this time in our history.
For those who were around and followed closely the lead-up to the 2002 elections, the country was in great hunger for change and a new president who was to transform the country.
As history would have it, that transformation has yet to take place and the next elections of 2007 in fact, set us backwards even more than where we were as country in 2002. That was then, this is now. Tomorrow, awaits and the question is, what shall it be? What kind of future lies ahead, given our past?
What we need in Kenya now more than ever before is a transformational leader to finally transform the country for good.
According to Dr. Burns, a transformational leader changes the lives of people by changing perceptions, values, and aspirations of the people – all while working for the greater good of the country. The timing could not be better as our current president is retiring and therefore we’ll have a new president come next elections of 2012, which we assume and hope will be held as scheduled.
A person with the cumulative five qualities, attributes and skills I list above which I analyze in more detail below has more than what is needed and necessary to be a transformational leader in Kenya:
1. Religious Conviction
Kenya is a heavily religious country therefore it goes without saying our leader must be a religious person and by this I do not mean one who occasionally makes technical appearances in Church but one who actually practices his faith to some greater and acceptable degree of regularity. It does not matter whether the individual is Christian, Muslim, Hindu or a follower of any of the traditional African religions; it’s enough that he or she follows and adheres to one.
This is a critical attribute to have because at the core of most religions are values that if followed guide us all to a better life both inwardly and otherwise. A number of leaders have fallen short of greatness because they simply have not taken religion seriously or have failed to incorporate it’s core values in their decision making process while on the other hand, those who have, have attained greatness much to their individual satisfaction and betterment of those who have benefited from their leadership.
Again, being a religious person does not mean merely proclaiming to be one or making technical appearances at places of worship or having a quid pro quo with religious pretenders and opportunists but being a religious person has to be professing a faith and living by, and applying its teaching as can be deduced from how one lives and conducts his or her private and public life.
Can one who has hitherto never stepped or seen the inside of a church, temple or mosque suddenly convert from paganism and claim this quality of religious conviction at the eleventh hour? Of course; one can do so but the likelihood such a conversion being genuine is very low so the best that can be under this circumstances is to let the electorate decide the issue of whether or not such conversion is genuine or merely a con job.
Having religious convictions is critical because makes one more likely than not to be, among other things, compassionate, which is an absolute must have attribute for a transformative leader.
This is particularly critical at this time in our history because our country has suffered tremendously and most of our citizenry live in conditions of abject poverty or otherwise in shameful poor conditions 46 year after our independence because our leadership has failed to address their plight not because of lack of resources but because of lack of compassion coupled with greed and corruption which has in a fetal combination denied a vast majority of the populace the kind of livelihood they should have by now which they do not have their hard work notwithstanding.
This is a practice we must put to an end by demanding that our next president be a person who is not only compassionate and has shown that he cares about the welfare of our people but also one who has a plan to do so.
Having religious conviction comes with it also the expectation the individual has corresponding moral uprightness and by this I mean one who has and lives a model life in all aspects of his or her life, has and takes care of a family and takes care of himself or herself health-wise to make sure he is there and will be there for his family and the country as a whole which in essence becomes his or her larger family and otherwise tends to the needs of the country as a parent would to his or her children.
This, perhaps, is one of the most important, if not the most important of all qualities our next president must have. But there is more.
2. Honesty and Integrity
Besides being an upright and moral person, our next leader must also be an honest person with high integrity which combined, form the pillars of good leadership and governance.
Dr. Burns points out that a transformational leader sets a personal example of high ethical standards which instills a sense of trust and respect among his or her followers. On the other hand, trust is an inherent part of presidential leadership therefore all these characteristics must be present and required of the person we elect to be our next president.
Indeed, our constitution lays out in Chapter 6, the standard of conduct and behavior expected of those entrusted with holding public office. These qualities and attributes, however, must be demanded of our next president before being elected and assuming office.
Maintaining them while in office is, of course, a must.
Having these qualities and attributes will give us a good measure of how our next president will deal with one of the vices that has bedeviled our country for decades and that is corruption which is practiced deep and wide in government.
To have a shot at getting rid of this vice or at least minimizing it greatly, it is imperative that we have a president whose honesty and integrity is impeccable and beyond reproach, which by definition means they are clean of the vice of corruption to begin with.
This in turn will put them in a far much better and desirable position to fight the vice when they assume office as president.
We therefore must know of our next president whether he or she is a person of good moral character, an honest person and a person with high integrity.
Needless to say, however, no one who has been engaged in proven corruption should ever hold that office or any other public office and neither should anyone who has conducted himself or herself in any other proven or provable dishonest manner be even considered to hold such office, let alone being elected to one.
Having honesty and integrity also means our next president must conduct the affairs of his office in an open and transparent manner subject to legitimate national security interests.
Transparency is intricately linked to accountability which has been wanting in our country since independence.
Leaders from the top down have acted with impunity because they believe they are not accountable to anyone, including the public in whose behalf they are supposed to act.
This obviously has to come to a halting end therefore the next president must show by proven record that he is transparent and accountable to those who have elected him or her to office.
3. Firm Academic Foundation and Wisdom
Dr. Burns teaches that a transformational leader must provide intellectual stimulation by questioning assumptions and asking for creative responses from those he relies on for advice in decision making. This in turn motivates his or her advisors to think out of the box and work independently to find solutions to both common and complex problems.
While it does not follow that an educated and intelligent person is automatically a good and desirable leader, being educated and intelligent is a good indicator the person can be counted on to make sound judgments and decisions upon being presented with an issue or issues and information.
The decision and judgment need not always be right but it cannot be dumb.
Leaders are often presented with competing solutions with success or failure depending on choosing the right one. While theoretically anyone can toss a coin and reach an identical decision or judgment as one reached after careful examination of facts and information, we can’t afford to have that done on as many times a president has to make decisions and judgments.
Rather, you need the president to make informed decisions upon careful analysis and get it right as close as to all times as possible and this can only be accomplished by one having the capacity to grasp the issues and apply their intelligence to the information given to reach the right decision.
On the other hand, it is not necessary that the president have the highest form of education in any field of study or otherwise be the Philosopher Kings Plato envisioned in his Republic.
Rather, it is enough the individual has at least a bachelor’s degree which speaks not necessarily to academic excellence but an indication of the individual’s hard work and determination, which in by itself is a requirement for a good leader, namely, ability to apply oneself determinately to achieve an objective.
As will be further discussed below, wisdom gained through experience would also count as an aspect of one’s overall education and intellectual capacity.
4. Experience and Exposure
In his Crucibles of Leadership,” author Robert Thomas notes the following:
“Accomplished leaders say that experience is their best teacher. They learned their most meaningful and important leadership lessons — lessons that they’ve integrated into their own leadership style—through crucibles. These were critical events and experiences, times of testing and trial, failure more often than grand success, that grabbed them by the lapels and demanded to know ‘What do you stand for?’ and ‘What are you going to do?’ A situation arose that did not respect age, gender, generation, nationality, talent, or charisma; all it asked was that the person step up and be someone or do something they’d never been or done before. Id.
Experience therefore absolutely matters and the more one has, the better.
Our constitution requires that in order to serve as Chief Justice, one has to have at least 15 years’ experience as a judge or 15 years’ distinguished experience in the legal field in addition to the requisite academic qualification of possession of at least a law degree among other qualifications.
The president by analogy must therefore be held by someone with at least 15 years’ experience in a distinguished leadership capacity.
In addition to having local experience, it behooves our next president to have experience dealing with international affairs.
A person who is well traveled and has interacted with other world leaders is likely to be more successful handling any number of international issues he or she has to deal with as president. The more exposure one has with these types of interactions, the better he or she will be equipped to execute tasks touching on international affairs.
Having a solid academic background, intelligence and a good doze of wisdom gained through experience is a good indicator the individual will be comfortable in his or her shoes and therefore less likely to regard those around him or his or her opponents with suspicion because of inferiority complex that is bound to arise if one is otherwise less academically and intellectually positioned relative to all others, especially those he or she deems to be a threat to his or her political life.
We are all too familiar with regular persecution of UON students and graduates simply because they were perceived to be a threat to the ruling clique. Fortunately, this is slowly becoming a thing of the past as more and more Kenyans are fully informed and engaged.
The cautionary insurance, however, is not to let the guard down and elect those who may ultimately end up feeling threatened by others merely because of the latter’s superior academic background or claim to superior knowledge thus rendering them targets of persecution or elimination.
This is not to say the leader must have equal or superior academic background and knowledge to or over all others but simply enough of both to be comfortable in their own skin with those who might even have more of same than she or he.
Similarly, we must select a president who is not afraid to let those who by design or accident emerge as good or even better leaders than they. This phenomena is inevitable but is often met with resistance, sometimes deadly resistance in Africa but we don’t need such leaders.
Instead, we need a tolerant, comfortable in their shoes leader who welcomes the opposition as a healthy part of democracy, provided, of course, the opposition also abides by common acceptable rules and practices of being in the opposition, chief among which is respect for the office itself.
In other words, we must not elect a contender who sees his or her opponent or opponents as political enemies who must be destroyed by all means other than by ideology and/or issues.
Conversely, the electorate must be wary of contenders for the high office driven only by a desire to get there by any means, including utilization of the most wicked and common denominators such as tribalism and negative ethnicity.
Both must be rejected and have a candidate who rises above all of that and demonstrably so to be elected as our next president.
5. Inspiration, Vision and Self-Confidence
A transformational leader according to Dr. Burns must have the ability to provide inspirational motivation. This is done through the articulation of a vision, creation of optimism, and making sense of the environmental changes.
As noted above, Kenya needs an inspirational leader now more than ever before in our history. This is significantly because even though we have had dark periods in our history since independence, nothing compares to the stain from 2007 and early 2008 post-election violence (PEV) which remains literally visible as thousands of internally displaced persons remain in camps while not a single person has yet to be held accountable for the violence.
No one knows how the Ocampo Six cases will end. However, what we can all agree on is, no matter how the Ocampo Six cases progress or end, there has to be closure to PEV one way or another and the sooner the better.
Thus, we must demand and elect a president committed to bringing finality to this tragic chapter in our history and, to this end, the next president has to have uniting the country as his or her No. 1 priority upon being sworn as president.
There is no question tribalism and ethnicity loom large in our country’s psyche and have been and continue to be key in these bursts of violence but in choosing our next president, we must rise above this curse from colonial rule and demand and elect a person who transcends tribalism and negative ethnicity and who can inspire others to do same.
A key measure of one with ability to transcend tribalism and ethnicity and inspire others to do same while uniting the country is whether the individual is humble, respects others, has a proven record of compromise in the most difficult of circumstances, shows or has shown he or she is capable of admitting mistakes or wrongdoing, is in touch with or otherwise shows an understanding of the needs and aspirations of ordinary Kenyans, and has shown he or she is not afraid to tackle people’s problems even in the face of great adversity or at the cost of political and personal sacrifice.
Being inspirational in ending the vices that plague our country, including corruption, tribalism and negative ethnicity, is just but one aspect of inspirational ability we must demand of our next president; the other aspect is ability to inspire the nation to be engaged in bringing about other fundamental changes in our way of life.
The next president thus must have a clear vision as to how to bring about these fundamental changes, which should include in the least, transparency, accountability, improved and sustainable economic welfare, housing, health and education and by that I don’t mean merely pointing out what needs to be significantly changed for the better is, but providing a road map clearly laying down his or her plans to achieve these goals, how long it’ll take and how to pay for them.
This then, becomes one measure of success upon which the person elected on such promise can be held accountable on his or her re-election bid, if not sooner by recall.
Finally, but not least, even though we need and must have an inspirational leader, we must also distinguish those who are inspirational for all the wrong reasons. Hitler was very effective in manipulating people’s emotions to create so much hatred for other human beings to the points they allowed him to commit the abominable atrocities he unbelievably committed.
It is unlikely the world would ever see another Hitler but runners-up and would be’s are abound so we must be vigilant as against them to the extent they may wish, as noted above, to appeal to the most wicked common denominators among many a Kenyan and that is tribalism and negative ethnicity which can and has often easily been boiled to levels of unimaginable hatred and violence. We can and must do better.
Indeed, appeals to motion of this type, simply have no place in society neither do they solve but add to the the monumental problems and tasks ahead for the country.
In fact, the absence of this negative emotion will go a long way in ending tribalism and negative ethnicity in our country so Kenyans must reject those leaders who appeal to the people’s emotions along these tribal and ethnic considerations instead of having the country focusing on substantive issues and other things that unite but not divide us.
The foregoing comprises the basic and minimum qualities, attributes and skills I believe are essential and must be demanded of our next president. They are by no means exhaustive but they are the foundation and core upon which others evolve. I have not, for example, included the inner qualities such as fairness, impartiality, character, strength, and ability to recognize one’s limitations which go without saying as being essential and part and parcel of good leadership. I am in the final analysis confident if we elect a president with these basic qualities, attributes and skills, we will transform our country forever and for the better.
Copyright © May 2011. By Samuel N. Omwenga, Esq.