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A whole country to rebuild, and all we can do is play political games

The emperor Nero, it is said, played the fiddle while Rome burned. In Kenya today, our new leaders are showing a frightening propensity for doing the very same thing.

The Narc government swept into power on a wave of huge public sentiment. The people had had enough of entrenched poverty, enough of poor services, enough of crime and insecurity. They wanted new leaders who would deliver change on all these fronts. They voted in huge numbers for an improvement in their standard of living.

The government, when it was formed, seemed to understand this very well. All its leading lights proclaimed it from the rooftops: we are a government focused on delivery. You must measure us on the results we produce. It’s time for action.

Barely three months later, the change vehicle has stalled in the mud. Our leaders seem to be spending all their waking hours engaging in the game of politics. Where and when, I must ask, is the real work being done?

I have written before that for actions to be meaningful, they must be guided by a strategic plan. Such a blueprint, we are told, is still in production. In the meantime, it is patently obvious to even the most hopeful observer that cabinet ministers have no common hymn-sheet from which to sing. One will make a ground-shaking pronouncement; another will openly contradict it. One will recommend a policy change; another will deride it in full view of the cameras.

In this climate, we are not going to move an inch forward. Cabinet ministers have to buy into the same corporate plan for the country, and then unite behind it. If they do not, Kenyans’ hopes are in vain.

But it’s clear that many of leaders have more pressing matters to deal with, such as politics. They are busy making deals, building power bases, and strengthening their clout within the ruling coalition. They are preoccupying themselves in meetings where they measure their numerical strength in parliament and design voting blocs. They are engrossed in hatching conspiracy theories, making veiled threats and spreading rumours.

I ask again: when do they find the time to do any work that helps the nation?

Rebuilding a country takes absolute devotion to the task at hand. There are plans to develop. There is innovative thinking to be done. There are projects to design. There are institutions to reconstruct. There is ground to be broken, roads to be laid, parastatals to restructure, jobs to be created.

Do these sound like the sort of things that can be achieved in our leaders’ spare time?

Of course, a great deal is going on. But much of the action we see is being conducted with political gain in mind. Take for instance the fight against corruption. Could anything be more serious than an attack on the disease that has crippled our land? Yet all we have seen so far is the mere slinging of mud. If we are really serious about taking on this vice, we have to strengthen our laws, institutions and processes, not bay for blood like a pack of hounds. We have to gather evidence painstakingly and then follow a process of law, not shout names on street-corners. We have to focus on recovery of the money lost, not use the opportunity to bury our political opponents.

Yes, crimes have been committed and the culprits must be brought to book. But how much looking back can we afford? If we were to set out to right all the economic wrongs of the past 25 years, we would need another 25 years of doing little else. This fact was recognised by the government during its early days, but appears to have been forgotten in the frenzied witch-hunt that has ensued. We’re all having too much fun hearing about the latest scandalous revelation and watching the bloodbath when big names are brought down.

All of us – the politicians, the media, the public – are revelling in the baser part of our natures. Meantime, nothing is happening to put more food on the table.

This government was elected to deliver results. The results that matter are new jobs created, living standards raised, social well-being improved. That is what the average Kenyan is waiting to see happen. He cares not a jot about coalitions within coalitions, memoranda of understanding, or the distinction between ‘equitable’ and ‘equal’ sharing of positions.

Leadership is the issue here. There are two extremes in leadership styles. One is the purely ‘top-down’ approach: the leader knows everything, understands everything and tries to do everything. He issues directives and brooks no dissent. We have had this particular style for two decades; we can see the results in the state of our economy.

The other extreme is the purely ‘bottom-up’ approach. Subordinates are given great power and authority. They understand issues in their docket at first hand, and develop intelligent solutions. They are given all the room they need to express and enforce these solutions. All that the overall leader needs to do is cast a benevolent eye on proceedings and resolve the occasional skirmish. We are beginning to see where this style, if allowed to embed itself, may lead us.

Our Chief Executive Officer is an intelligent and seasoned operator, and understands these extremes of style and their outcomes. But he must step in, and do so immediately.

There is a problem of politics, which must be resolved. Without consensus, nothing will be achieved. And consensus building takes skill, patience and, indeed, a firm hand. Some horse-trading must be done, compromises reached, deals struck. And then we must move on and focus on the real work at hand.

There is also a problem of priorities. There are very limited resources and time available, and so much to be done. Political manoeuvring and name-calling may be facts of life, but they are not what we need to spend all our available time doing. It is the CEO’s role to define the real priorities, and then ensure that his team sticks to them.

Indeed, it would be a welcome relief if many of our leaders just disappeared off our TV screens and newspaper front pages for a while. We would sleep sounder if we thought they were beavering away on developing realistic targets for their ministries, designing plans, rethinking structures and rebuilding institutions. We take no joy in watching their antics during ‘surprise’ tours, their ominous warnings to unnamed individuals, their promises of juicy revelations to come. All that these things do is worry us that they don’t understand the real task they were elected to perform.

We voted for thinkers and workers, not schemers and stone-throwers.

There is plenty of brainpower, energy, expertise and determination present in this government. It is time to channel it onto the things that really matter, not fritter it away on power games and camera-conscious posturing. Kenyans demands the results that matter.

In the meantime, Rome still burns.

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