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We need candidates who will inspire us

Mar 04, 2007 Leadership, Sunday Nation

Allow me to share with you some excerpts from a recent speech made by a candidate for the presidency:

“We all made this journey for a reason. It’s humbling, but in my heart I know you didn’t come here just for me, you came here because you believe in what this country can be…In the face of despair, you believe there can be hope. In the face of a politics that’s shut you out, that’s told you to settle, that’s divided us for too long, you believe we can be one people…

…Each and every time, a new generation has risen up and done what’s needed to be done. Today we are called once more – and it is time for our generation to answer that call. For that is our unyielding faith – that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it.

…What’s stopped us from meeting these challenges is not the absence of sound policies and sensible plans. What’s stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics – the ease with which we’re distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems.

… And it won’t be easy. That’s why we’ll have to set priorities. We’ll have to make hard choices. And although government will play a crucial role in bringing about the changes we need, more money and programs alone will not get us where we need to go. Each of us, in our own lives, will have to accept responsibility – for instilling an ethic of achievement in our children, for adapting to a more competitive economy, for strengthening our communities, and sharing some measure of sacrifice. So let us begin. Let us begin this hard work together. Let us transform this nation.

…There is power in words…there is power in conviction…beneath all the differences of race and region, faith and station, we are all one people…That’s why I’m in this race. Not just to hold an office, but to gather with you to transform a nation.”

Inspirational stuff, eh? I can see you reaching for your voter’s card already: who is this guy, and how soon can I vote for him?

Sadly, you can’t. The presidency in question is that of the United States of America. The candidate in question is Senator Barack Obama. He may be a son of Kenya, but he ain’t running here, folks. He’s playing in a bigger arena: the biggest in the world, in fact. When the good senator visited us last year, I pointed out that he makes every politician in Kenya look bad. He combines intellect with courage, verve and charisma. Here, our boys and girls of the political cloth seem to be in a race to the bottom: to demonstrate who can be more petty, more insincere, more vapid and more vindictive than the rest.

If the good son of Siaya were to run here, with that persona and that level of oratory, he would clean up. He would win with the kind of landslide that would push all his competitors into the Indian Ocean. He could unite us, inspire us and transform us. But he won’t, so let’s stop dreaming about him.

What we should do, however, is hold our own homegrown politicians up to a higher standard. We have seen how high the bar should be, so let’s accept nothing less for ourselves. In other words: we want leaders who can grab this country by its bootstraps and haul it into a different international peer group; who can understand the foundations of success in a globalised world economy; who don’t give two hoots for ethnicity; whose entire mission in taking office is to transform this nation, once and for all.

As I write this, the list of presidential contenders grows longer every week. Everyone from ponces to pastors, rabble-rousers to ruffians, wants to be President of Kenya. They have every right to try, but we have every right to say no. Let us stop listening to mudslinging and insults, accusations and betrayals. Let us stop entertaining people who have their heads stuck in their own navels. Let us look for the candidates who convince us that they are in the race for the sake of the collective mass, not the tribe or the individual. Let us say: show me your transformation agenda for this nation. Nothing else matters.

To end on a trivial note: in addition to all his other qualities, Senator Obama is also handsome. Don’t mock it, it seems to matter. Economists have conducted studies that confirm voters prefer a pretty face. Looking at our growing line of candidates, this appears to be yet another area of deficit for us. Thus far, our contenders lack form as well as substance.

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