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The ninth parliament was a disgrace

Oct 28, 2007 Leadership, Sunday Nation

President Kibaki dissolved the ninth parliament this week, and asked the media and historians to judge its performance. So, let the evaluations begin.

I think the ninth parliament was a disgrace to the country.

To be fair, though: this parliament came in with a different set of public expectations. During the last years of the Kanu regime, we had almost no expectations of our parliamentarians. We knew goat herders, matatu touts, cattle rustlers and tribal warlords sat in that august house, and we expected only the worst from them (and got it). We knew they would be incompetent and inanimate (and they were).

But the ninth parliament came in on a wave of euphoria. Kenyans had rejected failure, and demanded better. And we had every reason to believe that we would indeed get better people: 2002 ushered in a bevy of reformers, activists, academics and general good sorts. All the people who had been clamouring alongside the people about the state of leadership in the country.

We can be forgiven, then, for feeling thoroughly let down.

Let’s start with the achievements of the ninth parliament (which won’t take long, so do hang on). We are told that this group of leaders gave us many important things: the Constituency Development Fund, for instance (but that was proposed by an individual member and passed after stiff opposition by the powers-that-were). Or the new highways authorities (but we did not manage to extend our road network or improve it in any meaningful way).

We were given better laws against corruption and economic crimes (but we have yet to jail a single significant person for those misdeeds). We were given a law that made wealth declarations compulsory (but have you ever seen one?). True, we were given the much-needed Sexual Offences Act (but only after a disgracefully immature debate in the house).

That’s what they did, then. But we also know what the ninth parliament did not manage to do. Parliamentarians did not manage to turn up at their place of work for any meaningful period of time. They did not manage to contain their unbridled greed, and bestowed a world-beating remuneration package upon themselves. They did not even manage to stay awake at work, and passed a series of defective bills that a more alert president was forced to send back.

They did not manage to rise above the ills that bedevil the land, and demonstrated more tribalism, more petty squabbling, and more inanity than pretty much any other organised group in the country. Oh, and I nearly forgot. They emphatically did not give us the new constitution on which the future of this country rides. Let parliamentarians not blame it all on other bodies – they are the people who represent us, and they are accountable.

But hey, don’t take it from me, let’s ask the Father of the House. This is what the Speaker had to say about his flock in 2005: “Ignorant, dishonest, unprincipled and insincere”. Being their dad, he should know.

What stunned most Kenyans was the performance of people we expected to shine in the house. We sent in some real potential stars to represent us last time. Perhaps there is a miasma in that building that enfeebles all who enter there; for all we got from the stars were quarrels and brainless dogma.

All of this matters. We are too fond of keeping our standards low, and accepting mediocrity. We tolerate and we forgive, and we keep hoping for a miracle to deliver better leaders. Life doesn’t work like that. First, you set higher standards; next you meet them. It is up to the people of Kenya to set the leadership bar high.

So as we listen to the campaign noise being made by all and sundry, let us listen carefully; let us analyse what we hear; let us discern carefully the diamonds from the ‘makaa’. Look out for those who possess skills and competencies, and a record of success. Listen out for those who speak kindly and gently. Watch out for those who debate issues, rather than issue threats.

Leaders matter. Another bunch as venal and vapid as the ninth parliament will cost us another five years. Can we afford that? If you are happy with your lot in life, roll up and vote for the usual goons. If you want something better for the country, demand something better. Use your voice, your pen, your personality and ultimately your vote to set a higher standard of leadership.

I have written elsewhere: “Why would people of higher thought and action ever come to sell their fine wares in this scruffy and demeaning marketplace? We are not going to see any meaningful change in leadership until we address our own values as a nation. Those values are not bestowed by leaders; they have to emerge from our inner beings and be reinforced in our daily lives. If we want great leaders, we have to deserve them.”

We should borrow the motto of the world-famous Sandhurst Military Academy: “Serve to Lead.”

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