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Apply these 4 tests before you vote

Jan 13, 2013 Leadership, Sunday Nation

The time for Kenyans to select new leaders is upon us again. We go to the polls in just a few weeks time. Will we choose wisely?

The precedents are not good. We know very well that most Kenyans do not choose leaders on merit. They choose them mostly on tribe. Your kinsman is your kinsman, and will get your vote. That your kinsman is also a rogue doesn’t seem to come into it; he’s your kinsman, and that is enough for you. “Your rogue” trumps “their candidate,” no matter how credible, because you believe everyone steals anyway.

This kind of thinking ensures that we remain backward. It ensures that elections in Kenya are decided by tribal voting blocs. It ensures that whoever gets the most populous tribes on his ballot becomes the overall leader. It ensures that issues such as intellect, credentials and character never come into consideration.

Let’s be in no doubt: this situation is not about to change anytime soon. The primacy of tribe will prevail for the foreseeable future. Even in the USA, don’t forget, the recent presidential vote was swung by ethnic voting blocs. African-Americans and Hispanic voters were resolutely on one side; white voters of a certain age were resolutely on the other.

Ethnic voting patterns are broken by a prolonged process of education and awareness. As people become aware of bigger worlds than the ones their minds have inhabited, their thought patterns begin to change. As they begin to understand the nature of economic progress, their hands twitch a little longer over the ballot paper.

This process is painfully slow and does not lead to quick transformations. Technology will provide a major boost in this regard: Kenya’s very young population is rapidly becoming simultaneously very connected. Mobile devices are proliferating, and social media uptake is extremely fast in Kenya. Given time, this will have positive consequences on our politics, as it will dilute the ability of parents and village honchos to brainwash children.

But that will take time. Our next election is here and now. I hope that even now, some of us will be able to view our candidates from different lenses than the tribal ones we are accustomed to. So allow me to offer four tests of leadership that you should subject your candidate to before voting.

The first test: is this person on a collective mission? Is he burning with an inner fire to create transformation in society? Is she consumed with an overwhelming passion to uplift others? Ultimate leadership is not for the timid, the contained or the self-centred – it is for those with steely determination and great vision.

Secondly: is this candidate someone who will unite the country, or divide it further? Will this leader reach out or reach in? Will this person heal wounds, settle disputes, build bridges? Or will he raise the walls of division even higher?

Third test: does this person actually qualify as a leader, rather than a politician? Are there attributes of leadership visible here? Is this a candidate who will form a formidable team of talents, and get the best work out of others? Or is this another Big-Man-Me-First candidate who will propagate another personality cult?

And fourthly: is this a good person? How often we forget this one. What is the candidate’s character? Does she have a track record of good behaviour? Is this a kind person, a patient person, an empathetic person? Or am I in the process of elevating yet another rogue to leadership, with highly predictable consequences?

Apply these four tests if you wish. Most will not. Even those who do may find themselves suddenly short of candidates who pass them. But at least think about them, and understand them. Someday, selection criteria like these will be our salvation.

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