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Why I don’t care who our next president is

Mar 10, 2013 Leadership, Sunday Nation

At the time I’m writing this, we don’t have a result in Kenya’s presidential election. I don’t know who our next president will be. But frankly I don’t care. I care more about what happened to my country during this election, than I care about the identity of its next leader.

This is because one of my fervent wishes for Kenya is that we someday get to the point where it matters not a jot who leads us.

Let me explain. Consider the following countries: Luxembourg and Norway in Europe; Singapore and Hong Kong in Asia. They consistently have the highest average incomes per person in the world. In Africa, that ranking is topped regularly by Mauritius and Botswana.

Now name their leaders.

Once upon a time, those countries had renowned leaders, recognized beyond their borders. But over time, the nation’s character, ethos, institutions and competitive advantage took centre stage. Now, leaders come, leaders go – but prosperity continues apace, with scarcely a ripple.

Contrast that with our own land. Its graph of GDP growth since independence is a landscape of peaks and valleys: high growth between elections, deep troughs just after them. We are forced to press ‘reset’ during every election, and start afresh the task of building our economy.

It will take time to get there, but we will someday create a country that flies on autopilot, with leaders who don’t have to do anything beyond checking the controls and providing inspiration.

With that theme in mind, let me share some reflections on the election we have just (I hope) concluded.

On voting day, I was immensely proud. I gazed at the resolve of the people of this land queuing to vote from before dawn until after dusk. I saw people from opposing camps stand shoulder to shoulder in peace. I saw diversity, I saw tolerance, I saw a dedication to democracy. And my heart swelled.

The people fulfilled their part of the deal. They made their choices in peace.

In Kenya, things tend to go wrong in the second part of the contract: in relaying, counting and confirming the will of the people.  And so we had mysterious breakdowns in electronic voter identification; in data transmission and receipt; in rapid tallying.

That is why, as I write this, I still don’t know who won this election. But I don’t care. There are, nonetheless, things I do care about.  Let me list them here.

I care that our presiding electoral body, after suffering the potentially fatal setback of electronic failure, rescued itself sufficiently to revert to a manual and physical counting procedure – and retained, albeit grudgingly, the faith of the people in an atmosphere of great tension and suspicion.

I care that the voters held their patience, reassured one another, passed messages of peace, and got on with their lives and livelihoods.

I care that many shops reopened, people went back to work, market indicators stayed stable – despite not knowing who our next president will be.

I care that Kenyans finally believed they had a constitution and a judiciary that would resolve any disputes or malpractices that might arise.

And I care that all of those things are an order of magnitude better than they were five years ago.

Of course, I care also about the things that don’t reflect well on us. I care about the billion of shillings of taxpayer’s money we seem to have blown on an electronic system that failed and threw us into disarray. I care that the pattern of voting remained as brutally tribal as ever. I care that we harbour people of influence who show not the slightest concern at tense times in spreading childish rumours and vicious hatred.

But we will overcome all these things. Slowly but surely, we will create a country where you, my dear reader, also don’t care who our next president is.

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