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Why the fights for flags and titles?

Jun 01, 2014 Leadership, Sunday Nation

Why do so many of our leaders in this country fight tooth-and-nail for titles, like “your excellency” or “the honourable” – even when they are worlds away from being either excellent or having any honour whatsoever?

Why are there ugly squabbles perpetually happening for the right to fly the national flag on vehicles, or to have a coat of arms, or a retinue of bodyguards and aides and a convoy of limousines? Even when those fighting for those things bring only dishonour to the nation?

Why are we in the middle of a seemingly endless battle for supremacy between members of parliament, senators, governors and county representatives? Why does it matter who the top dog is in the baying pack?

You can blame small-minded leaders for this, but I want to suggest a different culprit today: small-minded followers.

We may have ourselves a democracy and a fresh new constitution, you see, but we haven’t evolved our model of leadership just yet. We do not see the intrinsic worth in our leaders; we focus more on the extrinsic trappings of power that they display.

Our leaders know this, and that is why they are hell-bent on getting all the accoutrements of power, rather than on using that power to do good. Flags, titles, terms of address really, really matter, you see. To the voters, not just to the leaders themselves.

We are still in the “kings and overlords” model of leadership. The last thing we want is that leaders should be indistinguishable from the followers, as they often are in more mature democracies. In many countries, there would be a huge outcry if leaders awarded themselves crazy pay packages, lived in paid-for mansions or drove huge vehicles at public expense. Any leader trying such stunts would be bundled out of office sharpish.

Here, those things win votes. Leaders must look like leaders: they must have all the regalia and paraphernalia of the lords of feudal times. They must never be alone; always surrounded by eager sycophants; must be heavily guarded, even if the only threat is from a flying pigeon; must be housed in palaces that the ordinary citizen cannot even muster a dream about; and must move around with flags fluttering and sirens blaring, so that the people are left in no doubt: a lord has arrived.

That’s why every elected honcho from county rep upwards is scrabbling for the visible stuff, the emblems of power and privilege. Because the people are wowed by them, and are swayed by the folks who display them.

This is a huge problem, because it means proper leadership is some way off. That’s why whenever a public-spirited, sensible-minded, deep-thinking type tries to run for office in Kenya, he or she is pretty much guaranteed to finish a distant fourth, bested by every rabble-rouser with bling and swag. If you don’t have the money to spread around, or the sensation-creating convoys, or the huge chateau behind high walls – forget it. Leadership, it ain’t for you. Not just yet, anyway.

If this situation bothers you, as well it should, stop to ask yourself: am I part of this problem? Am I ever allowing a genuine leader to come forth in any election, large or small, or am I also trapped in a feudal mindset?

Someday we must all get there: appreciate that leadership is a result you create for others, not an election victory or an appointment for yourself; that leadership is measured by what happens to the people, not by how many cars the leader has. That day can’t come fast enough, so please use all your influence and sway over others to get us there quickly. Few things are more important for development than the collective understanding of what leadership truly is.

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