Edited version Published Daily Nation Monday 29 September 2008.
By Lukoye Atwoli
The entry of ‘youthful’ politicians onto the national stage excited many in the early days after the elections. People gleefully pointed out the ‘old guard’ who had been thrown out and replaced by young leaders who would presumably inject new ideas and vigour into our national politics. Many thought, barring the fiasco that was the presidential election that ignited ethnic fires across the country, that the new leaders would introduce a new paradigm of leadership devoid of the tribal tint the pre-independence generation were captive to.
In the recent past many of these youthful leaders have moved to swiftly disabuse Kenyans of any notion of ‘newness’ in the way they do business. They have been heard saying ridiculous things like ‘the Rift Valley has given up too much; we will fight for the rights of our region’ and similar tripe. Others are heard stridently repeating the tired cliché: ‘It is our turn to eat- the national cake must be shared equitably’.
Despite being relatively young, these leaders have embraced the same old tired way of doing things, electing to follow the wind instead of forming the essential bulwark against national disintegration. The hopes many had placed in them must now be reevaluated, and the nation must wait another generation for the emergence of true leadership.
Political commentators like Tom Mshindi (Daily Nation, Friday 12 September 2008) in attempting to correct this wayward brood, only end up perpetuating the same tribal nonsense they set out to demolish. Mshindi, for instance, peppered his contribution with messages to tribal leaderships to ‘take advantage of the numerical strength at the national level’. He even refers to the ‘notion of tribal coalition as popular! There can be no clearer indication of intellectual bankruptcy than this.
What Kenya needs is a generation of leaders who stand up for something much more significant than what Justice Johann Kriegler so eloquently referred to as their ‘grandfathers’ surnames’. We need leaders who can see further than their own political noses into a future in which their own roles will be diminished and the reins of leadership will be in different hands.
When youthful leaders make political threats meant to perpetuate environmental degradation, it displays a great degree of incurable myopia that puts to shame all those who have trust in youth and generational change. The older leaders’ stake in the future of Kenya is limited, since many of them have lived long enough to see their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It is the younger leaders with children still in diapers who need to keep an eye on the future, laying plans for a better life for the next generation.
Allowing themselves to be drawn into the old politics of ‘my people, their people’ only lowers their claim to greater responsibility and power, for it betrays a hunger, greed or thirst with the potential of outdoing the Goldenberg and Anglo-leasing generation of leaders. All our political thieves do so in the name of their people, even when the so-called ‘people’ do not extend beyond the perimeter walls of their palatial mansions.
As our leaders dither, the rest of the world is moving on, and nations are confronting their own demons. For the first time in history, the United States of America is confronting its twin bogeymen of race and gender discrimination. One candidate is an ethnic minority in the truest sense of the word, being the son of a one-time visitor to the US without the race memory of White supremacy or Black enslavement. The other candidate has chosen a woman for a running mate in a country still populated with women who in their youth did not have voting rights!
Our country needs a similar political re-engineering to come up with a non-tribal system where one campaigns on a platform of issues that matter in the lives of common citizens. Campaigns should be built on issues like healthcare, education, infrastructure development, trade and foreign policy, and not on moronic subjects like ‘this tribe has ruled for too long and needs to be taught a lesson’, or ‘ this community cannot lead this country because they do not circumcise their men’!
Believe it or not, these two were major themes in our campaigns last year, and their animal appeal played a significant part in the eruption of violence after the disputed results. In electing a new generation of leaders, we had hoped to change our political discourse into something more enlightened, and not more of the same.
Clearly we only managed to pour new wine into old wineskins, and now as the Good Book warns us, the new wine has ‘burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed’.
Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a Consultant Psychiatrist and Lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine