Winning public battles requires more wit than muscle

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The resignation of former Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Planning Anne Waiguru may have come as a shocker to many. This is particularly because of the stance she had taken despite public outcry demanding her resignation following allegations and revelations of massive corruption in her docket.

She was arguably one of the most visible cabinet secretaries in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government, handling an elaborate docket and therefore creating the impression she was powerful. Despite the “noise” as various actors called for her resignation and/or stepping aside, her place in government seemed well fortified. If anything, a report presented to the Director of Public Prosecution Keriako Tobiko by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) gives this credence.

DCI recommended that the former CS appears in court as a prosecution witness. The Opposition Cord and civil society groups had maintained she should take political responsibility, but government said the former CS was a whistleblower.

The Waiguru debate gained momentum when officials in her Ministry were charged in court. Legal proceedings have already been instituted against former Planning Principal Secretary Peter Mangiti and National Youth Service (NYS) Director-General Nelson Githinji, and 21 others.

It is for this reason that Waiguru’s decision to step down was a bolt out of the blue. One may ask, why the change of tune? The good lady gave her reasons. But speculation is also rife that the real reason she quit is linked to pressure from social media. Perhaps the former cabinet secretary could no longer stand the ridicule she and her family were being subjected to ‒ there were quite a few memes doing rounds on social media.

Full-blown tsunami
The case of the former CS is an interesting one: pressure began piling with the Opposition leaders demanding she stepped down to pave way for investigations; then there were the motions sponsored by Nandi Hills Legislature Fred Keter, and before long it was an uncontainable tsunami. Social media was awash with all manner of accusations and innuendos. Although she maintained innocence (she still does), she has not been persuasive enough – at least not in the court of public opinion.

The treatment of journalists by yet another powerful state officer is still fresh in our minds.  Interior CS Joseph Nkaissery ordered arrest of a Nation Editor after he wrote a story that alleged loss of Sh3.85 billion. The story was based on a report by the Auditor-General which questioned how possible it was to spend such a colossal amount of money in one day.  Instead of interrogating the allegations and make genuine attempts to address the problem, Nkaissery was keener on vilifying the journalist, and two others, for doing what they ought to do.

What is evident from all this is that our leaders in Kenya, and they can be from either elective or appointive offices, are yet to acknowledge the new power dynamics.

Those in leadership positions can draw a few lessons from these experiences. First, it is pellucid from the two examples that it is counterproductive to rely on authority to fight resistance. Confidence is a function of persuasion and cannot be achieved through coercion. And this is not just about what is real; perception does play a role in shaping public discourse and opinion. Whereas Nkaissery quickly retreated, Waiguru finally had to give in.

Whether it is a case of expanded democratic space as a result of the new constitutional dispensation or simply an issue of timing (an idea whose time has come is unstoppable), Kenyans are no longer scared of speaking truth to power; when the king is naked, they will tell him so. There is no doubt Kenyans are becoming more liberal and they definitely understand all sovereign power belongs to them. Citizen journalism is not making things easier. It is important to note the walls have been brought down and gate keeping is no longer working.

Secondly, a leader must satisfy all the requirements of law, and get a clean bill of health from the court of public opinion. With a more conscious citizenry, those exercising delegated power must up their game to meet the expectations of the people as espoused in the Constitution. The landscape is quickly changing and it is becoming evident who really is in charge.

Further, it is important to know that accepting responsibility in a public office is synonymous to laying yourself bare; you literally cease to own yourself.  This is well-grounded in the supreme law. The Constitution requires state officers to “promote public confidence in the integrity of the office”. This means that they should be open to public scrutiny. State officers are also bound by national values and principles of governance including “good governance, integrity, transparency and accountability”.

Above all, it is important to entrench an ethical culture. If a leader’s character is beyond reproach, it frees him or her to do his/her work without hindrance. Integrity is the bedrock of success in positions of leadership.

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