The challenge of leadership

Judge David Maraga has been nominated as the new Chief Justice

By Juma Chrispinus

Political science 101 will readily show that the quality of leadership is directly proportional to whether or not a country will develop quickly enough, or even at all, so that the question of what and who constitutes a good leader is critical.

We have seen a meritorious public attempt in trying to find a leader fit for the purpose during the recent interviews for the position of the Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of Kenya.

After grappling with the effects of bad leadership and what we assumed, rightly perhaps, to be a bad law regime, the Constitution (2010) set out to spell some general cornerstones of what to expect of a leader.

In fact, initially, we tended to lay undue emphasis on academic qualifications or the educational qualification an individual. We forgot that T.S. Elliot had warned us of the dangers of losing wisdom in knowledge, and losing crucial knowledge in mere information.

So it came to pass that when some candidates came brandishing loads of books and countless papers, they were met with questions about integrity, passion, patriotism, their role in the so called second liberation and many other “irksome” questions. In fact, some had to tell us whether they have properly declared their income besides the political doings of their spouses. Some did not even believe in the proper constitutional role of the Judicial Service Commission, which includes disciplining of judicial officers.

Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “The life of the law has been experience, not logic”. Six years down the road, and with Parliament, civil service and county governments staffed with fairly well learned people, have they gotten us out of the woods of inefficiency, sloth and corruption? Are we any better, thanks to being led by more learned people?

To raise a banal question here would be in order. How many degrees does a good mother need? Does more education increase one’s love for a child?

Yes, it does. It broadens the number of choices one can work with when it comes to raising and rearing a child. Yet, ultimately, how one uses these choices, if at all, is a matter of mother-to-child bond.

In fact, sometimes, the working, empowered, educated mother may have less time for her children. So the question of leadership as a vocation, as postulated in Webberian Philosophy, becomes vital. Plato may have meant well with his philosopher king model, but through the years, we have seen that compassion, passion and sheer love for country almost trumps all other indices and indicators of good leadership.

A JSC panellist was baffled when an applicant for the position of Chief Justice was at a loss when asked about documents guiding judicial transformation, and where he thought the journey had reached. The candidate neither knew nor had he attempted to check. He seemed to be content that he would be briefed upon ascending to office.

This explains the constant fumbling in our governance and political arena. When people aspire for office before seriously researching on or understanding the problems they intend to solve, they will take so much time trying to set up systems before they get to real work.
Indeed, if one didn’t make any tangible sacrfice when the space for thought and expression was being clamped by the Kanu regime, indeed, if instead you actively supported dictatorship, it would be reckless if such a person were to be entrusted with crucial roles which require transformative mind-set or what Willy Mutunga called an “activist judiciary”.

But even more germane, what is good for the goose should be good for the gander. Ways and means must be found for a more robust mechanism for vetting all holders of public offices so that even beyond recruitment stage.

The media has a critical role to play in questioning our leaders and to keep reminding them of their promises to us, and our expectations of them. Whenever appointments arise for interaction, which is rare, they should be asked questions on the topics of the day, however inconvenient they may seem.

So speaking, it is not enough for State House to retain a spokesman who shields it from public scrutiny. And no, his addresses must not be proforma sermons but attempts to consciously address major issues of the day.

This is what we constantly see with Barack Obama. Through polite but no-nonsense prodding, he responds to the concerns of the American public frequently and effectively. There are even programmes on TV and radio for such.

It is only when our leaders become constantly answerable shall we shall answer to the broader demands of the democratic process: accountability.



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