Frustrated by the jostling and elbowing among politicians to succeed him, former President Moi decried the scorching aridity of leadership in Kenya. Nearly two decades later, is the substrate still barren? Or are we seeing green shoots of leadership?
While Moi was right, I suspect that the irony was lost on him. Moi’s Kanu party had a stranglehold on Kenyan politics at the time and had efficient party structures. To proclaim a crisis of leadership at the end of his 24-year rule, Moi was either setting a very high bar for his successor or engaging in blistering self-deprecating humour.
On a serious note, the material circumstances of the majority of Kenyans — when you consider levels of poverty, access to basic services such as health, education, water and sanitation — are a powerful indictment of the quality of leadership since Independence.
That there is some progress is undeniable. But too many Kenyans are yet to feel the surge in prosperity, which remains the exclusive privilege of the ultra-wealthy minority.
The paralysing patronage of our politics has stifled citizen agency. A cabal of self-selected ethnic business and political elite has drowned the voice of the majority for more than half a century. The elite power brokers claim to deal on behalf of their ethnic groups. They eat at the table while citizens scramble for the crumbs and pay the bill.
Moi was right. The people sitting at the presidential podium when he spoke about the crisis of leadership were a cabal of ethnic brokers, his own handiwork. Nearly two decades later, there is a glimmer of hope. I can see green shoots, a clear sign that the scorching aridity is about to end.
Citizens who were teenagers at the end of Moi’s regime are now between 28 and 34 years old. Indeed, a new generation has come of age. They are the green shoots that signal a new beginning. They are better educated and eager to engage in the long future of this country.
Speaking with young ward-level aspirants for Nairobi county was truly invigorating. These young men and women are clear-eyed and have their finger on the pulse of the critical issues that their constituents face.
Born and raised in the most deprived and dangerous neighbourhoods of Nairobi, something keeps these young leaders awake at night.
They want shared prosperity. They believe their communities deserve a fair shake.
Their path to power is not festooned with patronising and dehumanising handouts. Their political campaigns are not fuelled by torrents of suspicious cash.
Their quest for leadership is forged in the hot furnace of personal struggle and shared triumph. They have a soul full of compassion and are propelled by dogged determination for fresh, people-centred leadership and prosperity. Their support base is cosmopolitan men and women who yearn for change.
The new crop of leaders at the county level is a breath of fresh air. They deserve our support and encouragement. Our best years are ahead.
Alex O Awiti is the director of the East African Institute at Aga Khan University.