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February 21, 2019

Leaders are servants, not our overlords

Vote for the lesser evil
Vote for the lesser evil

About 19.6 million Kenyans will go to the ballot this eighth day of August 2017 to elect representatives. We will delegate power to men and women who must bear true allegiance to the People and the Republic of Kenya as well as uphold and defend our Constitution.

But our responsibility does not end at the ballot. And, more importantly, our engagement with elected representatives does not cease with their election. Somehow, we have come to accept that our representatives metamorphose into honourable members of the houses of legislation, and suddenly become bosses and not servants of the people.

As the bosses, elected representatives have no sense of duty or obligation to the people. They become too important and inaccessible. Most of our leaders forget why they ran for public office. They bear no allegiance to we, the people. They choose not to obey or respect our laws. In fact, most elected leaders break the law with impunity and use the privilege of their elective office to subvert justice and due process.

Rule violation and impunity often pay high dividends. Elected leaders often use the powers and privileges of their positions for personal financial gain or to secure favours or business contracts for themselves, relatives or political benefactors.

Unfortunately, a large majority of elected leaders are not motivated by a burning desire to make a difference in how our society works.

They are motivated not by a commitment to public service, but self-aggrandisement. Somehow, the path to wealth is through public service – as a civil servant or elected representative. Essentially, the incentives are warped and inherently selfish.

In a sense, once elected public purpose becomes subsidiary, incidental. Instead, elected leaders become consumed by power, privilege and their own self-importance. Self-interest becomes the overriding goal of public service.

We, the people, are accomplices in this metamorphosis. Once elected, we make the people’s servants believe that they are omniscient and omnipotent men and women whose favour we must seek. We venerate them in ways that make it unambiguous that we are subservient supplicants sustained by their majestic magnanimity.

Those who will earn the high privilege of representing us should be driven by the highest ideals – a sense of duty, honour and integrity. The trust we bestow upon elected representatives must be bridled by an awesome fidelity to service to others. Leaders must be willing to put their interests last.

Serving the people must not be about having first dibs. It is not about a front row seat of privilege and access to government tenders, land, and scholarships for your children. It is not about jumping the queue. Leadership is about coming last. It is about having the people’s back.

And, my fellow citizens, delegating power to representatives comes with eternal vigilance against abuse of power.

We, the people, must guard against systemic political corruption where politicians and their friends deploy virulent personal interest to influence decisions, appropriate favours and subvert the public interest.


Alex O. Awiti is the director of the East African Institute at Aga Khan University

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