GOVERNANCE

What makes a good leader? Awareness needed about competence in politics

Leaders with integrity can be trusted because they don’t veer from values, even when it might benefit them to do so.

In Summary

• Listening to conversations and debates, politicians largely share the view that integrity, accountability, honesty and flexibility are key qualities in leadership.

• So why is integrity and accountability so difficult?

Leadership
Leadership

It has been argued that individual character determines delivery in politics rather than political affiliation ideologies.

Listening to conversations and debates, politicians largely share the view that integrity, accountability, honesty and flexibility are key qualities in leadership. So why is integrity and accountability so difficult? Is it something to do with the politicians themselves, or the political system they operate in?

Leaders with integrity can be trusted because they don’t veer from values, even when it might benefit them to do so. Flexibility is about understanding the give-and-take aspects of politics, and the ability to find the common ground. Good politicians listen to all sides, to not only hear their arguments but to learn what it will take on behalf of all parties involved to reach consensus. This characteristic allows leaders to recognise setbacks and criticism, learn from them and move forward. In the current BBI Constitution change clamour, this aspect is key towards building national cohesion.

For all these reasons, voters have been urged on several occasions to choose good leaders. But what do we mean by good leaders? Are we interested in who the politicians are or what they bring? Does it matter whether they come from particular groups or are we interested in whether they are capable of performing? Do we base all these on their past track records or we endorse based on peoples’ perceptions?

Outgoing UNCTAD secretary general Mukhisa Kituyi was an MP for Kimilili (now divided into Tongaren and Kimilili) for two terms. The electorate downplayed his achievements insisting that he was a non-performer owing to the poor state of affairs within the constituency ie road network, electricity connectivity and health facilities among other issues. He unsuccessfully stood for Bungoma senator in 2013.

During this era, it was believed that development depended on the political affiliation of a leader. As a result opposition areas became causalities during the Kanu regime. This has since changed, thanks to devolution. A

However, at the national and international level, Kituyi was seen as a great leader. He was a quite effective Trade minister in the Kibaki administration.

He chaired, for two years, the Council of Ministers of Comesa and the African Trade Ministers' Council. Based on good track record at national level as a minister, he was appointed UNCTAD chief in 2013.

Likewise, during his tenure as the government spokesperson, Alfred Mutua was seen as the government’s spin-doctor, on several occasions, he was accused of misrepresentation of facts. Critics said that he even denied the obvious in the public gallery. I guess this was the nature of this job and not the person because after his exit, he clinched the Machakos governor seat, a position he holds until now. He has also declared interest in the presidency.

Peter Kenneth’s record, as Gatanga MP, remains the envy of many until now. He was voted the best performing constituency nationally during his reign. Since then, r Kenneth has run unsuccessfully for President and Nairobi governor.

In Nairobi, he lost to Mike Sonko, who was later impeached over allegations of abuse of office and corruption. How did Nairobi county miss to tap in to the great resource of Kenneth in the election?

From those few illustrations, it is evident that the description of a good political leader varies from one level to another and sometimes, it is greatly influenced by voters’ perceptions. That is why a leader can be perceived as a non-performer in one jurisdiction but be a hero in a different role. It is, therefore, important to create awareness and understanding about what competence means in politics.

Geoffrey Maumo is a communications consultant, Nairobi[email protected]