PUBLIC SERVICE

You can't be good politician if you're a bumbling servant leader

An incompetent, rudderless and corrupt political leadership is dangerous to the development of a nation.

In Summary

• Oratorical skills and a 'feel' for the people is not enough. Political leaders in Kenya are not well versed in implementation and evaluation skills, accounting for the record failure of manifestoes. 

• Many Kenyan political leaders are unable to determine the efficacy of their actions and programmes. More often than not they just hope for the best but often experience the worst. 

Public Service Commission of Kenya.
SERVE THE PEOPLE: Public Service Commission of Kenya.
Image: COURTESY

Franz Fanon said every generation must find its purpose and either choose to fulfil it or betray it.

Times without number, many generations fail to identify their purpose. They end up being statistics of history instead of making significant contributions to the advancement of humankind. Many leaders of generations have found themselves cogs in the ever-revolving wheel of human history without adding value to the spokes.

However, there are leaders who have sacrificed and gone out of their way to alter the conditions and direction of their peoples’ lives. They deliberately make decisions that appear out of the ordinary but change the direction of their people's lives in irreversible ways.

In biblical histology, Adam established the first human generation in partnership with the heavenly thrown. In his displeasure with Adam’s descendants, God chose to use Noah to establish a new order through climatic calamity after 1,000 years. Several hundreds of generations later, God was so pissed off with the waywardness of Adam’s successors that he decided to create a super race.

A pact was, therefore, made with an old Aryan man whose wife had been practically declared barren. Ibrahim, later Abraham together with his wife Sarah were in their sunset years approaching one hundred years when God approached them with ordained offer. In the covenant that ensued, the Jews as a special race were born. The three men in this story went out their way to satisfy the Fanon theory of leadership.

In more recent times, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Princess Catherine, George Washington, Vladimir Lenin, Friedrich Ebert, Mahatma Gandhi, Che Guevara, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama have come to infuse unique traits of leadership that have redefined the trajectory of human history.

Yet there are leaders who have also become famous by engaging in acts that are inimical to the progress of humankind. They have not become great but remain etched in the memory of humanity by the unimaginable acts they committed. They are studied as examples of how not to use special leadership skills. They help to demonstrate the critical place of positive leadership qualities in the development of humankind. Examples include Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mobutu Sesseseko, Ferdinand Marcos, Robert Mugabe and most recently Donald Trump.

The leadership of human beings has historically been through the military, religion and politics. The Roman empire through Julius Caesar helped establish the preeminence of politics over the other two. Therefore, today politics is the most important mode of organising human activities. The political system used in identifying leaders determines the type of leadership established. The quality of leaders elected influences the output and performance delivery of the regime.

There are instances where elected leadership in certain jurisdictions, including Kenya, have demonstrated clear lack of skills necessary for the roles of effective public service delivery. More often than not, lapses and gaps have been glaring in the performance of these elected officials to the dismay of the electorate.

What has been lost to observers is the inadequate preparation of these leaders for the noble role in public service. These leaders may be well read but lack the required hands-on skills acquired through experience. Public service is not exclusively civil service. It is taken to include service in the civil society and non-state actors like international organisations.

A stint of service in whatever capacity in such organisations equips a leader with valuable lessons and practical skills that are rare and not easily found in formal education setups. One such skill is communication. Many leaders suffer the ignominy of careless utterances and miscalculated speeches delivered to audiences.

Sometimes circulars are issued with ambiguous content that serve to confuse the recipient more than inform. In this era of social media, leaders have found themselves with egg on their faces after their lieutenants have released damning contents from the lofty perches of government offices. Once the content is out in the public domain, the damage control team has the daunting task cleaning the mess.

The Jubilee Strategic Communication Unit at State House in 2013 illustrates this. Communication is very key to political leadership and leaders in public offices must learn the skills to be effective. It is the nexus between the leadership and the electorate. It creates the bond or tears apart the relationship.

The second important attribute is planning. While this may be taken for granted, many leaders find themselves in office without the necessary skills in this area. Planning include issues to do with budgeting. Political leadership is about resource management; about who gets what, when and where.

During campaigns leaders are expected to showcase their intentions of deed through a manifesto. Many do not while those who do rarely demonstrate aptitude for the same. Effective planning requires a mind that has been subjected to events that demand critical analysis of facts and implications. In a situation where a leader has not had this benefit, their plans will most likely be haphazard and difficult to implement.

Their manifesto will be sketchy and lack the critical component of the how. Working in the public service will afford the leader the chance to participate in events that inject these skills through experience. Learning under circumstances that are not exam-oriented is enjoyable and creates lasting impact on the learner. Tied to planning is implementation. A plan is as good as its implementation schedule.

In strategy formulation, it is expected that a plan will be SMART. Many political leaders prefer having plans that are wooly and therefore wobbly by default. Public organisations assist leaders learn the ropes of designing a delivery matrix for the development plan. Political leaders fail many times because they were unable to implement their campaign plans. If they include an implementation agenda in the plan, then their success is more assured.

Political leaders in Kenya seem not to be well versed in this skill and thus account for the record failure of manifestoes. The last but not the least of the experiences required by aspiring political leaders is evaluation. Public service organisations have in-built mechanisms for programme and work performance assessment.

Evaluation tools and systems are learnt in training but their application is imbued through experience. Leaders with these skills are adept at assessing the impact of their projects and designing remedial strategies in time. Many Kenyan political leaders are lacking in this area and therefore are unable to determine the efficacy of their actions and programmes. They therefore more often than not just hope for the best. Many a time they experience the worst of their political investments.

Most successful political societies have invested in public service induction for leaders. Universities and tertiary institutions should have mandatory work study, work place attachment or industry-based learning for all their students. The student community is a pool from which the country’s leaders are fished. This will help infuse public service ethics in the future political leaders while at the formative stages.

Political parties should as a matter of course and priority conduct leadership development programmes that have inbuilt public service activities for their cadres. This will ensure that those that eventually occupy the top echelons of the political parties have been inducted into the public service ethos.

The private sector should devote a portion of its income to supporting these efforts. A political leadership with an ethical and public service- oriented culture is more supportive of the business community. An incompetent, rudderless and corrupt political leadership is dangerous to the development of a nation. Such leadership is a threat to the stability of humanity.