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Why I don’t care who our next president is

Mar 10, 2013 Leadership, Sunday Nation

At the time I’m writing this, we don’t have a result in Kenya’s presidential election. I don’t know who our next president will be. But frankly I don’t care. I care more about what happened to my country during this election, than I care about the identity of its next leader.

This is because one of my fervent wishes for Kenya is that we someday get to the point where it matters not a jot who leads us.

Let me explain. Consider the following countries: Luxembourg and Norway in Europe; Singapore and Hong Kong in Asia. They consistently have the highest average incomes per person in the world. In Africa, that ranking is topped regularly by Mauritius and Botswana.

Now name their leaders.

Once upon a time, those countries had renowned leaders, recognized beyond their borders. But over time, the nation’s character, ethos, institutions and competitive advantage took centre stage. Now, leaders come, leaders go – but prosperity continues apace, with scarcely a ripple.

Contrast that with our own land. Its graph of GDP growth since independence is a landscape of peaks and valleys: high growth between elections, deep troughs just after them. We are forced to press ‘reset’ during every election, and start afresh the task of building our economy.

It will take time to get there, but we will someday create a country that flies on autopilot, with leaders who don’t have to do anything beyond checking the controls and providing inspiration.

With that theme in mind, let me share some reflections on the election we have just (I hope) concluded.

On voting day, I was immensely proud. I gazed at the resolve of the people of this land queuing to vote from before dawn until after dusk. I saw people from opposing camps stand shoulder to shoulder in peace. I saw diversity, I saw tolerance, I saw a dedication to democracy. And my heart swelled.

The people fulfilled their part of the deal. They made their choices in peace.

In Kenya, things tend to go wrong in the second part of the contract: in relaying, counting and confirming the will of the people.  And so we had mysterious breakdowns in electronic voter identification; in data transmission and receipt; in rapid tallying.

That is why, as I write this, I still don’t know who won this election. But I don’t care. There are, nonetheless, things I do care about.  Let me list them here.

I care that our presiding electoral body, after suffering the potentially fatal setback of electronic failure, rescued itself sufficiently to revert to a manual and physical counting procedure – and retained, albeit grudgingly, the faith of the people in an atmosphere of great tension and suspicion.

I care that the voters held their patience, reassured one another, passed messages of peace, and got on with their lives and livelihoods.

I care that many shops reopened, people went back to work, market indicators stayed stable – despite not knowing who our next president will be.

I care that Kenyans finally believed they had a constitution and a judiciary that would resolve any disputes or malpractices that might arise.

And I care that all of those things are an order of magnitude better than they were five years ago.

Of course, I care also about the things that don’t reflect well on us. I care about the billion of shillings of taxpayer’s money we seem to have blown on an electronic system that failed and threw us into disarray. I care that the pattern of voting remained as brutally tribal as ever. I care that we harbour people of influence who show not the slightest concern at tense times in spreading childish rumours and vicious hatred.

But we will overcome all these things. Slowly but surely, we will create a country where you, my dear reader, also don’t care who our next president is.

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  • You have captured the sentiments of most Kenyan in your article. Many questions still remain unanswered but we are moving in the right direction. Going forward lets make sure we hold all the leaders we have elected accountable for the pledges they have made!

  • asungwile

    It is not only you who doesn’t care who wins the elect. There are a lot of people taking the same as you. This is the main reason of the eligible voters not to register themselves for voting and those who registered and not turn up at a voting day. I n Tanzania for example only 40% of the eligible voters registered and only 60% of the registered voters turned up. In Kenya it is even tremendous that 70% of the registered voters turned up to vote.
    It is also true that all the elected presidents in Africa brought not enough changes I mean development to their people rather than to their families
    But dear man, it very wrong to compare the civilization of the People of Norway and ours here in Africa.
    93% of the Norwegians believe that development comes from hard working while 100% of the Africans believe that development is a matter of chance for stealing and abuse of power for any powers they acquire through corruption
    The Norwegians believe that any political position is for serving its people contrary to the Africans who believe that it is their chance of exploiting their fellow citizens. Just visit the salary scale of the Kenya President, Members of Parliament, Governors and the minimum salary of the ordinary workers.
    The developed countries you dare to compare with Kenya are democratic, business-friendly, and boast strong social safety nets. while the Kenyan’s people are ruthless, corrupt and ethnic..
    This scenario, to my opinion, necessitates to care who is elected so as to mitigate bad impact

    • Asungwile:

      Would you care to study the history of Norway and tell me if they were always hard-working, democratic and blessed with servant-leaders?

      Societies mature and evolve, and it is the job of all thinking members of society to make that happen, by beating the drum, building institutions and protecting freedoms.

      That’s what I’m doing.

    • Noel Okello

      I’m in Norway. Norwegians do not work half as hard as Kenyans do to get 100 times in one year what Kenyans work to get in forty years. In fact most of what is consumed in Norway is of foreign origin: groceries, clothing, cars, furniture… What Norwegians have that Kenyans don’t are prudence, modesty, practicality and egalitarianism. What Kenyans have that Norwegians do not have are the “big man” mentality of socially stratified societies, vanity, entitlement and an entrenched tribal/rustic culture based on patronage. What Kenya and Norway have in common is the fortune of being located somewhere near significant oil finds and having imperfect citizens.

  • Ochieng’ Oreyo

    Hi. You got it right again on the theme of doing one’s part as the foundation of nation-building and patriotism. But, at this stage in our democracy, I care passionately who becomes my President. Why? It’s not the tribe, sex, race, religion, where they come from or whether the parents were peasants or ‘people of influence’. But Kenya — indeed the rest of Africa — needs a President who understands the “controls” and can inspire. A leader who is able to listen to the hard-working, encourage them, but also guide people “spreading childish rumours and vicious hatred.” Such a leader values order and can take the pains to rally people to such ideals.

    So, while the identity of such a leader may not be important, it behoves Kenyans to care about the character.

  • Kimenyi Waruhiu


    Great article once again. Those nail-heads you keep hitting are lined up perfectly.

    My hope is that this great nation of ours is finally maturing, as are the politicians and the politics of the country; and, the institutions that ensure that people can stop caring about who is elected president seem to be properly coming into play. As a nation, we seem to be back to work and despite a week-long hiatus, I’m happy to report that my route to work is blocked by trucks serving the building under construction next to my office, parking is a problem, traffic is up to pre-election day congestion levels and people are back to trying to con via SMS and email.

    May this long prevail. And with it, may we start to change so that these all too familiar indicators of Kenya at work can be replaced by more positive signs of a growing economy.


  • Eric

    Right! We care too much about titles. Its time we rolled our sleeves and went to work.

  • Richard Arao

    First and foremost, the IEBC owes the people of Kenya a massive refund. In all this talk about the failure of the system, I have not heard any of the companies responsible for the supplying the equipment and software being questioned intensively. What was supposed to be a Failsafe failed…there were discrepancies, and the results can justifiably be called into question.

    And to top things off, they also owe the people of Kenya an apology. The IEBC didn’t forestall violence in this election…it was people’s trauma of 2007/08 and the re-alignments that helped this time around.

    As for the ICC business, we chose, now it’s time to pay the piper