"CEOs can't wait to read Sunny Bindra's articles every week."

Ever wonder why we make way for the Big People?

You’re stuck in traffic.

If you live in Nairobi as I do, there’s nothing special in that statement. We’re mostly stuck in traffic jams, most of the time. It’s the way we’ve become, numbed into the acceptance that wasting time in a vehicle is a natural state of being. Kenyans talk about jam so much that foreigners must think it’s our staple food.

However, what also happens in Nairobi traffic is that you will often hear sirens blaring behind you, and a motorcade of chase cars will appear out of nowhere and force you to make way. For whom? It used to be just the president and a few favoured ministers, but these days a whole assortment of governors, senators and other inflated egos are at it. The Big People are here, make way, make way.

We don’t have a choice but to make way, but we should perhaps use the time spent in jams to think deeply about this. Why do we move aside?

If you ask the Big People, they will tell you this: they are rushing to do very important work, with other very important people. They can’t spend all day dawdling mindlessly in traffic; they have a nation to run. They have to be places, meet people, make decisions, sign papers. So get out of the way, Little People; make way for the ones who really matter.

That is the message of the traffic-clearing convoy of chase cars. We matter more.

But do they really? Given what we see around us every day, are we really supposed to believe some of these characters are en route to anything meaningful? If they were really doing the work we elect them to do (and reward them handsomely to do), would we be in such dire straits of late?

And who is it that really matters in a nation – the leaders, or the people? To answer that, I ask you: where does the income of a country come from? All these bigwigs in the offices of state: are they the ones who generate GDP?

Not at all. GDP comes from millions and millions of exchanges and interactions – the products and services and ideas and initiatives that buzz around the economy. GDP comes from the people – their work, their sweat, their innovations, their solutions. Leaders don’t produce anything; their work is to facilitate others, to create an environment in which their followers can be productive.

And so, never forget: every chase car, every swanky limo, every retinue of aides, every well-upholstered chair, every foreign shopping junket, every ridiculously ostentatious mansion – every one of those things is paid for by the work of the people being asked to make way. Not by the folks who feel entitled to go first.

The big egos, big cars, big houses of public officials are not indicators of development – they are quite the opposite. They are the sign that something has gone very wrong with the development process, that obscene rewards have been usurped by those who should should have no special entitlement to them.

Real economic development happens when leaders cease to be faux-divine creatures who think the economy runs on their whims. It happens when leaders are appointed to work just like everyone else, and to produce real results or face the sack. It happens when the people elect leaders to deliver uplift for all, not engage in empty rhetoric and throw their weight around.

The traffic jam is a poignant example. All those economically productive people forced to squander time and GDP, just because those paid to do so can’t deliver a competent solution to the problem. On top of that, they want you to get out of their way…

Something to ponder as you sit there. Who creates wealth, and who squanders it?

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  • David Graham

    I can echo the content of your blog post verbatim from a South Afican perspective Sunny. The intriguing bit is they do this during rush hour traffic and physically abuse anyone who gets in their way. Our economy is in a shambles so, like Kenya, these decision and policy makers are in a rush to make yet another bad decision, using the money paid by the motorists who have to give way.

  • Well said, Sunny.
    But we think if we gave this occurrence a deeper or different thought, you could be ignoring three key issues: that Kenya’s major problem is facilitation; that production is a process, not everyone must be carrying a shovel or driving a forklift; and, without the right environment, the ‘producers’ may not move an inch. Order dictates speed (systems and culture) and finish (final product), we think.
    The ‘big person’ disease is one of Kenya’s peculiar behaviours. In places where facilitation has meaning, there will not be meaningless traffic jams. We get headache in traffic jams because we’re wrongly facilitated and because our universities did not socialize us well when they gave us ‘powers’ to respect other road-users, neighbours, team-mates, colleagues…
    Giving way, if it makes sense, should not make us angry because if we delayed meetings and decisions, people would die and the others sweating to produce will be labouring, probably, in vain.
    The only question to ask is who is abusing the request, or alert, through sirens, to give way.
    Nonetheless, politicians should know better that human beings are equal. They are wont to say every vote is equal, and, every five years, sing themselves hoarse asking the ‘small person’ for a job.

    • Legacy:

      Trust me, I know all about the importance of facilitation – I run a leadership programme, after all.

      The point is different. It is when proper facilitation is patently not happening, and when leaders who have only just arrived and immediately accord themselves undue rewards and privileges, that problems occur.

      Equally, when traffic is caused by bad decisions, but the leaders making those decisions don’t have to suffer the consequences of those decisions, problems will occur. The jams will worsen.

      So the issue is not about the relative economic importance of those who make or carry shovels vs those who design policy around shovels: it is more about incentives to perform, and the nature and abuse of privilege.

      In a mature nation, absurd rights disappear and leaders become more like the people they lead.

      Thanks for the contribution.