Ars Politico Africanae: Those Who Lead

Of course, then the devil’s advocate in me starts to speak. Kenya has only been a mostly free democracy for slightly less than a decade. And these new leaders (who are all just the sons and friends and cousins of the old leaders), are assuming a much larger government infrastructure from previous (not free) administrations, though not larger than the American infrastructure at the time; a more uneducated population on average than the American infrastructure, and also a much more internally divided population, without the benefits of state lines. Here tribes intermingle, which did not start becoming a real issue in America with people of a different nationality intermingling until the mass migrations of the 1800’s and 1900’s though the results are always the same: conflict.

How long should a new government take to work, because right now ours is not? How much does a public need to do to convince the Members of Parliament that in fact it might be a good idea to give up your Mercedes-Benz government vehicles when there are significant portions of their fellow countrymen who cannot eat? At the same time however, how long should it take a government to finally admit to its people, “Maybe, as a major population, you cannot actually survive on your ancestral homeland, and until the government figures itself out, you may all die of over-population-induced famine?”

Aside from those leaders, where are my 30%? Where are my individuals who will put their lives on the line for what they believe in? We have so many youth sitting around doing nothing. How are they not motivated? How are there not peaceful protests and peaceful marches and demonstrations every day of the week? I’ve been told that, “Kenyans don’t walk,” and I sit back and think about the horrors of war American revolutionaries went through and later on through the civil rights movement. People here say they need leaders, but when a leader tells them they need to walk, I think it’s going to be a one man parade.

We have development workers here holding hands and asking these same questions. Their answer is always, “That’s why we have development workers here!” Again, history kicks in. Who were the development workers at the time of the Revolution? Who were the development workers in Japan during their industrial revolution to catch up with the western powers of the early 20th century? I want to meet these development workers. Maybe they can come train those of us in Kenya on how to get things done, because, we, we’ve been trying and failing now for forty some-odd years of independence.

One would hope the circumstance breeds leadership, but I am just not seeing it here. I wonder if circumstance breeds leadership, does development work kill it? How much does a culture need to be backed into a wall to produce change? What is our cultural critical mass of failure? Where are our 30% who want change enough to walk for it?

At the same time though, where are our Kenyan-generated benchmarks for success and failure? How much of this perspective is western attitudes based on western expectations and Western notions of culture? It takes a lot to say no to free money, which is what many westerners bring, but I ask, where are my leaders who would rather hold onto their culture than sell it out to the highest NGO bidder? Shouldn’t they be called, “the government?”

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Ars Politico Africanae: Those Who Lead

  1. Jan

    You raise some thorny questions. Kenyans are not alone in not being able to muster the political will to tackle their problems. I see much of the same inertia (or paralysis or complacency) mixed with self-interest at home. Could it be human nature to think/hope someone else will do the heavy lifting or make the sacrifices? Group think on a global scale?

    The question you ask at the end about Western expectations brought to mind an article in the current National Geographic about a tribe of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, the Hadza. They are an extreme case, of course, but the article made me wonder what forms of development are sustainable over the very long term. If, as Jared Diamond said, “the invention of agriculture is mankind’s biggest mistake” we are all headed over the cliff.

    http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/12/hadza/finkel-text

    And on that cheerful note, Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Jesse Osmun

    Excellent points..

    I think that there IS a slow movement of people trying to change Kenya for the better, but it has yet to pick up steam because most kenyans have be promised many things and were burned out on false promises.

    As such, Kenyans are wary and largely apathetic about change coming to their country. Sure they vote, but when your vote is essentially stolen or not even counted, does it really count? If I advocate for services, am I going to have to bribe someone to get them later on? If I advocate for democracy, will I be gunned down later for speaking out ( like recent killings last year and the open assassination of Tom Mboya)?

    These are the things Kenyans have as a mental tape in their heads. Change is not something Peace Corps or NGO’s can easily instill. At some point, Kenyan’s must take a proactive approach that doesn’t include rioting and ethnic conflict. The closest model to this has been the peaceful activism of Wangari Maathai’s Greenbelt Movement and her agitation as an MP for reforms.