Wednesday, May 8, 2013
US Elections: Kenya Must Borrow a Leaf
By Joseph Lister Nyaringo New Jersey, USA Kenyans are more inclined to American politics more than any nation in the globe since President Barrack Obama, who has Kenyan ancestry, was elected President in 2007. The lingering question by many is what the Country is likely to gain during Obama’s second term in office. Having enacted a constitution which borrowed heavily from the American model, and seen how US campaigns are conducted from the voting process, to announcement of election results, our country should use these experiences to improve our democratic leadership systems. If you admire your neighbour’s manicured lawn, you should learn how to manicure your own lawn. Kenyans saw how ideas, issues and policies are key pillars in the US political campaigns through a People-based approach. We saw clearly how democracy is respected by conceding defeat even in a close election. We saw the Importance of uniting a nation even with different political standings and callings. The campaigns were peaceful, devoid of sharp divisions, name calling and hate speech which dominates the Kenyan system. The winner and the loser evoked unity in their address to the nation immediately after the election results; promising to work harmoniously for nation building. Why is it hard for our leaders to copy the American brand of politics when we have borrowed their model constitution and have also seen how well it has served them as the most powerful and democratic nation on earth? Why do we continue to be shrouded in ethnic linens; often supporting leaders with dubious, divisive, selfish and questionable integrity merely because of tribal leanings? Indeed, as the ancestral home of Obama’s father, we need to bring to an end ethnic hatred which is the cause of civil strife, political violence, and poor distribution of national resources, corruption and nepotism in Kenya. If the US, a country which allowed racial intermarriage and voting rights for minorities five decades ago will accord a man of Kenyan ancestry to serve as President, we need to look critically beyond creed, race, social status, religion and tribe in electing our leaders. We are tired of leaders who shun meetings of government officials who visit their region merely because of political differences yet they serve the same country. Truly, can such leaders heal a nation through ethnic harmony and integration? Just before the US elections, one of President Obama’s ardent critics, GOP Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie warmly welcomed the President when he visited the State to assess the damages caused by Hurricane Sandy. Being at the height of the campaigns, nobody thought the host governor would welcome Obama, but Mr. Christi even went ahead before national television to congratulate the President for his empathy to the hurricane victims. This is the political maturity and tolerance we want in Kenya. As a show of nationalism and selflessness, political opponents should pick a phone and call each other after an election and focus on what is good for the citizens. In fact, in his victory speech, Obama promised that he was looking forward to meet the man he defeated in the presidential contest to discuss the challenges facing the American people. Why can’t our leaders emulate this style if they truly care about building a united and cohesive nation? During the campaigns, President Obama and his opponent Romney never toured their home States of Illinois and Massachusetts respectively to incite their supporters against each other; a trend which is common in Kenya especially during the electioneering period. In fact, Obama ended up winning Massachusetts and Wisconsin; the home State of Romney’s Vice Presidential running mate, Paul Ryan. It’s normal to rejoice over Obama’s victory but we must be ready to inculcate the ideals of nationhood especially now that we are approaching the election year. We need to shun leaders who want to incite the public. As we continue to celebrate Obama re-election, the government of Kenya needs to encourage diversity in public service by utilizing exemplary skills and talents of people who are not necessarily of Kenyan ancestry. We have many untapped talents in our nation if we can learn from what Dr. Manu Chandaria has been able to do as an entrepreneur and philanthropist as well as Suresh Shah, the former MD of Uchumi Supermarkets who helped the retail chain expand by reaps and bounds in the 90s only to see the retail chain plummet after his controversial exit from the company. In the political scene, we need to see more of Pio Gama Pinto, Basil Criticos, Philip Leakey, Shakeel Shabbir and Irshad Sumra. This is the best way to celebrate Obama’s victory as a product of accommodating diversity in public life by the American people. We hate to remember the assault to Safina party founder and environmentalist Richard Leakey during Moi’s repressive Kanu regime where they accused him of neo-colonialism. As a nation, we need to build a leadership culture which is inclusive, representative and diverse. These will not only earn us respect in the global stage but will also help to build structures that will improve the lives of Kenyans in social, political and economic spectrums.