Where will our true leaders come from?” This despairing lament was uttered by the late Bishop Henry Okullu shortly after the return of multi-party democracy in Kenya.
The bishop had been saddened by the scramble for power by leaders of the second liberation. They had forgotten the reason why so many had been tortured, exiled or killed. To this day, for example, the exact number of unarmed demonstrators shot by police during the Saba Saba rally (July 7, 1990) remains unknown.
With their eyes focused on power, the ‘new’ crop of leaders forgot that multi-partyism was just one of several components of a democracy. They forget, too, a political culture of civility and integrity.
We missed an opportunity to change both the system of governance and our civic and national culture. Today, we have the freedom to speak and vote for our tribal parties. But grand thievery, cynicism, arrogance, a sense of impunity and hunger for power still characterise our political culture.
One had hoped that a younger generation of leaders would change this narrative. But every day, these young leaders remind us that this is an illusion. The latest reminder came when youthful Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja was arrested for drinking after curfew hours. Perhaps this act in itself can be understood if not excused. After all, Kenyans are some of the thirstiest people on earth and many have no doubt caused minor transgressions in order to quench this perpetual thirst. Rather, it was what occurred during Sakaja’s arrest that reminded us just how deeply entrenched in our political culture arrogance and sense of impunity are. The senator, who was the chairman of the Senate committee on Covid-19 before the incident, threatened police carrying out the arrest with punitive actions.
In January, another youthful MP, with arrogant casualness, shot and seriously wounded a DJ at a club. A while back, another MP made xenophobic remarks that had the potential to cause harm to foreigners in the country and invite retaliatory attacks against Kenyan traders abroad. Ironically, but not surprisingly, the MP who shot the DJ and the MP uttered xenophobic remarks had earlier exchanged fisticuffs inside parliament! Parliament had gone rogue, metaphorically and literally.
We also know of the shenanigans of the youthful Governor of Nairobi. Also, compared to previous regimes, the president and his deputy are youthful. Yet it was under the first term of their regime when Kenya regressed to Kanu-era levels of grand thievery.
A generational change in politics brings energy and a more progressive way of looking at the world. JF Kennedy urged Americans to go to the moon, “not because it was easy, but because it was hard”. Barack Obama reignited faith in a broken American politics. By contrast, our youthful politicians are the shrillest sycophants, the most anti-intellectual and, as the above incidents show, just as arrogant as the older generation.