In Search of Leadership…..the Kenyan example

In our earlier posts, we examined the meaning of authority and the nature of an authority relationship, in support of our assertion that leadership is not the same as having authority.

‘Leadership’ is about mobilising people to make progress on difficult challenges. Leadership is demonstrated in the context of problems and challenges and the actions taken to make progress for the common good of the collective. The word ‘Leadership’ has become such a trending word in our vocabulary, that one might imagine we probably have too much of it, but on the contrary, real leadership remains scarce in our world, which explains why very little progress is seen on daunting challenges confronting us.

A dear friend shared a video with me last week, which I consider to be an apt illustration of the exercise of leadership by an authority figure, so I could not resist the temptation to share the video and with it my thoughts as well.

The Kenyan presidential election held on the 8th of August 2017 and the reported results indicated that the incumbent president – Uhuru Kenyatta was re-elected with 54% of the votes. His main opponent in the election – Raila Odinga refused to accept the results and contested them at the Supreme Court. The results of the election were subsequently annulled, with fresh elections ordered to be held within 60 days. The new election was held on the 26th of October, but Odinga announced his decision to withdraw claiming he had no confidence that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) would conduct a free and fair election.

Uhuru Kenyatta again won the re – run election but the results were rejected by Raila Odinga, who referred to it as a “sham and a meaningless” exercise and called for a campaign of civil disobedience and peaceful resistance to safeguard Kenya’s democracy.

Violent clashes erupted after the re-run elections resulting in loss of lives and destruction of property. The Supreme Court in its ruling upheld the victory of Uhuru Kenyatta based on the re-run elections of October 26, but this did little to reduce the tension. The President and his deputy William Ruto were sworn in on the 28th of November, but on the 30th of January 2018, Raila Odinga took an unofficial oath to be sworn in as the nation’s people’s president in a ceremony attended by thousands at Nairobi’s Uhuru Park. The stage seemed set for more crisis in the coming days and weeks.

The Supreme Court had affirmed the victory of Uhuru Kenyatta in the re- run polls, so he had formal authority to occupy the position of President of the Republic of Kenya for the next five years. But authority alone will not make progress possible on the difficult challenges confronting Kenyans, particularly after a disputed election. There was a need for the practice of ‘leadership’ to mobilize the various factions to work towards resolving issues for the common good of the nation.

As earlier noted, leadership is best seen and appreciated in the context of challenges. So it was indeed delightful to see President Uhuru Kenyatta go to work, using his position of authority to serve the good people of Kenya on this specific issue of national unity and reconciliation after a hotly disputed election. His actions serve as a reminder of how Nelson Mandela exercised leadership as President of South Africa to mobilize South Africans, blacks and whites inclusive to stay on the path of reconciliation, putting hatred and bitterness aside in order to build a better nation for all.

Leadership as an art can be learnt and developed. The consistent practice of it ensures greater proficiency and mastery. Building leadership capacity and competence is critical because its development will ensure that individuals more often than not would likely exercise leadership in the face of difficult challenges.

The recent activities of President Uhuru Kenyatta and several other political actors in Kenyan politics presents several lessons on leadership which are not only exemplary but worth emulating. We would endeavour to deal with some of them in detail in our later posts.

At his State of the Nation Address on the 2nd of May, he made a plea for unity by apologising to the nation.

“If there was anything I said last year that hurt or wounded you, if I damaged the unity of this country in any way, I ask you to forgive me, and to join me in repairing that harm”.

In reference to his earlier meeting in March 2018, with his main opponent in the election, Raila Odinga which resulted in a public hand shake, he made the following remarks:


“When he and I met earlier in the year, we agreed to work together to strengthen the unity of our country. We hoped to emphasize then that collaboration comprises both competition and disagreement. We did not immediately solve all Kenya’s most pressing problems, nor did we see eye-to-eye on every proposed answer; it is important to emphasize that unity doesn’t mean unanimity”.

The pledge at reconciliation was furthered consolidated at the National Prayer Breakfast meeting held on the 31st of May where President Uhuru led others namely William Ruto – His Deputy, Raila Odinga – his main opponent at the election and Kalonzo Musyoka, Raila’s deputy, to apologise to each other on behalf of their teams and also asked each other for forgiveness. That is leadership that mobilizes others to take action.

The actions of these actors in the last Kenyan election, led by President Uhuru Kenyatta is an example of leadership in action. It is also a demonstration of several leadership competences, which I will endeavour to examine in detail in our subsequent posts.

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