The quality of county leadership plays major role in development

The political drama unfolding in Makueni County over the past few days has raised fundamentals questions about the governance and leadership structures at the county level. While it’s not the first time that the county is in the news for the wrong reasons, and neither is it the only county drifting apart under the weight of power struggles between the county executives and the legislature, it represents a leadership system stretched beyond its elastic limits. I am of the opinion that we’ve not seen the last of these dramas after Makueni and Embu. In fact, the only questions we need to ask ourselves is which county is next and when will it happen? These events raise serious questions about the calibre of leadership, especially from the political leaders, we have at the county level. In this month’s edition, I address the broader concept of leadership and its implication on our counties development agendas. 

We must emphasise on the central role that good leadership plays in the development of any society. An historical review of all developed societies will tie them to some iconic leaders who shepherd their people either through difficult economic, political or social periods that had phenomenal transformations to their societies and made profound contributions to their development. It’s for this reason that regardless of which corner of the world you go names like Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs and our own Wangari  Maathai will easily resonate with the people despite the space in time in which they lived.


I want to believe the architects of the Constitution of Kenya understood this unique linkage between leadership and development pretty well when they subjected good leadership to a constitutional threshold under chapter six (6) and the Integrity and Leadership Act (2012) thereof. Whether acting out of premonition of what could happen if public leaders were left on their own or informed by lessons learned from past leadership experiences, the drafters of the constitution set an entry and accountability bar for public leaders in the country whether at national or county level. What is of interest to us now is that the legal provisions have laid down the foundation in the right direction. 

While in truth we’ll not realise all the ideals proposed in these laws overnight, Iam sure in the near future we’ll “gonna” get there. What amazes me is that our political class doesn’t seem to realise this fact and seem oblivious of the fact that they are standing on a sinking ground. For a strange reason, I still harbor this “stupid faith” that in the coming days, the true sons and daughters of Kenya will rise up, exercise their constitutional rights, and the power of the ballot to put men and women of noble character into leadership positions. As I write this article, I don’t know whether the initiative by the people of Makueni to petition for the recall of the entire County Assembly will go the full length, but it is indicative of the things to come. If the people of Makueni manage to pull this one through, it will set the precedence to the political leaders on how not to run a county.

I’d like to address myself to the provisions of article 10 & 73 of the Constitution on national values and principles, and leadership & integrity respectively. Specifically,  the tenets of patriotism, respect for the people, integrity and servant hood.  Leadership calls for sacrifice of individual interests when in conflict with the wider public good; exercising a duty of care for the people you lead; acting in absolute good faith when making decisions that affect your people; and exercising humility in the service to your people and the nation.  

Interestingly, leaders from developed societies seem to lead by and practice these tenets compared to their counterparts from poor and developing nations. About two weeks ago, I was taken aback by two posts on social media, posted independent of each other. The first one was a picture of David Cameron, the current prime minister of the United Kingdom, standing on a train (public transport) reading a newspaper after missing a seat. The second one was days later, a short YouTube video of president Obama buying a ticket at the gate of a public park. The lady at the service desk asked him for his ID card, cross checked before issuing him with the ticket, as he patiently chatted with other officers manning the gate. All this while, the secret service agents stood far from him, and waited for him to be cleared through the standard procedure like any other visitor to the park.  

These posts of the two gentlemen to me are the epitome of humility and servant hood. Despite occupying what we could rightfully call the most powerful leadership positions in the world today, they choose not to rub it on the world and live like ordinary citizens in their respective countries. It amazes me how positional posturing cuts deep into our society. Traversing through our counties and the country at large, I’m mesmerised at how everybody wants to be called your Excellency, mheshimiwa and honorable. It’s no wonder it is a big fight between the Parliament and the counties on who should bear what title. This problem of titles is not only a problem of the political class in our society, but it’s also deeply entrenched in our corporate sector, religious institutions and institutions of higher learning. If we refer to the pillars of the concept of leadership, titles and positions are of least importance. While a position may give you positional power, it doesn’t make you automatically a leader. It is my humble submission that leadership is earned, not prescribed by position or titles. You must demonstrate superior ability to influence and motive the people you lead to subscribe to certain ideals that you believe in and purse the course of action to achieve those ideals. Only then can you sustainably lead such a people and in turn they respect you as their leader.

This concept was best exemplified by Nelson Mandela, despite his enormous achievements as a person and for his country – South Africa, he remained humble and true to his native village of Qunu. Yet, the people of South Africa and the world at large recognised his leadership and honored him as one of the most influential leader of our times. As a country, we may want to take a cue from our President. I remember him publicly saying people should stop calling him your Excellency! And true to his word, he’s pulled public stances that have left his security details, protocol fanatics and “fashionistas” confused and wagging their tongues in the last year he’s been in office. 

Come to think of it, when is the last time that Nairobians were trapped in six- hour traffic snarl –ups in the name of the presidential motorcade? I am personally aware of very many humble county CEOs, but I am also told of certain counties where highways are closed for hours for the county chief’s motorcade to pass! How many man hours and developmental resources are wasted in such political stunts? Of what value do they add to the lives of the ordinary folks that these leaders are meant to serve? And on the small matter of the County Assemblies  “Waheshimiwa”….with all due respect, we know most of you come from a background where chaos, hooliganism and throwing of chairs was your professional code; we can’t blame you for that –after all, it’s the only order that local authority managers understood. 

The old order has passed.  If you truly want to done the title “honourable,” it comes at a price – a sense of decency, order and dignity. Your new roles require you provide leadership in resource allocation and management, ensure fair and equitable county development and check the excesses of the county executive. Leadership is not just about a Big Car, a Big house and a Big wife/husband –it’s about identifying with your people, their needs and wants, and providing intelligent solutions to make their lives’ problems.

History teaches us that great leaders, the world over had great visions for their flock, identified the right things to do and did those things the right way in order to deliver their people into the world they desired. A key element of leadership is a shared vision. For the county CEOs, the County Executive Committees (CECs) and MCAs, you must identify a shared vision for your individual counties, and that vision must be cascaded down to the lowest administrative hierarchy of the county and shared with the people. When MCAs refuse to pass legislations, policy papers and budgets simply because of petty selfish interests, it is a clear sign of disunity in the development agenda.


Nothing exemplifies the power of a shared vision like the story of John F. Kennedy when he met a janitor (sweeper) at NASA. JFK challenged NASA and rallied America to be the first nation to get man to the moon. In his presidency, JFK visited NASA thrice –twice in 1962 and on November 16, 1963, six days before he met his assassin’s bullet. It’s said that in one of those visits he’d asked a janitor what he was doing, despite the fact that he could see he was sweeping. The janitor is said to have answered him that “I am helping man get to the moon.” And sure enough, in July 20, 1969, NASA got Neil Armstrong, as the first man to walk on the moon, years after JFK’s death. The answer of the janitor personifies a shared vision –this guy understood that for NASA scientist to figure out how to get man to the moon, they needed a clean and safe environment to work in, and that was his contribution into NASA’s mission. To our county bosses, can your CEC members, chief officers and managers articulate your vision for the county, leave alone your janitors and chauffeurs? 

Sign Up