The Keys To a Successful Presidency

by James Shikwati

January 2003: I joined fellow Kenyans at Uhuru Park and witnessed power changing hands from Moi to Kibaki. Later that evening, I witnessed Kenyan elites in one city restaurant writing their names on a piece of paper to be presented to a certain politician to nominate them for government jobs. It was scene similar to a victorious hunting party depicted in the movie “The Apocalypto.”


That is when I took the initiative on the 7th of January 2003 to
introduce “The Keys to a Successful Presidency” to the then
new government.

Within 15 days of the initial book donation; the then
secretary to the cabinet Dr. Sally Kosgey, through her
personal assistant Mr. Hyslop Ipu (now Comptroller of State
House), requested that the Inter Region Economic Network
avail copies to all cabinet members and their respective
permanent secretaries. The last time I heard a mention of
this book from government circles is when a Nation TV crew
captured a copy of the same on Hon. Amos Kimunya’s desk in
2005. Another mention was through a book review by the then
East African Standard Managing Editor, Mr. Chaacha Mwita.

Kenyans and Africans are endowed with a wealth of
experience from other successful world civilizations. All
we need to do is to simply seek to understand how modern
great civilizations handle power. So far, Kenya can boast
of a well oiled political campaign leadership skills.

But 44 years of independence still points at a poverty of
nationalistic leadership that can propel the majority of
individual talent in the country to serve the interests of
the majority. No single politician can be blamed for this;
it is systemic elitist culture that puts pressure on
leaders to address narrow interests. No wonder it doesn’t
sound abnormal to Kenyan ears when one declares that it is
the turn of tribe A or B to eat.

The futures scenario for Kenya and Africa ought to move
away from replaying “Apocalypto hunters” scribbling names
and qualifications on paper in pubs seeking government
positions. Political parties must be institutionalized to
avoid ideologically bankrupt movements that simply coalesce
behind the charisma of an individual as a strategy either
to win or retain power. Party systems must have sober teams
that identify beforehand what type of people can deliver
their campaign agenda.

In recommending “The Keys to a Successful Presidency” in
2003, I was very clear that our leaders simply ‘Kenyanize”
the ideas without necessarily getting bogged down by the
ideology that informed the authorship. The book draws
wisdom from former senior officials in United States of
America ’s Jimmy Carter, Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy,
Ronald Reagan, and George Bush (father) administrations.
The book addresses issues on achieving a successful
transition, running the White House (State House!),
staffing a new administration, turning the president’s
agenda into an administration policy, and generally
managing the government.

Another general election is around the corner and party
stalwarts are sharpening their pens and paper to get
appointed. Whichever party wins, Kenyans will hold them to
account for the election pledges they made. Obviously,
flashy political campaigns will not translate to automatic
good leadership. Politicians are but a segment of what runs
government alongside bureaucrats and technocrats who
determine delivery of service. In the words of Martha
Kumar, a contributor in the book: “If people are going to
learn about their jobs, they need to do that early, because
once you get into White House, it’s like drinking from a
fire hose, and you don’t have the time to read anything, to
talk to people.” Each party seeking to lead the government
must by now strategize on delivery of promises.

James Shikwati is the Director of Inter Region Economic
Network. This article is based on a publication by the
Heritage Foundation.