Many thanks to Pure Kikuyu Woman for drawing our attention to this fascinating article in today's East African Standard.
Leaving the professional nest for political train
By Saturday Standard Team
Until early this year, Mr Edwin Mwangi Macharia led a quiet life as an executive with the Bill Clinton Foundation.
His latest posting was as a director of the Rural Initiative for the Clinton HIV/Aids Initiative (Chai). The initiative was to develop and enable the replication of care and treatment services in rural areas.
He had served as the deputy country director for the same foundation in Tanzania where he helped develop a national care and treatment plan.
Macharia was also a member of the team that developed a similar treatment and care plan for South Africa. This is a major feat for a man who turns 30, later this year.
Macharia has now plunged into politics and faces a gigantic task as he seeks to unseat Dr Chris Murungaru as MP for Kieni constituency.
He is among a stream of young or middle-aged, highly educated and well-trained professionals leaving their careers to join politics.
At the United States International University, Prof Jacqueline Oduol has left the blackboard and hit the campaign trail.
She is challenging tradition and money, the two factors that reign in Alego-Usonga, which she wants to represent in the Tenth Parliament.
She is pitted against close relatives, nominated MP, Mr Oloo Aringo, who is her father-in-law and the incumbent, Mr Sammy Weya, her son-in-law.
"There are people who cannot address any forum. But they have invaded the constituency with money. I tell my people we are looking for someone who can lead. We are not looking for who has more money," Oduol says.
"I keep reminding them that in Parliament, no MP speaks for another. Each MP speaks for himself or herself. And parliamentary business is not transacted in cash. It is done by debate. So, the person they elect must know how to speak and have the language, not the money," she adds.
Knowing the two factors would bog her down in Alego-Usonga Oduol first got involved with a political party. She is the head of the Orange Women’s League in ODM. She is also setting up a gender desk at Orange House.
"I think I have cracked Alego-Usonga. I had to contain the moneybags in the constituency," she says.
For years, Oduol had lobbied for women, where she has also been a consultant with the Government and organisations like World Bank and UNDP on gender and governance.
Now she feels she has pushed enough from outside, and wants to do it from the floor of the House.
Her education, she says, would not guarantee victory, but she thinks it is a plus.
"To represent people, you need an advanced ability to understand issues. Education exposes people to available options. You then go to your people with the options, put them on the table, and ask them to make informed choices. To be a leader, you need to know what options are available out there for your people," she says.
Mr Otiende Amolo will be going for the Rarieda seat.
Another professional, Mr Otiende Amolo, after serving as a council member and chairman for eight years of the International Commission of Jurists, as secretary general of the East Africa Law Society and as council member of the LSK, he is also joining politics.
He is eyeing the Rarieda seat Mr Raphael Tuju represents.
"I have realised that while civil society and professional organisations can bring pressure to bear, real and meaningful change is influenced more by politics and politicians. Ultimately, politicians not only direct reform or status quo, they also determine whether a country has good or bad policies; good or bad laws. I want to be an active part of that reform agenda, not a mere commentator," Amolo says.
In the House, he would push for law reforms and would also support a clause that allows recall of MPs who fail to perform.
With a Masters degree in Law, Amolo believes education and age counts in leadership.
"Anyone above 18 years and below the stage of senility can lead if they possess the qualities. I believe in the current world of technological advancement and global interaction, a leader must be sufficiently educated even to share and communicate ideas," Amolo says.
"I believe the greater the number of professionals joining politics the higher the level of political engagement. I believe, ultimately, politics will be seen much less as a dirty game," he adds.
Until last July, Dr Mark Ogutu chaired the PhD Committee of Kenyatta University’s Business Administration Department.
He taught entrepreneurship to students of Masters in Business Administration (MBA), a course that has become increasingly popular.
Ogutu, 42, also trained institutions on strategic planning and management skills.
Ogutu is also taking to politics and is keen to unseat Mr Ochola Ogur from the Nyatike parliamentary seat on an ODM ticket.
Dr Marion Mutugi, a PhD holder in genetics, has left her job as director of the Institute of Tropical Medicine and Infectious Diseases at the JKUAT to go for the Ndia parliamentary seat.
Mutugi is known for developing a high yielding, quick maturing and pest resistant banana breed, which has earned her the name ‘Wamarigu’ in Ndia.
"There is a disconnect between the people who make discoveries, and those we expect to implement them. Our people do not benefit from the research we do because the politicians we expect to take them up in Parliament hardly understand the issues. We need to be in the House to prioritise these things," Mutugi says.
The aspirant is concerned that the opening up of democratic space has not led to quality representation.
"Every Tom, Dick and Harry wants to be an MP. In Ndia, there are over 20 aspirants. If you were to sit with all of them, you would not get a clear understanding of the issues on the ground and the solutions. People just want to be MPs," she says.
"There are primary school dropouts running for MP. I agree some people may not have had the opportunity to go to high school. Some never had fees. But do such people have the capacity to represent a constituency in Parliament. Will they understand the issues?" she asks.
The Tenth Parliament, the lecturer predicts, is likely to go the Rwanda way.
"You get into the House and you are given a laptop. Will you manage if you are illiterate? Over Sh100 million is going to be put in your hands as MP to manage for your constituents, can you handle it if you have not managed anything?"
In Ndia, she says, there is a category of aspirants who arrive and tell people to line up for money.
"They never articulate any issues. They just distribute money. How will such people conduct business in Parliament?" she asks.
At 30, Mr Jonathan Mweke, is also trying to go to Parliament. With a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) in Information Technology, Mweke wants to join Parliament and push the case for ICT in development.
He has been IT manager with FiServ Inc, a financial service firm based in Michigan, US and project manager for Plant Technologies and Support at DaimlerChrysler Corporation also in the US.
He also worked with the Supermarket chain, the K-Mart Corporation in the US as systems developer in charge of Enterprise Messaging.
Lately, he has traversed Westlands constituency, seeking to replace Mr Fred Gumo.
In August, Martin Oloo, 43, left his job at the Department for International Development (DFiD), the development wing of the British Government and dabbled in politics.
A holder of a Masters degree in Law from the University of Nairobi, Oloo was a senior governance adviser for DFiD.
He had also worked with the Aga Khan Foundation and Action Aid. He wants to be MP for Mumias.
Last month, Mr Chaacha Mwita left the Standard Group to run for Kuria parliamentary seat.
Before, he had been the corporate communications manager at Strathmore University.
Kabando wa Kabando, 39, gave up his post as chairman of the Nairobi Water Company in March, to launch his third "and most serious bid" for the Mukuruwe-ini parliamentary seat. He seeks to unseat the current MP, Mr Mutahi Kagwe.
With a Masters degree in Public Policy from State University of New York, Kabando believes he can influence policy in the right direction.
He believes the level of education, professionalism and the age of MPs matter.
"Offering the potent skills at the right age is very important. Investment in best of times, when energy and potential are prime, matters. Having the intellectual capital and the willingness to use it for the benefit of positive growth is crucial," he says.
Mwita is challenging for the Kuria seat on an ODM ticket because he is angry.
"I am angry at the way our country has been run, especially after 2002. Like other Kenyans, I expected better management," he says.
"But look, tribalism became worse, corruption persisted, political arrogance and insensitivity reached a new high and Press freedom was trampled on," he adds.
He believes the Government cheated his people and the current MP Dr Wilfred Machage has not stood up to protest.
"When President Kibaki says women no longer carry water from the river, he must be talking about Central Province. Where I come from, women do not just carry water from the river, the water sources are further away from where they were years ago as I grew up. Dysentery and other water-borne diseases are rife in Kuria. Yet, our MP brags about being a medical doctor and Health Assistant minister," Mwita says.
He has also taken to politics to show politics is not just for old retirees and the super-rich.
"Those who do not participate in politics, risk being ruled by their inferiors. Politics is not mere entertainment," he says.
Many of the young aspirants, plunging into politics talk of being frustrated with Kenya’s leadership.
"Like many, I have grown increasingly frustrated with our current political leadership, so I want to play a role in changing it," Macharia says.
Macharia sees himself as a Kenyan of the future: Young, educated, widely travelled, connected, confident and ready to take risks.
"Great ideas could lie dormant if there is no political push for them. Similarly bad ideas could gain life simply because they were pushed politically," he says.
Macharia also believes a generational shift in leadership" is emerging.
But he believes that "a generational shift for its sake" will not mean much "unless the bar is raised for future leaders."
"This is exactly why we need to get a solid crop of new, capable leaders of our generation in this election cycle so they can be the benchmark for what a good leader is for 2012. If this does not happen, it will mean we will have the same type of leaders, just different faces," Macharia says.
Education, Macharia says, makes a difference in politics.
"Education, and more so the ability to think critically is lacking in many of our current leaders. Critical thinking and management skills are typically developed and honed in a professional setting, so having politicians who have that experience is critical," he says.
In many constituencies, campaigns will be a mix of some polished men and women against accomplished clowns. Some of the aspirants already see hardships.
In Westlands, Mweke says, a reliable way to reach voters is via the media. But the media is only interested in the MP he is trying to beat.
"I watched Mr Barrack Obama’s campaign and saw the attention the media paid to him. I guess if Obama was running in Kenya, the media would have told him they do not cover aspirants, while they focus on people who make our country look backward," Mweke complains.
He worries that powerful, policy driven speeches account for nothing "if you don’t top up."
Topping up means giving handouts.
"People come and tell you they are the ones who single-handedly put so and so in Parliament. But I insist on working with groups, not individuals," he says.
Years of running programmes on governance and strengthening of parliamentary committees taught Oloo, a lesson.
"I realised it was not going to be enough to advise. I decided to take a plunge and provide leadership on what I had been advising on. The country is looking for leaders who stand for something; whose integrity is above reproach. I encourage my lot to come out and let us save the country," he says.
Oloo is particularly concerned about the "blame game" Kenyans are stuck in.
"We need to go beyond finger pointing and take responsibility for what is wrong and right. Responsibility must begin with the individual," he says.
Kenya, Oloo says, is "frozen in time" and it is hard to tell where it is coming from or going.
Mr Jonathan Mweke seeks to unseat Mr Fred Gumo in Westlands.
"You spend time advising the Government on governance issues. Then the same Government comes with a draft constitution full of mischief and tries to force it on Kenyans. Before a new trust is built, the Justice minister comes with another constitutional amendment Bill that is not acceptable. These ambushes are governance challenges that we need to rise above," he says.
Ogutu, on the other hand, says he is running for "the very simple reason" that Nyatike constituency has stalled.
"People are losing faith in themselves and in representative democracy. Since the constituency was created in 1988, it has had one weak MP after another. The people are beginning to feel the world has conspired against them. I want to come to the aid of our people," he says.
Uninspiring leadership, Ogutu says, has killed the aspirations of the residents.
"No MP from this constituency has ever tabled a Bill in Parliament. No Motion has ever come to the House from a Nyatike MP. No MP from this constituency has ever vied for a position in a political party. To make matters worse, as we are talking, the Nyatike CDF account is frozen. Poverty is high. These are things that kill people’s morale. I have offered to uplift my people even if only psychologically," he says.
"A constituency needs to be run like a good business, with proper projections and forecasting. An MP must give a clear vision of where he wants to take his people. I have a business plan for the constituency," he adds.
Mweke says he has a dream for Westlands.
"I studied the link between technology and development. The Asian Tigers overtook using ICT. I want to exploit my connection with the Fortune 500 companies and have them create call centres in Nairobi as they have done in India and Thailand," he says.
But he is feeling the pressure from the culture of handouts whose seeds the past politicians sowed.
The tragedy is, those willing to spend money many a times have nothing to offer in vision. Some have money, but not the language to speak in Parliament," Mweke says.
Oloo, running in Mumias, is convinced he can help change the mindset of leaders from Parliament.
"Our institutions need to project servant leadership. We have leaders not keen to remember that authority comes from the people. It is common to see a minister saying, ‘we are the Government,’ yet the reverse is the case. The people are the government," Oloo says.
In Kabete, Mr Anthony Kimani Ichung’wah, 30, is taking on long time MP, Mr Paul Muite.
A graduate of Economics from the University of Nairobi and a Certified Public Accountant trained at Strathmore University, he is a senior accountant in Nairobi.
Ichung’wah is going for Kikuyu parliamentary seat on "one of the PNU affiliates," driven by a strong desire to see generational change in leadership.
"For a long time, leadership was left to an older generation. It is time to change this. Professionals tend to be guided by certain minimal ethical standards that they must adhere to. I want to believe what this nation requires today are professionals who will manage public affairs in an ethical and professional manner," he says.
"I would rather we correct our politics first and by going into political leadership, I will be seeking to do just that," he adds.
Courtesy of the East African Standard;
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