“I would rather die than resign!” These words entered the annuls of Kenya’s history back in 2008 when they were defiantly uttered by Amos Kimunya. The then Finance Minister was responding to mounting pressure for him to resign over the sale of the Grand Regency Hotel to Libyans.
Looking at present-day Kenya, it seems like Kimunya’s (in)famous words are a tacit mantra for most of our public officials. It is not customary for our public officials to resign without being forcefully dragged out, even when there is indubitable evidence that they ought to do so. The kind of impunity and arrogance that our leaders ride on often defies the realm of reason.
Our system of governance is riddled with corruption in astronomical proportions, an inexplicable allergy to accountability, woeful incompetence and heinous abuses of public posts. Nevertheless, the names of state officials who have resigned from a public post are too few to fill a single page. Such a culture simply does not exist in Kenya.
We are still struggling to pick our jaws from the floor after Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala, while responding to Kenyans who had called for his resignation over the death of 10 endangered rhinos, barked “Go to hell!” While the honourable CS later offered a perfunctory apology, his arrogance-laden words had already caused irreparable damage upon our national psyche.
Just a few days earlier, National Land Commission Chairman Professor Muhammad Swazuri dismissed calls for his resignation over the Ruaraka land saga, saying, “It is cowards who resign.”
Contrast our situation with what happens in democratically advanced nations. Early this year, a junior minister in the UK quit his government post after turning up late to a parliamentary session. The official, whose resignation Prime Minister Theresa May later rejected, said he was “thoroughly ashamed” of his inability to keep time that day. What would happen if such a metric were applied to Kenya?
Balala went ahead to categorically state that he is only answerable to the appointing authority—the President. That assertion carried with it the undertone of an authoritarian regime in which public officials are accountable only to the state leader. At that moment at the podium, Balala, visibly pallid with rage, seemed to have briefly forgotten that in a democratic system, the citizens are his direct bosses. Public officials should learn to be accountable to Wanjiku whom they serve, and they are obligated to answer all of her questions regardless of how much they may distaste doing so. It’s on page one of their job descriptions.
It takes a lot of courage on my part to correct a professor. However, I will be shirking my responsibilities as a patriotic citizen if I don’t point out that, in the aforementioned instance, the learned Professor Swazuri was dead wrong. Resigning from office is not always a mark of cowardice. To the contrary, a leader who offers to step down when faced with accountability questions displays a moral fibre that is rare in this continent. Such a leader is one who has decided, for sake of the country, to put aside personal aggrandizement and selfish interests. The option to resign, according to acclaimed American scholar
Today, more than ever, Kenya needs public officials who are brave enough to step down whenever they are faced with allegations. People in managerial positions should learn to take responsibility not only for their blunders but also for the demeanours of their subordinates.
Once we cure the poverty of philosophy amongst our leaders, it is my hope that more of them will open up their private lives for public scrutiny. Then, our public officials will be obligated to resign even for reasons that are not related to their jobs, such as when they clobber their wives or spit on a waitress.
The pinnacle of ethical purity will be reached when our leaders begin tendering in their resignations for no other purpose other than to protect their personal values. If the head of state issues a policy directive that a public official strongly disagrees with (such as unleashing brute force on peaceful protestors), other officials can demonstrate their ethos by resigning in protest.
Today, however, our leaders lack an ethical anchor that would cause them to take responsibility and admit incompetence even in jobs for which they clearly score a D. Calls for resignation are quickly dismissed as intimidations, and patriots are labeled misguided critics. The elites think that Kenya belongs to them and the rest of us are mere squatters. They quickly dismiss our genuine concerns by telling us to mind our business, oblivious to the fact that they are our business. They have managed to subdue Kenyans to a point that we rarely demand accountability.
It doesn’t help matters that every time the resignation of a public official is requested, we are swiftly reminded that our President and his number two first ran for office while they had been indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.
Jones Lukorito writes for the Daily Nation.