By Dr. David Oginde
One of the most admirable characteristics of politicians is their unusual knack for turning every experience into a prospect — exploiting every opportunity for personal gain. If a politician wants to talk about ants while watching a herd of elephants, he could begin with something like, “I’m just amazed how an elephant can be so big and an ant so small…” He will then spend not a few hours talking about ants. That is why politicians can go to whatever function and talk about what is uppermost in their minds, irrespective of whether that function is a wedding, funeral, or school prize-giving day — it matters not the occasion; it matters not the audience! Their personal agenda becomes king.
I recall a classic one, in the days of constitutional review and the fight over whether or not to create the position of Prime Minister. I was conducting a wedding when a politician came to the church ceremony as a friend of one of the families. Given a chance by the family to encourage the newly-weds, he briefly congratulated the young couple and then proceeded to marvel at the mystery of marriage. He was amazed how God can bring two very different people together, and cause them to so love one another that they end up becoming one in holy matrimony. Then came the clincher — If God can do that in marriage, why not in government? Why would some people think that the positions of Prime Minister and President would create two centers of power? To the contrary, just like in marriage it would bring a beautiful union that brings blessings and harmony to the nation!
This characteristic came to mind as I watched our politicians come out of police cells and proceed to carefully choreographed get-togethers and luncheons. These men and women, who only a few days earlier had appeared to go after each other’s jugular, were now enjoying sumptuous meals in new-found comradery. With hearty laughter, they turned their ordeal in the police cells into an opportunity to feast and capture media attention. And as usual, many Kenyans watched in admiration at just how blessed we are to have such repentant leaders — ready to bury the hatchet and join hands in proclaiming peace and national harmony.
There is no doubt that this show of unity has been, for the nation, more powerful than a water hose on a raging fire. The flames of hate and violence died quickly with just a few pictures of jovial leaders dining together. This is the power of leadership.
Unfortunately many of our leaders seem not to fully appreciate the power they hold. Few seem to realize the impact their words and actions have on those of us who hold them in reverence. The truth, however, is that when they hate, we hate; when they fight, we fight; and when they laugh, we laugh. We are turned on and off like light bulbs that simply respond to the actions of the switch. The implications of this are profound.
Whereas for many a politician, all that they say and do are many times merely part of the political game, to their followers, each word and every action is a serious act of leadership. It has been shown that, especially in matters politics and religion, followers — even the most educated — follow their leader almost blindly. That is why some political or religious leaders around the world have led their members into committing suicide or causing major atrocities against perceived enemies. While Hitler seems to hold the political record of mass murder; in Christianity, Jim Jones led a thousand of his sect members into mass suicide, including US Congressman Leo Ryan, in 1978 in Jonestown, Guyana. John Kony has been responsible for thousands of deaths in Uganda. Similarly, Al-Shaabab and ISIS are current religious examples.
That is why, in our case, it is sad that it had to take a few nights in police cells to hopefully sober our leaders to the reality of the negative impact of their speech. This nation is like a field of dry grass. A spark could burst it into uncontrollable flames. It is therefore our hope and prayer that our leaders will not simply play politics with their cell experience and then resume their toxic vitriol. Those who do should be taken back to the coolers, and the keys thrown away. They are a danger to a civilized society.