In 2021, Japan’s Prime Minister, 72-year-old Yoshihide Suga resigned after a coronavirus surge that his government failed to control. By doing so, he continued a long Japanese tradition of leaders taking full responsibility for their failures.
In November 2022, Japan’s Justice Minister, Yasuhiro Hanashi resigned because he referred to some of his duties as tedious. One month earlier in October, Economic Revitalization Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa also resigned due to his ties with the Unification Church, which many consider to be a cult.
These resignations exemplify Japan’s utter commitment to three major principles that Kenya can do well to embrace and customize.
Firstly, Japan has embraced collective responsibility that is fueled by teamwork.
After the Second World War, Japan was in ashes. They realized that the only way to rebuild was through concerted team effort. During the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Japan’s adherence to collective responsibility was in full display when Japanese fans habitually collected trash after their team’s world cup games. That’s how they live. The Japanese apply such collective responsibility while considering all factors in meticulous planning for mega projects and small tasks. That is why they delivered the ingenious globally renown Tokyo Bay Aqua-line 15.1 kms expressway over and under the sea after mutually planning for 20 years and constructing for 10 years!
Equally Japanese farmers embody the power of collective responsibility and unified effort. Since the mid-1950s, their powerful voice and votes have kept the Liberal Democratic Party in power apart from two interludes.
In 1960, Japan’s 11.75 million farmers not only fed the country, they also influenced its policy direction. In essence, they took responsibility doing they bolstered their influence. Kenya’s millions of farmers can follow suit by pulling together and exerting their influence. Currently, they remain splintered, voiceless and powerless.
Last week, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited Kenya to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Kenya. While here, he touched on a second principle that fuels much of Japan’s excellence. He made it clear that he was very keen on listening to Kenya’s views on a wide range of issues. This wasn’t just mere PR because listening, which is at the heart of respect, is treasured in Japan.
Listening to each other leads to respect and therefore a mutual resolve to work diligently towards a united front.
I got to learn about the third Japanese principle that can boost our sustainable development ten years ago when I visited Honda’s mother factory in Kumamoto, Japan. While at the factory, I learned a lot about the Honda approach of making motorcycles. It is quite unique as it runs on kaizen.
Kaizen is a Japanese word and philosophy that essentially means continuous improvement. Kaizen empowers workers to continuously brainstorm on product improvement. Thus empowered, workers at all levels become creators and leaders of the very products that they are producing.
The kaizen philosophy has catapulted Japan to the top echelon of the global economy. It has also hoisted Honda as the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world.
Kaizen can greatly enhance progress in Kenya’s politics and private sector alike. Members of Parliament can apply kaizen to continuously improve the legislative process and the ensuing legislation. The private sector can apply kaizen to incrementally improve the quality and quantity of Kenyan products. We can keep getting better so that we can be increasingly competitive on the global stage. This is the tangible route towards improving our livelihoods and therefore battering the demon of high cost of living.
Japan which is 65 % the size of Kenya is the third strongest economy in the world, behind only USA and China. That didn’t happen by accident. Kenya too can become one of the strongest economies in the developing world. Just like Japan we only need to be intentional in creating a common front, consistent in listening to each other, and strategic about how we get things done. Think green, act green.