Who is your favorite political leader of all time? Many would say that it is Nelson Mandela because of the role he played in leading South Africa out of the shackles of apartheid. Interestingly, South Africa is not as united as it was when Mandela was President. Today, Julius Malema who was once youth leader in the Africa National Congress leads the Economic Freedom Party. He is now one of the ANC Government’s fiercest critics. Does that mean that that the Foundation Mandela built wasn’t strong enough? The jury is out on that.
For me, Mandela was a great leader for his unique season. He rose to presidency at a time when reconciliation was one of South Africa’s deepest needs. This need couldn’t be met through bravado. He had to bring forth the diplomat in him, which might appear weak to some. However, Mandela was no push over. If anything, he was one of the most resolute leaders. Mandela’s five years of presidency from 1994 to 1999 were characterized by strong economic growth. He achieved this by taking firm decisions like rejecting nationalization, which was the official policy of his party. He also used his famed diplomacy to increase trade opportunities for South Africa.
Great leadership often hinges on firm resolution and commitment to values. Although millions admired the late Tanzanian President John Magufuli, others found his leadership style to be too authoritarian. However, the best way to judge leaders is by interrogating their results. As Jesus said of His followers, you will know them by their fruits.
In May 2016, six months after Magufuli took office, he had already secured a major victory for Dar es Salaam the country’s commercial capital. He launched the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that instantly turned Dar es Salaam into one of the few African Cities with an efficient public transport system. Magufuli went on to achieve a lot more, including streamlining public service delivery and weeding out corruption. He achieved all this through his legendary firm leadership style.
History will be the best judge of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s leadership style. Factually, Kenya’s economy is in its best ever state. In 2021, Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by 5%, making Kenya’s economy to be one of Africa’s fastest growing economy. We are now Africa’s sixth strongest economy, only behind Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Algeria and Morocco. In Sub-Saharan Africa, we are the third strongest economy.
Egypt and Algeria, the third and fourth strongest economies respectively, were led by strong, no-nonsense Presidents for at least two decades. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak was President from 1981 to 2011. In Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika also led for two decades, from 1999 to 2019.
Although an elected Prime Minister leads Morocco, the fifth strongest economy, its King has exclusive authority over the military, religion, and the judiciary. Morocco’s King, Mohammed VI has reigned for 23 years, since 1999. This doesn’t mean that benevolent dictatorship is a prerequisite for economic growth. After all, both Nigeria and South Africa, the two strongest economies are governed through democracies. In South Africa, presidential elections are held every five years while in Nigeria, they are held every four years.
Back to Kenya, the evidence is clear that our economy is doing well even if many people are yet to feel the benefits of this growth political overtones notwithstanding.
What has led to this unprecedented economic growth?
Keith Hansen, World Bank Country Director for Kenya has an answer, “Kenya’s economy has shown considerable resilience to the enormous shock of the pandemic, and this year is expected to post one of the stronger growth rebounds in the region thanks to diversified sources of growth and sound economic policies and management.”
The sound economic policies and management have been led by President Uhuru Kenyatta. There is of course room for improvement, particularly regarding job creation and poverty reduction. This improvement will need strong decisive leadership both at the presidential level and the gubernatorial levels.
At the presidency, I only nudge President Kenyatta to enact the National Climate Change Council for Kenya to strategically face the future with confidence. Think green, act green!