What Kenyans Can Learn From The U.S. Presidential Campaign

Shortly after the Republican National Convention (RNC) and Democratic National Convention (DNC) held their conventions nominating Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as their respective presidential candidates, I reconnected with a childhood friend in the only way people reconnect nowadays - on social media! Unsurprisingly, given the parallel universe inhabited by the two sides currently vying for the White House, we were brought together when my buddy responded to a comment I had made that compared the socio-political dynamics in the US with that in Kenya.

In my initial comments, I opined that the socio-political dynamics between Trump/GOP and Clinton/Democrats were eerily similar to the one in Kenya between Jubilee and CORD.

My friend's response was scathing and biting:

Chidingly, he wrote that he hoped I was "kidding" and had not drank the "coolade" (sp) nor digging "too deep" -- presumably because Kenyan politicians are "shallow", "self-centered" and "easily understood".

I told my childhood friend that I was actually very serious.

I explained that the nationalistic xenophobic timbre of Trump's campaign, the "otherization" of those he doesn't agree with or are not like him or his supporters and his "law & order" platform regardless of police misconduct were akin to Jubilee's "tyranny of the minority" style of governance. I also pointed to Jubilee's explicit (mis)use of law enforcement/security agencies against its opponents -- a tangential equivalent of GOP's "law & order" platform.

The exchange with my friend (who shall remain unnamed) left me wondering whether there were any lessons Kenya (and Kenyans) can draw from the on-going US presidential campaign. In answering the question, I compiled a list of observations thus far gleaned from the process. Like with all lists, this one is neither definitive nor all-encompassing.

- Leadership that espouses tough constructive political engagement is NOT a zero-sum game nor a sign of weakness. Most societies are, to borrow Hillary Clinton's current campaign slogan, are "Stronger Together" when their leaders compromise and craft solutions that are "win-win" for key stakeholders.

- With apologies to Jack A. Morton of Bell Labs, Kenyan politics should be about more than the "tyranny of numbers". The "Southern Strategy" was a winning strategy for the GOP back in the days of Lee Atwater et co. Its variant has also been "successful" in Kenya but in both societies, the strategy has come at a very steep price:

* The GOP has become wholly dependent on a demographic that is quickly losing its numerical advantage.

* Similarly, Jubilee's base is primarily drawn from two communities in a Kenya that is deeply fractured and suspicious of one another.

- The notion that one man (or woman) embodies the hopes and aspirations of any society and considers themselves the ONLY person who can save said society from its problems is not only passé, it is also misguided. Put another way, "l'etat n'est pas (fill in the blank)": Most societies are, pardon the repetition, stronger together.

- No one group has a monopoly on patriotism, nationalism OR national pride. The men and women of the armed forces, security services and law enforcement are sworn to protect and serve ALL Kenyans. These agencies should also reflect the (sensitives of the) communities in which they serve.

- God is non-partisan and the expression "prayer rally" as used in Kenya borders on blasphemy.

I won't even get into the character and/or lives of the organizers and attendees of these rallies.

- Good and effective government HAS a role in the lives of ALL citizens including creation of a safe and secure society and provision of adequate services and well-maintained infrastructure throughout the country.

- Everyone I know wants to earn an honest day's wages sans depending on the "serikali" to "saidia". On the other hand, isn't it ironic that the same people excoriating the government for creating (welfare) dependencies are the "tenderpreneurs", self-styled moguls, industrialists, "dollar millionaires" and "hustlers" who benefit from their connections with the same government?

- As aptly demonstrated, first by Hillary Clinton when she agreed to serve under her then-vanquisher Barack Obama, then by the 2016 runner-up Bernie Sanders, politics is not personal unless one makes it so or is thin-skinned and harbors an overwhelming sense of entitlement. This lesson dovetails with the next one:

- That effective and successful (political) leadership is predicated on a long and consistent history of (public) service to others other than self. This is in contrast to leadership that is used as a conduit for self-enrichment and the enrichment of family and friends.

- It is a global marketplace of ideas and product. Those benchmarking themselves against anything but the best and brightest may develop jingoistic feelings of being "No. 1". However, the feelings will be short-lived even as the rest of the world learns from the best AND pulls away.

To paraphrase Barack Obama, being ignorant or mediocre is neither virtuous nor "real".

- This last one is a pet peeve and just plain irksome.

There is universal agreement that politicians rank up there with lawyers and used car salesmen on matters of ethics and morality. Having said that, let me also say that comparing the lives of baby-boomers Barack Obama and Uhuru Kenyatta is as misplaced as Donald Trump's ascension as the 2016 GOP nominee.

Comparing the life of a bi-racial man born and raised by a single white woman in pre-Civil Rights' Act America and that of the son of Kenya's first president; a man who used the office to amass an obscene amount of wealth for said son to inherit is simply laughable.

It is also a narrative being pushed by the son's supporters in a desperate attempt to burnish the sheen of the former crimes-against-humanity suspect.

To put it bluntly, it's highly unlikely that an American facing charges at The Hague would have been elected to the presidency.

There is a lot Kenya can learn from the on-going US presidential campaign. The question is whether the society and its people are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to create a society that embodies some of democracy's best practices; Donald Trump's preposterous claims of a "rigged election" notwithstanding.