Great leadership can overcome any odds

Azimio’s inability to see political opportunities was exposed when they failed to front Tim Wanyonyi as its candidate in the Nairobi gubernatorial contest.

Photo credit: Nation Media Group

When I was growing up in Murang’a town, our next-door neighbour was one Mr Oluoch. He owned a garage that had employed so many Luos who did motor-vehicle panel beating.

Despite having lived in Kikuyu-dominated Murang’a since the early 1960s, I never heard him speak Kikuyu. He spoke to locals in Kiswahili. We all know the political gap between Central and Nyanza.

Notwithstanding this, Oluoch was elected severally in a Kikuyu-dominated ward and became one of the longest-serving civic leaders of our town. Above it all, he had a physical disability.

Oluoch's unique political capabilities included a knack for knowing in which direction the political wind was blowing.

In 1979, well before I was born, Kenneth Matiba staged a dramatic political upset when he removed Dr Kiano from the Kiharu House seat. Dr Kiano was a political giant that was once tipped to be presidential material. Oluoch was one of Matiba’s pillars that helped fell Kiano.

Oluoch’s longevity in Murang’a leadership shows how a leader can overcome physical and engrained tribal barriers.

His story exposes Azimio’s inability to see political opportunities in fronting Tim Wanyonyi as its candidate in the Nairobi gubernatorial contest in the 2022 elections.

Timothy was involved in a horrific carjacking incident that saw his whole life change. He was shot and became paralyzed. Despite his physical disability, he served at the defunct Nairobi City Council in 2007.

He was elected as MP for Westlands in 2013 and re-elected in 2017. He ran for the city governor’s seat under Azimio in 2022 but was prevailed upon to step down for Polycarp Igathe.

Tribal calculations

Azimio’s decision was most likely informed by tribal calculations. The coalition probably reasoned that Igathe, being a Kikuyu — who account for about 45 percent of Nairobi votes — only needed the Azimio vote bloc of 55 per cent to win with a landslide.

It never took into account Nairobi voters are 'detribalising’. That explains why Nairobians who voted during Jubilee (a largely Kikuyu party) primaries in 2017 opted for Sonko (a Kamba) rather than Peter Kenneth (a Kikuyu).

Timothy would have brought a solid history of political achievement notwithstanding his physical disability. In Timothy, Azimio had a good moral story to sell to Nairobians. In Igathe, Azimio was selling debased and raw tribal politics .

The best international example of physical disability is not leadership inability is Franklin D.Roosevelt.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882. He was America’s 32nd president from 1933 until his death in 1945.

He won a record four presidential elections. Roosevelt came into the presidency when America was facing the greatest economic downturn, commonly called the Great Depression .

He implemented his New Deal agenda in response to the crisis. His third and fourth terms were dominated by World War II, which ended in victory shortly after he died in office.

In 1921, Roosevelt contracted a paralytic illness diagnosed as polio and his legs became permanently paralysed. He won election to the New York State Senate in 1910, and then served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson.

Although unable to walk unaided, Roosevelt returned to public office after his election as governor of New York in 1928.

He served as governor from 1929 to 1933, promoting programmes to combat the economic crisis besetting the United States. He became President in 1933.

During the first 100 days of the 73rd US Congress, he spearheaded unprecedented federal legislative productivity.

Many New Deal programmes provided relief to the unemployed such as the National Recovery Administration. Several New Deal programmes and federal laws such as the Agricultural Adjustment Act provided relief to farmers.

Roosevelt frequently used radio to speak directly to the American people, giving 30 "fireside chat" radio addresses during his presidency and becoming the first American president to be televised.

The economy improved rapidly during Roosevelt's first term and he won re-election in 1936, in one of the most lopsided victories in American history.

Roosevelt was re-elected in 1940 for his third term, making him the only US president to serve for more than two terms. By 1939, World War II was on the horizon, which prompted the United States to join it later. The US helped defeat Hitler.

Roosevelt is also remembered for spearheading the establishment of the United Nations.

It must, however, be appreciated that some forms of physical disability can indeed reduce one’s chances of political success. For example, a deaf or a blind person or a person with complete physical disability might really struggle in a field where oral rhetoric remains an important facet. However, humanity must continue innovating and providing opportunities for persons with such disabilities to prosper politically and all fields.

Speech-generating device

The best example of such innovation is in a non-political field. Stephen Hawking was born in the UK. At the age of 17, he began his university education at University College, Oxford, where he received a first-class BA degree in physics.

In October 1962, he began his graduate work at 1963, at age 21, Hawking was diagnosed with an early-onset slow-progressing form of motor neurone disease that gradually, over decades, paralysed him. Doctors gave him two years to live .But after the loss of his speech, he communicated through a speech-generating device.

Hawking became a celebrated scientist and is now immortalised in the movie A Theory of Everything. His fresh ideas include a theory of cosmology explained by a union of the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics.

In 2002, Hawking was ranked number 25 in the BBC's poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. He died in 2018 at 76, after living with the disease for more than 50 years.

Such speech-generating devices may help other physically disabled persons to join elective politics and help in solving humanity’s problems –like Stephen Hawking did in physics. Maybe the best ideas that can improve humanity lie hidden among our speech-challenged persons.


Dr Kang’ata is the Governor of Murang’a County.

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