President Uhuru Kenyatta’s order on Monday for immediate disarming of militia and bandits in Kenya’s dangerous north-eastern region was just the latest in a raft of directives from State House.
Just before that, he had directed Inspector-General of Police David Kimaiyo to move against crooked cops. He had also directed that the interminable delays at the port of Mombasa and the entire highway westward be dealt with so that the time for passage of goods to the Kenya-Uganda border be reduced to five days instead of the current 18 days.
Another directive was in perks for county governors who will now rate diplomatic passports, and assume control of some key functions and services presently still under national government.
For citizens attuned over the last decade to the laid back and seemingly vacant style of President Mwai Kibaki even when the country was burning, the new level of engagement from State House might well demonstrate the “dynamic duo” tag given to President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto.
President Kibaki was famously disengaged, to the extent that early in his first term, he was dismissed by opposition leader, one Uhuru Kenyatta of Kanu, as the “see nothing, say nothing, hear nothing, no nothing” president.
That, of course, was before Mr Kenyatta decided that blood is thicker than water; and transformed himself from opposition leader to chief cheerleader and ultimately successor to President Kibaki.
He has brought drive, energy, and level of engagement to managing the State in a fashion alien to the Kibaki era. For those that pined for decisive hands on the rudder rather than the autopilot drift of the past 10 years, Kenyatta II might be just what the doctor ordered.
Yet questions must be asked. Rule by presidential directive can be a welcome show of strong and focused leadership. But on the flipside, it can also be an indication that systems are not working properly. Or, worse, it can also point to a drift akin to President Moi’s style – rule by fiat.
If all the various functionaries – the Inspector-General of Police, the boss of the Kenya Ports Authority, the Commissioner-General of the Kenya Revenue Authority, the head of the Transitional Authority and more – were doing their jobs properly, there would be no need for all these presidential interventions.
Moving higher, we must also wonder what all these supposedly competently Cabinet secretaries appointed from professional and technocrat cadres are doing if it requires direct presidential directives to make their dockets function.
The Secretaries for Interior and Coordination of National Government, Devolution, Transport and Infrastructure, National Treasury, and all the others that now seem subject to direct presidential supervision must seriously ask themselves whether they are already failing.
They came to office touted as highly-qualified and competent experts, but it is like they have been reduced to mere wallflowers.
President Moi was notorious for neutering ministers and all other officials so that even the smallest decision had to be referred to him. Institutions were deliberately run down so that there could only be one point of reference.
It was the one-man-rule of the Moi regime under the guise of strong leadership that ultimately ruined the country. President Kenyatta must not make the mistake of pumping himself up with the strongman syndrome.
One can project leadership without wanting to be the only point of reference and reducing every other official and institution to cowering impotence.
President Kenyatta must thus be clear on the fine line between strong, effective leadership, which is welcome, and the danger of one-man rule.
The exit of President Moi marked, in President Kibaki’s famous words, the end of roadside directives. President Kenyatta should keep that in mind. It would help if he became wary of the flunkies and sycophants who think his presidency will best be built on personal hold on all power.
The growing euphoria within the “I believe” crowd that President Kenyatta was chosen by God must be discarded if we are to build a leadership on institutions and the law rather than hero worship.