Leaders should push for proper drainage to end flood menace

Pedestrians are carried through a flooded Race Course Road in Nairobi on March 15, 2018. Roads are flooded because of lack of proper drainage. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • We have little value for thinking, for consultation with experts, or for projects like constructing drainage, which have no optical value.
  • The more we call a leader to intervene in a crisis, the more inefficient we must consider that leader to be.
  • We Kenyans need to rate politicians not by how they intervene, but how many times we call them to intervene.

Every time Mother Nature sends us rain, the rivers overflow, the clogged drainages burst, and the grabbed riparian lands flood.

And then we say, yet again, that riparian lands should be restored and Nairobi should have a proper drainage system.

But let me tell you why no politician will get it done. Because we vote on optics.

Drainage is underground infrastructure. It requires planning. It requires thinking. There is no glory for the politician who builds a drainage system.

There’s no ribbon to cut, no signpost to put up announcing the governor‘s name.

ELECTIONS
Even if a governor does build a drainage system, that will be the end of her political career.

At the end of five years, voters will say she has done nothing.

We voters will prefer a politician who pays our hospital fees but does not facilitate universal healthcare.

We will want a politician who sends a water truck to our houses, but not one who fixes the water distribution system so that water flows from our taps.

If a few of us see a problem with this attitude and say that we need to think about social services, not rescue missions, we get attacked by "whats-your-solutionists" who tell us that the optical, politician-to-the-rescue model is what resonates with “the people”.

CRITICS
The whats-your-solutionists are these annoying trolls with nothing to do but stalk us on social media, waiting for us to criticize flashy, instant solutions to long-term problems.

Their job is to shut us up and to bully us not to think. They call us “keyboard warriors” (which they also are, otherwise they wouldn’t be trolling us).

They tell us we have no right to speak about what affects us if we have no solution to offer, but also no resources to implement the solution.

“At least he’s doing something. What are YOU doing?” they retort.

Politicians also give us the same nonsense all the time. We have a money-guzzling standard gauge railway, or slogans like “kusema na kutenda (walking the talk)" or worse, a flawed new education system, because politicians dismiss time spent on reflection and consultation as useless and as doing “nothing”.

Refusing to reflect or consult means that they ignore obvious problems that could be rectified before they develop.

CONSULT
The ultimate war of whats-your-solutionists is against the act of thinking.

Whats-your-solutionists don’t want us to take time to understand how a problem started or developed.

They don’t want consultation to gather divergent views and coordinate a multifaceted, less glamourous response, especially if it’s a collective effort without a single hero, or if there’s incentive in a tender.

Whats-your-solutionists prefer a misdiagnosis than taking time to make the correct diagnosis.

And the price of that rush to implement, the rush for the visible, the avoidance of thinking, is what the current flooding reflects.

We have little value for thinking, for consultation with experts, or for projects like constructing drainage, which have no optical value.

NATIONAL PLANNING
And yet, there is no one who demands more thinking, and less optics, than Mother Nature.

Mother Nature does what she wants, when she wants. She doesn’t consult us, but she gives us advance warning.

That means she demands that we think and plan ahead, consult experts, and spend time on unglamorous projects like planting trees and building underground systems.

In other words, Mother Nature is telling us to grow up. The responsibility of being an adult is to think, to put immediate returns aside for long term goals.

We are not toddlers who put everything new into their mouths.

We’re adults, so we’re supposed to spend time thinking beyond the optics, consulting professionals and building institutions.

LEADERSHIP
These floods tell us that we can’t keep voting on the optics.

We must understand that a good leader is not the one we notice intervening in every distress.

A good leader is the one whose name we even forget, because everything is working properly and we’re never in a distress that the police, the doctor, the teacher or the nearest government office cannot solve.

The more we call a leader to intervene in a crisis, the more inefficient we must consider that leader to be.

SERVICES

But now we’re not even just calling leaders to intervene - we’re praising them for establishing a rescue service, meaning that they expect services to always crumble while campaigning for a post which is supposed to fix the very same services!

We Kenyans need to rate politicians not by how they intervene, but how many times we call them to intervene.

The more we need a leader’s benevolent interventions, the more inefficient the leader is.

If we are seeing leaders more and more, it means they’re increasingly inefficient. We need to vote with our minds, which the whats-your-solutionists don’t want.

A Chinese proverb, to which my friend Nathan Ngumi drew my attention, reflects this need the best:

“The greatest leader recedes from view as things improve, to the point that in the end, the people think they improved things themselves.”

Dr Njoya, a commentator on social political issues, teaches at Daystar University. Email wmnjoya@gmail.com