Thursday, October 22, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
October 22, 2009

In this article, I want to explore the dilemma of a company manager or a public officer in terms of climate change in Kenya today.

Scientists and climate experts keep on telling us that as we continue to emit more carbon into the atmosphere, our earth will continue to warm up with dire consequences for our survival. Weather patterns will change, rainy seasons will be irregular and droughts will be unpredictable as the Himalayas, Mt. Kenya and Kilimanjaro will lose their snowcapped peaks with devastating consequences for surrounding human settlements.

Up in the North Pole, glaciers will continue to melt causing ocean levels to rise with possible floods on lands closer to their coastlines. Countries with shore lines at or below sea level will definitely experience the most impact during tsunamis and violent hurricanes such as New Orleans and Thailand suffered a few years ago.

What have these weather patterns got to do with Amos Wako as Attorney General of Kenya? What have they to do with a cabinet minister such as Sam Ongeri, Anyang Nyongo or even Prime Minister Raila Odinga or President Mwai Kibaki? Down the line, what have they to do with a village chief, a police inspector, a DO, a DC or a PC? Better still, how do they relate to the waning powers of a corporate chief executive, a senior manager or a Governor of the Central Bank?

As a typical example, Amos Wako’s stature as Attorney General faces the same threats that the Himalayas and Mt. Kenya face. Over the years, as the civil society and political activists clamored for more democratic space, as they made noise and demanded a return to multiparty system, the executive, parliament and even the judiciary watched as their powers and authority disappeared.

Today, President Kibaki cannot exercise the kind of power and authority that Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi wielded. Days are gone when Jaramogi Odinga could wake up one morning and declare some foreigner persona non grata and within hours, the individual would be bundled onto an outbound plane. Kalonzo Musyoka, Moody Awori and even Kijana Wamalwa never lived to enjoy those special powers.

For Amos Wako, he has had to contend with wild and daring members of parliament who have more often than not rendered him powerless inside the august house. Many of the bills he has drafted have never lived to see the light of day. Just the other day, they slashed his departmental budget by Ksh 1 million on grounds that his performance as the chief prosecutor had been wanting.

In Charles Njonjo’s time, such degrading debates would not take place in the first place. The special branch boys would have plucked from the precincts of parliament such hot-heads and hauled them into the basement of Nyayo House for further discussions.

If Njonjo, the best known AG before Wako, was known for efficiency and swift application of the law, Wako has excelled in lethargy and ineffectiveness. In Wako’s time the common man has missed out on justice. Instead of prosecuting criminals and fraudsters, he has sought with zeal popularity with the political and powerful class.

As society has become more and more enlightened, perception and myths about certain offices have dissipated with time. The school teacher is no longer that all knowing, all clever and wise man of the village. Thugs and village elders no longer feel threatened by his book knowledge. More often, his authority on the children he teaches has been adversely eroded.

The Chief is no longer that powerful eye of the government with sweeping powers to invade anybody’s home and arrest occupants without either a court order or a search warrant. In the past, all a chief needed was the Chief’s Act to carry out his duties.
Those were the days when the name of a chief invoked terror among tax evaders, chicken thieves and chang’aa brewers. Therefore being in good books with the chief was the most desirable thing if one was to be sure of not spending a night at the Chief’s camp or losing his chickens and goats.

I remember three decades ago when the first two female District Officers were posted in Kisumu town. These young girls in their 20s were the talk of the town for many years. Village elders could not understand how a woman could become a DO and what was more, be saluted by male askaris and their Chief!

Today if Amos Wako and Mutula Kilonzo cannot be regarded with esteem as Tom Mboya and Charles Njonjo were when the latter held the same offices, it is because circumstances have changed. The same way global warming has interfered with our weather patterns has political activism eroded our relations with public offices. We have unmasked their godly gowns and reduced them to mere mortals.

Hardly two decades ago every Kenyan of age could tell you the full names of every cabinet minister and permanent secretary and where they came from. Office holders like DCs and PCs were national figures. Parastatal and Corporate chief executives were national leaders of high repute. They wielded real power, authority and influence. They got things done.

A police Commissioner, the GSU Commander, Governor of Central Bank or even the Auditor General were big fish indeed. Not to be left behind was the Vice Chancellor, Professor, a prominent lawyer, the Chief Justice, the Deputy Public Prosecutor and the Speaker of Parliament and his deputy.

Today, we can scratch our heads to find out who heads Unilever, Barclays Bank, Nation Media Group, ICDC, Eveready Batteries or General Motors.

Those were the days when appointment as a senior manager or a government officer was a big deal. As a company executive, one found a well furnished office, two telephone lines, a secretary, a messenger and a driver complete with an official car.

In those days of manual everything, the power of the manager was on full display when drafting an official letter or a memo. Whereas a top level manager would summon his secretary to the office for dictation as he paced up and down in his office, other lower cadre would manually draft such letters to be typed by their copy typists. In other words a top manager or CEO was qualified to hire a stenographer, that magic hand that could reduce every word into a single symbol and type out word for word what the CEO dictated as he paced up and down.

Three developments have reduced the power of a manager as we knew it a few years ago. Political assertiveness has permeated the public service as much as it has infected the corporate world. Today every person in authority faces a challenge of one sort or the other. The era of the authoritarian manager has been replaced with that of a dialogue leader.

The computer and the internet have also empowered the manager to be self reliant in his daily communication. He no longer relies on his secretary to get his memos and other communications out.

The struggle for the second liberation has equally eroded the powers of every public official. Today, a DC or even a PC cannot go to the village and dictate things and get away with it.

These are the reasons Mayor Majiwa and Town Clerk Kisia of Nairobi City are finding it rough dealing with Nairobi councilors. It is a new era in the management of our institutions.