Many countries in Africa are struggling not with the obvious assumptions of the world but with one key issue leadership. The debates around leadership are so broad and so layered that it exhausts any right thinking individual like me who believes that there are no superwomen or men. I believe in the collective responsibilities of individuals towards the betterment of everyone and indeed society.
I had the honor to observe the just concluded German election in Bavaria-through the wonderful Hanns Seidel Stiftung-where I engaged their electoral and governance processes. The Federal system of government in Germany has a subsidiarity principal which is similar to what Kenya has at present known as devolution. The subsidiarity principal states that government works best at local level and the closer the control of government is to the people, the more interest and control citizens hold in political proceedings and operations. This principal is fully implemented and protected by the leaders from local level all the way up to the highest office.
This kind of government is achievable even in Kenya but we always fall short of something, political will. Almost everything is done at the local level where they have municipalities each headed by a Lord Mayor. The Lord Mayor of Meitingen Dr.Michael Higl whose municipality has roughly 11,500 people elaborately took us through he’s daily tasks from sustainable and affordable housing for the community where the municipality buys land and builds more homes for residents. He explained that income generation to finance the activities of his office in order to serve the community was key and in his municipality they depended heavily on electricity and steel production.
The role of the federal government is to establish a framework and the municipality becomes the implementing arm. Within the framework of building homes for example it is required that the municipality doesn’t interfere with nature, doesn’t build towards densely populated areas, doesn’t interfere with national heritage, maintains the aesthetic of the specific municipality, incorporates solar panels, ensures accessibility of the houses not clustered together, minimal high-rise buildings and so much more. I believe we have an institution in Kenya that is supposed to deal with regulatory issues around construction but do they do it?
The Lord Mayor of Welden Mr. Peter Bergmeir whose municipality has around 3,700 people pushed further on to many issues that are best dealt with on local level. He made it clear that every resident had to register in their municipality as a legal requirement in order to get benefits and services from government like passports. Municipal registration made it easy to map and plan the needs of all residents at every given time. Knowing the number of people in your municipality allows you the freedom to be able to prioritize what is a need and what isn’t. If you’ve got more old people then you prioritize their needs, if you’ve got more children then kindergartens and day care facilities are a must, if you’ve got more young people then industries for employment become a priority.
I wondered if in Kenya we could have a registration system similar to this in ward level to be able to make mapping out more narrowed down. Wouldn’t it be easy to streamline services and make effective the delivery of these services if we knew specifically who lived where, young or old, employed or not, with family or not, male or female? Municipal registration in Germany also makes it possible to acquire voting documents since they are given out where you live. You also pay tax to both the federal state and the municipality hence where you live cannot be ignored in most cases it determines how much you pay.
Another interesting thing is that flood protection is a municipal mandate and not totally a government one. The mayor is supposed to know the landscape and weather patterns in his/her area and is able to mitigate the risk of flooding. The mayoral position can be either voluntary or elected like the case of most mayors we talked to who started off volunteering their services to the municipality and are now elected having been seen as performers.
This I found very interesting especially in the Kenyan context where someone cannot even think of volunteering at this level of leadership. We are stuck seeking people of service and without any avenue for those willing to serve to show case what they can do. In turn we ridicule anyone trying and going out of their way to do things differently from the norm instead of holding on to the opportunity of creating leaders with verifiable track records. Surprisingly, almost all fire fighters in these municipalities are all volunteers trained by the municipality to offer their service to their local area.
The electoral system is elaborate in theory but very simple in practical. It is headed by the electoral commissioner who has an unlimited tenure and whose vital task is to ensure preliminary results are determined, election has taken place within the rules and has no complaints plus approval of party lists. The voting can be done via post or physically during the day of election. The polling station is full of volunteers and any other voter who wishes to be part of the process not just officials.
Everyone is allowed during the entire the voting, counting and verification is done since they believe the more eyes and hands the better and faster the process is done. It is mostly about trust of the people towards each other and in the fact that no one would willing jeopardize such an important process. The returning officer is not heavily supervised as many residents feel that he/she knows what they’re doing and they have the interest of the people and country at heart. Determining of the results starts at local level at the polling station where the results-after counting and verification-are communicated to the municipality.
At the municipality level election protocol is signed by 9 officials then passed to the district level where the results are commissioned and given to the commissioner who sums up the results from all districts. On the 23rd of September-the eve of their Bundestag election-was an easy day. People went by their daily lives in fact we even went boat riding in Utting their politics didn’t seem to hold captive anything as it does in Kenya. All through this final week to the election there were campaigns of course but not as rowdy as the ones I’m used to.
In small municipalities, town hall meetings took place as they discussed the best ways of securing their desired candidate a win. The civility in which the campaigns were conducted and even the way counter arguments were dealt with was something to note. Yes, they disagreed on issues but some sort of conduct was to be adhered to even in conflict. I remember one of the people at the closing election campaign of the CSU telling me, “Leaders must behave respectably even when dealing with issues they don’t agree with”
Despite all this, Germany with a population of more women than men has minimal representation. Even in one of the mayor’s offices where they have a wall of celebrated residents no woman was on the wall and I remember being utterly shocked. I asked why and was told it’s simply because of the patriarchal society that still shrouds many things and hinders a lot of progress. It would also be a grave oversight if I don’t mention just how apathetic the young people are towards their politics. It worried me because I remember only meeting a handful of young people in almost all the institutions that are engaged in political discourse or mainstream politics.
It is therefore not just an African problem when we talk about an intergenerational disconnect and lack of participation. Maybe Africa is even leading in spaces of youthful people active in politics to an extend that most of our governments seek silencing remedies for the vocal youth. The lessons are many and the most important one was the mandatory expectation of service. With all the institutions we have, we lack people of character who are truly led by the desires to deliver.
We’ve don’t needed new laws what we are in desperate need of is new people. For good to happen, good people must be in leadership. The only thing different between states is the kind of people we are because our states are a representation of how we value or devalue ourselves. Look at your country and tell me what you see?
By Scheaffer Okore
Program Officer Civic Engagement At Siasa Place.