The article, from my column "Letter from Butiama", was published in the Sundays News of 1 November 2009.
I have developed a strong friendship with a group of children, some are my nieces and nephews but most are my neighbours’ children. The reason for the bond is evident: I frequently share with them sweets, bananas, but mostly, biscuits, having in recent years developed a keen taste for biscuits after having almost entirely weaned myself from a variety of Tanzanian lagers.
Think of a highly popular leader, such as Nelson Mandela, as the principal candidate of a “dream ticket” comprising political figures from each continent, all working together on one campaign ticket and with me on the opposing side with hands tied, mouth gagged and under house arrest throughout the campaign period and I still would win the elections if these children were the only voters in that election.
Not long ago, two of the children showed up and asked me for some of the usual treats. I said I had none, but recalled having an unopened packet of biscuits and went to my bedroom to fetch it. It was a brand that the supermarket attendant had recommended after I found they had run out of my favourite biscuits. I decided beforehand I would taste one of the biscuits before handing over the entire contents to the children. It was a decision that has altered our hitherto good relations.
They were labeled “shortbread” but the exceptional taste I experienced had nothing “short” about it and undoubtedly contradicted that label. Contrary to my earlier decision to hand over the entire box, I ended up reversing my earlier decision: I gave them two biscuits each and retained the rest.
I keep telling myself that it was only biscuits, that I was the only one with the compromising information, and no one was adversely affected, but I wondered whether relations, particularly of leadership, might produce similar choices to particular individuals where the stakes are much higher than a two thousand shilling box of biscuits, less four.
However, leadership is not only limited to politics and the range extends to virtually every aspect of society, including parenting where the subjects end up licking the crumbs while the leader gets the cake.
The Irish wit, poet, and dramatist Oscar Wilde wrote: “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.” Those who yield to various temptations will most likely support such comments, but such support accepts a weakness rather than confronting it. It would be ideal if those who cannot replicate acceptable leadership will yield, not to temptation, but to those who are likely to provide some semblance of exemplary leadership that does not succumb to temptation, although even such advice is easier said than implemented.
In the recently ended local government elections in one village of Mara region voters were presented with two of what can only be termed as difficult choices for the position of village chairperson. One of the candidates, a former leader, had been accused in the past of involvement in selling off the village’s machinery and equipment in a questionable arrangement with a businessman, while the opposing candidate is accused of cooperating with armed robbers. Not surprisingly, what leaders of apparent dubious character cannot accomplish themselves, a little campaigning and the backing of political parties can make a difference. The campaign strategy of the winning team boiled down to the following: would you rather have a leader who hatches and perhaps profits from dubious deals or one who is a possible gangster? The voters chose the former.
We do not always possess the possibility of choosing our leaders, because some choices do not involve a political process, but where it does and the choices are between an awful and a dreadful leader it is perhaps time voters are given the opportunity to reject both. An overwhelming choice against two unacceptable candidates should not only bar the rejected candidates from contesting, but should only allow re-election of fresh candidates and could encourage some introspection by political parties who then might present better choices to the voters.
The temptation I faced when confronted with maintaining my good standing with my "friends" and retaining a packet must be trivial compared to those faced by some of our politicians, so powerful and overwhelming that if left to the individual candidate alone it is highly likely that it is the winning candidates who will feast on the bread while the populace will be left with the crumbs.