A few months ago I wrote a piece about how speaking of vision immediately leads (or should lead) us to speak of values. ‘Without living by a set of healthy values,’ I said, ‘we have no chance, no chance at all, of living the vision itself.’ And I continued by asking: ‘How do we develop a greater level of respect and trust among us? How do we learn more about sharing and supporting, and about leaving behind our over-developed propensity for grabbing and undermining? How do we hold on to our irrepressible national energy and enthusiasm, but with more alignment, so that less of it is wasted on neutralising the energy and enthusiasm of others?’
Since then, as I followed the launch of Vision 2030 and the subsequent comments I must say that (not unexpectedly!) I have been most disappointed by the lack of attention paid to the strengthening of these enabling values. Indeed in the consulting work that I do I find that almost without exception organisations invest inadequately in strengthening their cultures. And that the exceptional ones that do tend to be overwhelming and lasting leaders in their fields.
So why do leaders shy away from having a go at building healthier cultures? Is it because they believe the culture is what it is and there’s not much that can be done about it? Is it because we live in a Kenya where our culture role models are dominantly politicians and matatu drivers, and so we have to (and have permission to) emulate them? If we are to survive in this dog-eat-dog society, we say, we must act aggressively. If, that is, we are to avoid being devoured by some even more ferocious predator.
Then, how would leaders know if investment in culture development pays off? After all, you can’t measure it, can you? Well, you can, but not many are prepared to invest in doing that either. Does this therefore mean we should not worry so much about our national culture? Do we just hope for the best? Not if I have anything to do with it!
What does the Vision 2030 document say on the subject? I read through it specifically in search of concepts and plans to do with culture and values and attitudes, and I’m happy to report that I did spot some important references. The first sighting came right in the President’s introduction, where he talks of how the journey to Kenya 2030 (a ‘just, equitable and prosperous’ one) will require ‘sacrifice, hard work, self-discipline and determination’. A good start.
Much of the values and attitudes stuff relates to the public service, and how it will be ‘citizen-focused and results-oriented’. It will be ethical, valuing transparency and accountability; it will reward on merit and performance; and engage in continuous improvement.
There’s a lot too under the political pillar where, among the ‘guiding principles’, we read of the need to adhere to ‘national values, goals and ideology’. We will ‘inculcate a culture of compliance with laws and decent behaviour’; ‘promote processes for national and inter-community dialogue in order to build harmony… ’; and ‘inculcate a culture of respect for the sanctity of human life’. Indeed, one of the five flagship projects under the pillar is identified as ‘begin a national programme on attitudinal and value change to inculcate a culture of voluntary compliance with the efficiency norms required by Vision 2030’.
In the section on human resource development I was delighted to see mention of the need for better teamwork among our people. And happily, attention is also given to developing future generations. I note under programmes for youth that we will ‘support initiatives that mould character and appropriate behaviour’, and help them ‘make appropriate choices in life’.
All well and good. But how are we going to go about all this ‘inculcating’? And who’s going to be keeping an eye on the culture strengthening happening across all sectors and levels? Indeed how will we know if and when we have made progress in building healthy values? Who’s the Monitoring and Evaluation fundi in all of this?
Just on that point, reference is made to ‘building a skills inventory’ for Kenya. What about an ‘attitudes inventory’? Unless we have a good enough feel for current attitudes, how can we be on solid ground as we aspire to adopt the ones needed to fulfil our long-term national vision?
Working on attitudes, behaviour, values and culture is a minority sport. Few even recognise the field as one where there’s much that can be done. But those of us who are active in this domain see it as absolutely vital to the wellbeing of any society. If we look at what people like Geoffrey Griffin evolved at Starehe Boys Centre, or what Strathmore has achieved, we can see how powerful values-based cultures can be… and in the present Kenya, not just some Utopian 2030 one.
In such places everyone agrees to adhere by a certain code of conduct, knowing it to be for the good of all. It requires the strength and discipline to hold back from being selfish, and this requires leaders who walk the talk and to whom we can look as our role models. It’s about time we started engaging in some urgent national conversations about our national values – and way before the next elections.
If the various commissions set up under the AU-brokered Accords are to make a valuable contribution to the way Kenyans lead their lives, they will stimulate just such conversations. They will need to go far beyond giving people the opportunity to moan about what unfortunate victims they have been made, and how awful all those other people out there are.
Whether among our politicians or our public servants, whether among our businesspeople or our young ones, even among our matatu drivers, we just must start taking this conversation on national values seriously.