Sakaja’s apology raises questions on accountability

Friday, July 24th, 2020 00:00 |
Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja. Photo/PD/FILE

Sandra Ochola 

Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja was earlier this week arraigned in court for flouting curfew laws meant to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Media reports indicate he was found inebriated at a local establishment hours past the 9pm deadline when individuals were required to return to or stay in their houses.

His arrest sparked varied reactions , especially after videos were circulated through social media depicting his unsettled demeanor while behind bars.

His troubles were compounded by the fact that he held the arduous position of chairman of the Senate Ad hoc Committee on Covid-19, entrusted to oversee the ongoing measures against corona. 

At a first glance, his arrest indicates the ongoing messages on taking personal responsibility in the fight against the pandemic will not be taken in by all.

Admittedly, the police and the Ministry of Health are having a hard time enforcing existing public health measures as there is always someone going against the rules.

It is also this tone-deaf attitude that is responsible for rising numbers of community infections as not everyone is willing to wash their hands, wear a mask and observe social distancing. 

Senator Sakaja’s mishap is even more muddling given his role in society. As a leader, he is expected to stay true to the vision entrusted to him by his constituents.

By its very nature, leadership demands that those entrusted with power exercise it not for their benefit, but for those they lead.

It demands their leadership inspires and directs the populace towards a common goal.

Yet, his case is not so different from many others, whom we have since witnessed holding similar gatherings in private residents or blatantly using their offices to risk lives and livelihoods. 

Sakaja’s public apology was therefore welcome and his sentiments towards the need to show a good example, hopefully, set the tone for government’s engagement with other public officials.

But therein, lies another gem from which we learn about our socio-political environment and ourselves.

In particular, his apology has been met with awe and wonder, in a manner that suggests public apologies from those in power are an anomaly and thus a spectacle when they eventually happen.

For someone looking from the outside, it paints the picture of a society that runs short on accountability. 

It is even more telling when the public registered their shock at his resignation from the senate committee.

In fact, a few of his colleagues affirmed they are standing with him during this tough time and that he didn’t have to resign from his post for what, in their observation, was a negligible slip from character.  

His penitence may not, however, shock other groups that have and continue to demand for greater accountability from their leadership.

Across the globe, varied public officials have made the same mistakes and taken similar responsibility for their actions.

New Zealand Health Minister Dr. David Clark, for example, offered his public apology and resigned after he was found flouting the stay-at-home directives on two occasions; once when he took his family for a beach trip 23 kilometers away from his home and when he went hiking on another occasion.

Britain’s government scientist Prof. Neil Furgeson resigned from his advisory position after it was revealed he broke social distancing rules when he allowed his lover to visit him at his home during the lockdown.

While tendering his resignation he apologised for his ‘error of judgment’, stating that he was acting on the belief that he was immune, having self-isolated for many days after showing symptoms of coronavirus infection. 

Scotland’s chief medical officer Dr. Calderwood was also found guilty of flouting her own lockdown rules when she visited her second home during the period triggering public ire and occasioning her public apology and subsequent resignation. 

There are mindsets and actions that must be normalised amongst us. Leaders are human, with their unique personalities and challenges.

They will make mistakes, but it is how they make up for those mistakes that will determine the level of confidence that we have in our governments’ messaging and initiatives. — The writer is an Advocate of the High Court — [email protected]

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