LEADERSHIP IN KENYA: THE LOST DECADE
Thirty-five years after independent, Kenya embarked on an ambitious scheme to reorganize the demographic structure of its productive workforce with dire consequences. One generation after independence, the nation got rid of its (senior) employees and deactivated their participation in the economy. At the time, few people realized the socio-economic impact of slewing off the cream of Kenya productive and most experienced workers would have on the nation's future. In one short decade, the country dismissed its entire leadership potential, talent and competence developed over nearly 30 years and put them out to pasture.
Most of the employees who were retired, retrenched or rendered redundant between 1995-2005 had started work in independent Kenya in their early 20s. They would face the sack 35 years later. By that time however, they had worked hard to develop work, employment and leadership skills to take over jobs held by foreigners in government and private business. This generation carried Kenya through the Kenyanization programs of the 1970's and 80's. Through strategic leadership development training occupied senior positions in government, private enterprise and national leadership. This generation that struggled to give the nation socio-economic feet, and a national global identity would be shunted out of office under the guise of a "golden handshake" to make way for a younger more talented workforce.
Despite the assumed financial "savings" made by retiring senior staff, the cost of the loss of top leadership to an organization may be irreversible especially if it happens entirely and suddenly – as it did in the lost decade. A whole generation of top leadership was evicted in a masterful stroke of economic logic. The cost of that lack of wisdom is painfully evident today. There is a dearth of national leadership competence between 50-75 years old in national life. This has distressing social implications as life expectancy rises dramatically over time. What happened to the lost generation?
RETIREMENT, RETRENCHMENT & REDUNDANCY
The retrenchment programs started as a dribble with multinational corporations drawing first blood by sending home senior employees aged forty over. The thinking may have been that they were becoming too expensive to maintain. The movement grew in steam and status as more local organizations began to believe that their monetary problems could be solved by getting rid of old, high cost, top management. By the time the government felt the pressure to comply with restructuring demands, they produced the famous "golden handshake era to facilitate, fast track and cushion the ejection of the victims from leadership. By the time, the government was done; voluntary retirement schemes and pre-retirement programs had become the vogue in the private sector.
By the time the lost decade was coming to an end, employee sense of job security was at an all-time low as some first time employees experienced retrenchment on their first job, while not a few older employees had been retrenched two or three times. It did not help that major national corporations at the time began their "privatization" and downsizing programs that deprived thousands of employees their jobs and deprived thousand more of potential jobs. The net effect of this period in the economy was to literally throw away the most experienced human capital investment and provide little hope for generation Y employees.
THE LOST GENERATION
Unfortunately, the lost generation were not prepared for retirement. They certainly did not feel old, retired or redundant. Many of the lost generation were retired when their children were still in school. Many still had mortgages to pay. Many had not built homes in the village, nor owned homes in the city. Many had no savings to speak of. Most had no knowledge of enterprise and spent most of the retirement money within a year on meaningless economic activity. Many of the lost generation retreated from the socio-economic mainstream into the village and were sidelined from social leadership issues. Without economic power, many of the lost generation lost their voice, authority and respect in family and social affairs, giving rise to the challenges of generation Y and a new constitution.
Suddenly, all over the country, in every village, returned former employees who made an attempt to start life afresh. Many families received disempowered fathers and mothers, who were suddenly unable to provide for their needs. After the gravy train of the golden handshake ran out, the lost generation began to sell lands and properties to recover their self-esteem only further disenfranchising the next generation. There can be no greater cost to society than a forty year old parent unable to find employment and incapable of enterprise whom society has rendered redundant!
Millions of non-productive shillings were pumped into the economy as former employees tried their hand at enterprise after a quarter century as employees. The event was comically catastrophic as many employees bought matatus, shops, and started building houses they never finished in a desperate bid to salvage their social status and secure their future income. There is very little more costly to an economy than wasted resources that increase the debt burden of the people.
LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT LOSS
By far the greatest cost the country incurs by "early-retirement" programs is the loss of mature national leadership. In the first 25 years of a citizen's life, he (or she) grows up in a family and consumes national resources. In the next 25 years the (working) citizen generates wealth through employment and enterprise to feed his own family. Between 50- 75 years, citizens having completed brining up their families, generate wealth for the nation. In other words, if the employment and enterprise is well managed, the most profitable citizen in a nation is the one who remains productive between 50-75 years of age! Such a citizen produces more value than he consumes. If this citizen keeps busy, he also has the moral authority and economic power to provide and determine social leadership.
LESSONS FROM THE LOST DECADE
First, retirement at 50 makes a complete nonsense of a nation's investment in education. It takes 20 years to educate an employee (or entrepreneur). By the time they have generated enough wealth to cover the cost of their education they are already close to 50 years old. Retiring at 50 is NOT in the public interest neither does it make economic sense.
Second , employees urgently need enterprise skills. Employees generate national wealth, but are also the main consumers of that wealth. The lack of enterprise skills among employees perpetuates poverty as they consume ALL they produce and create no personal wealth at all.
Third, national leadership policy requiring senior citizens to retire even when they have the capacity and competence to generate wealth needs to be revoked and revised to keep senior citizens included and active in the economy and able to engage and facilitate stability in society. If this policy is not reviewed, it will mean that Kenya (as may now be happening) will perpetually be ruled by young leaders with economic sense and professional competence, but completely devoid of the wisdom of elders whose traditional role was to safeguard the welfare of the whole society.
The nation may need to urgently review its leadership development strategy to facilitate transformation. The events of the lost decade may not have been economically sound, but may also lead to a leadership catastrophe the nation may struggle with for many years to come. Today's leadership challenges (in Africa) may be a result of insensitive treatment of leadership development strategy in the recent past. However, one myth the lost decade has helped to explode is that (national) leadership is cheap, easy to make and can be quickly produced by a set of certificates.
Allan Bukusi, 2013