Thursday, April 18, 2024
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The views of President William Rutu of kenya on Nepotism contrasted with those of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of Somalia

Dr Aweys Omar Mohamoud

This article looks at the ‘ethics and authenticity in leadership’, especially as these relate to the issue of nepotism, of Presidents William Rutu & Hassan Sh. Mohamud based upon statements captured on video that were recently made by both leaders on this subject.

President Ruto and President Hassan, Nairobi

Nepotism can be defined in terms of both observed phenomena and potential underlying social and psychological processes. Here are a few definitions adapted from the Oxford English Dictionary (2011) “the showing of special favour or unfair preference to a relative in conferring a position, job, or privilege; unfair favouritism shown to friends, protégés, or others within a leader’s sphere of influence; or the exploitation for one’s personal advantage of one’s influential status.” The latter appears to be the common use of the term in anti-nepotism policies.

Nepotism and Corruption go hand in hand. Corruption is the abuse of public office for private gain or personal benefit (even if no bribery occurs) through patronage and nepotism. Nepotism is a form of favouritism based on acquaintances and family relationships whereby someone in an official position exploits his or her power and authority to provide a job or favour to a family member or friend, even though he or she may not be qualified or deserving.

Nepotism, real or perceived, conflicts with basic values of egalitarianism and meritocracy – the ideas that people should be treated as equals and that their advancement ought to be based on individual ability or achievement. When citizens witness an act of nepotism by their leaders, they experience a breach of an implicit social and psychological contract that lays at the foundations of equality and equal treatment of people. A display of nepotistic behavior by a leader sends a clear signal that equity as a societal value can potentially be compromised without any reprisal. It sets a dangerous precedent that education, hard work, honesty and intelligent efforts are meaningless and not by themselves good enough to be hired for a position or to get ahead in an organization.

Favouritism shown to relatives or close friends by those with power or influence also creates norms that suggest compromising on quality is tolerable. This could spark a contagion of corrupting influence, where the ill effects of such actions are reflected in decision making processes across institutions. For example, if the top leader is seen exhibiting not only nepotism, but also cronyism (favoritism based on group membership), middle-level leaders could adopt a similar rationale for decisions regarding, for example, hiring, promoting or firing their staff. Because favoritism is seen as an implicitly accepted norm, those who are related to senior decision makers may receive undue preference. This may lead to significant problems and may be an important reason for leadership failure.

Additionally, blatant acts of nepotism by leaders or even the existence of perceptions of nepotism by them among citizens tends to undermine perceptions of fairness which leads to a breach of procedural justice expectations. Procedural justice speaks to the idea of fair processes, and how people’s perception of fairness is strongly impacted by the quality of their experiences with their leaders and institutions as to whether they were treated with dignity and respect; whether they were given voice; whether the decision-maker was neutral and transparent; and whether the decision-maker conveyed trustworthy motives. The practice of nepotism violates these procedural justice expectations and, if experienced on a regular basis, could potentially lead to citizens losing faith in their leaders and, more importantly, in their institutions. 

Evidence also suggests that nepotism, cronyism, and favoritism can potentially result in the formation of a societal culture that is deficient in trust. Trust is a cornerstone of any social relationship and thus integral to the functioning of any society. Trust in each other, in our public institutions and in our leaders are all essential ingredients for social and economic progress, allowing people to cooperate with and express solidarity for one another. Indeed effective leadership is all about building trust based on cooperative relationships with others that emphasize respect and responsibility which, in turn, lead to stronger and more effective institutions in society. On the other hand, low levels of trust combined with the absence of general overall cohesiveness in society as a result of leader nepotism seriously hampers citizens’ and businesses’ trust in public institutions and in each other.

It may be worth recapping the statements of the leaders at this point. In his video clip, President William Rutu had the following to say: “My family are not participating in any politics and I’m not saying that they should not, if they want to. But I have made the conscious decision that it is enough that the people of Kenya have given me the honour to be president. It’s not in my place to use it to promote my family. It’s in my place to promote the children of other people so that they get the same opportunity like the one I’ve gotten. I have a very big argument with some of my competitors who use the office they get … [inaudible].”

Here’s what President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said as part of an answer to a question about why he gave a senior position to his daughter: “But I want to say to the Somali people: ‘the leaders are citizens and you appointed them leaders’; their relatives, their children and their families are also citizens. My daughter, my son, my brother, my nephews and my nieces will still have their rights as citizens and won’t lose them just because I became President. They have a right to attain positions/roles on the basis of their education/skills; that they get engaged in trade and business, if they want to; that they keep going with their lives. So I believe as I said before, and say it again to [government] leaders: just ignore those who say ‘so and so is related to him [the official], and [he/she] is related to so and so…”

Analysis of President W. Rutu’s statement

President William Rutu sounds to be a man with a clear self-perception who recognizes his strengths and limitations. He also seems to understand how his behavior impacts on others. Self-aware leaders are said to resist the temptation to engage in nepotism because they are aware that unfair displays of favoritism based on kinship could potentially have an adverse impact on members of their organization and the broader citizenry, as well as the performance of the institution itself.

President Rutu is also being transparent here in the sense that he’s openly expressing his thoughts and feelings about the subject of nepotism to his people. One can say Mr Rutu is openly sharing critical information and making attempts at creating close bonds that are based on intimacy and trust with his people. 

Having a clear self-perception of yourself and being transparent are both characters of an authentic leadership. Authentic leaders are clear about their feelings and communicate them to their followers. They also engage in transparency because that tends to build trust in their followers which is very critical to good leadership.

Words are important and they help us shape our actions, but they do not equal action itself. Will President Rutu, in practice, be able to put aside personal feelings and biases to avoid nepotism? We humans are inherently flawed and biased as information processors, particularly when it comes to processing self-relevant information. Authentic leaders objectively analyze information to make accurate and balanced self-assessments, as well as social comparisons before making decisions. If the leader engages in this form of analysis, particularly when making appointments or promotions, nepotism is avoided and the best qualified individual stands a good chance of being chosen.

Finally, President Rutu seems to have an internalized moral perspective on nepotism. This suggests that he is guided by internal moral standards and values, and wants to act on them when it comes to family nepotism. But here again because words are not actions: will President Rutu be able to adopt an ethical and transparent decision-making process to avoid nepotism? Will he be able to draw on reserves of moral capacity and efficacy to address ethical issues and achieve authentic and sustained moral actions in combatting nepotism? Will Mr Rutu be able to resist nepotism because it is inconsistent with his own moral standards? Time will tell whether or not President Rutu will live up to his public pronouncements on avoiding family nepotism.

Stay tuned to read an analysis of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s statement and attitude towards nepotism in Part II.

Dr. Aweys Omar Mohamoud
Email: [email protected]


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