One major element of this failure is the fact that KWS directors have rarely been scientists. Based on the managerialist myth that all organizations are run well if run as businesses, KWS has appointed a succession of directors who put more emphasis on business-style management than on actual environmental science or the sovereignty our nation. And by the Kenyan nation, I mean every living thing here, not just human beings.
Julius Kipng’etich’s career is another case in point.
Julius Kipng’etich became popular when he was the director of Kenya Wildlife Service. He is credited for making KWS profitable by professionalizing the revenue collection of KWS, and making tourism and Kenya’s environmental heritage accessible to regular Kenyans. While at KWS, he became a popular figure and someone we admired. However, his illustrious service came to an end in 2012, when he abruptly resigned. His exit from KWS came a year early, given that his contract had been renewed for three years in 2010. The reason for his resignation was cited as a move “to pursue personal interests.”
Before the end of the year, Equity bank announced that it had appointed Mr. Kipng’etich as its Chief Operations officer. His stint at Equity was fairly colorless, and the media still thought of him more in relation to KWS than in relation to Equity Bank. In 2015, it was announced that he had been appointed to head the troubled Uchumi Supermarkets, which was once again on its knees, and this time with few Kenyans sympathetic to rescue the once public owned chain from its latest bout of theft.
From wildlife, to banking, to supermarkets? Can someone be so good that they can efficiently run three major organizations that are so different in mandate and services? The belief that this is the case, can be attributed to managerialism.
The Managerialist myth
Managerialism is the myth that all institutions can be run well according to business principles. With managerialism, one witnesses the rise in the following:
- appointment of people with finance and management degrees to head institutions whose core mandate is tied to a profession in which the directors have not been trained
- the application of TQM, MBWA, strategic plans and other management principles, which keeps professionals occupied with administrative paperwork
- administrative bloat – aka, increase in the number of people employed to manage and supervise, and the increase in their powers, so that managers increasingly alienate trained professionals from key decisions
- managers who move from organization to organization with varied mandates. These managers are never held to account for their performance in the previous positions, partly because they never stay in one position long enough, and more because of their celebrity status, since the media celebrates their job-hopping as an impressive CV, or in the case of CS Fred Matiang’i, celebrates the managers as Fix-its. But rarely do the media, or sadly, the public, interrogate the quality and long term impact of the decisions made by such managers
Managerialism in KWS
After his hurried resignation and a slightly messy transition, Kipng’etich was succeeded by more managers with no science background, including current director Kitili Mbathi.
The lack of use of science is a very important detail, because it means that managers make decisions based on profit and accounting efficiency, to the exclusion of professional considerations such as the implications on biodiversity and national interest. One glaring example is the case of the KWS-Novozyme partnership, in which KWS gleefully handed over patent and marketing rights of Kenyan micro-organisms to Novozyme, in return for one-off payment for Kenyan researchers in kind, namely in terms of facilities and training. The deal was a rip-off, which KWS belatedly realized. It then took the case to international court, relied on pro-bono American legal representation (anyone from a humanities class would tell you relying on that was walking into a trap). The result was that Kenya was compensated a mere 2.3 million shillings out of millions of dollars made by the company profiting from Kenya’s microbes.
The scandalous disregard for science is captured in Mbaria and Ogada’s observations below:
There are no laboratories of any kind at the KWS, much less those equipped with the materials and capacity to meet these new challenges…there are thousands of research permits and attached proposals lodged at the National Council for Science and technology…and further permits are issued by KWS based on whether a researcher will be handling animals or working in a protected area. All these applications and documents, however, are reviewed, stored and handled by administrative and clerical staff who aren’t capable of assessing their legal and scientific merit or lack thereof. Research permitting is still treated in Kenya as a collection process for petty taxes.
Nobody can be that good
As citizens, we need to be wary about expecting that people who have done spectacularly well in one area can necessarily do the same in a completely different field. We need to be wary about one CS being appointed to information technology, to education, then security, and expecting a spectacular result each time. The Constitutional expectation of Cabinet Secretaries was that they would make professional decisions that considered long-term impact of policies.
Instead, the Jubilee government has given us managerialists whose qualification is how much buzz they create. And when each tenure of the same person is characterized by a literal melt down, be it media going off air or schools burning, we need to question the actual impact of that tenure by asking the professionals in that field to give an assessment. We cannot take the same risks with security that we seem to have accepted with education and information, especially because the code of silence among the security forces means that we will never get a public professional assessment of his tenure.
We also need to have a philosophical and academic interrogation of management training in Kenya. When I was young, I was told that MBA was a second degree for people who had training and work experience in a different profession. My understanding is that ideally, MBA should be for professionals who are rising to management positions within their professions. However, business schools in Kenya have now become cash cows for universities. That means that more Kenyans are doing MBA without any work experience, and many of them whose roots are in banks are being appointed to run professions whose core mandate is social service, rather than profit making.
And as the class of professional managers grows, the corporate sector is becoming less and less patient with professionals in either arts or sciences who can also manage social and research institutions. We therefore see increasing confidence in managers who declare that degrees and professional training are not important or relevant to the market.
In reality, what these managerial clubs are doing is clearing the way for society to erect managers as the solution to all institutional problems, fighting against competition from people trained in the arts and life sciences who can do an equally good job. This managerial insecurity makes sense, especially when one considers that good management requires a good dose of humanism. So of course, managers attack the humanities, are silent about life sciences, and prescribe applied sciences (steel and concrete, aka STEM) as the end all solution to all development problems.
We therefore need to query appointees’ management qualifications, especially for careers in public service which require a strong recognition that the ultimate goal of public service is to serve the people, not to supervise people and make profit. Health CS, Cleopa Mailu, is a case in point. When he was nominated as CS, we queried his capacity to think of the public’s healthcare interests, given that his career in private sector was based on making profit off the desperation for healthcare. The standard rebuttal was that his corporate career made him the perfect candidate. But his tenure has since been characterized by promoting corporate interests in healthcare, and lately, by the poor handling of a public health crisis which should be fairly easy to manage, namely the cholera outbreak. Incidentally, Mailu is on record saying hospital managers do not need to be medics, against medics’ concerns about the same.
But most of all, we need to question the political culture that started with the Kibaki regime, of elevating financial success, “performance” and profit to a literal cult. We will recall, anyway, that even though Kibaki introduced these management fads to the civil service, he gave more leeway to his officers to make considered decisions in their professional capacity. That is very different from appointing fire breathing managers who move from sector to sector just to give the public the impression that “something is being done.”
Kenya is not a business. The fight for the new constitution was a fight to overthrow the governing of Kenya as a market, which started the days we became the property of the British East Africa Company. When we voted for a new constitution in 2010, we affirmed the sovereignty of WE THE PEOPLE. We now need to judge the health of our nation not by how institutions make profit and how the government appoints managers, but by the extent to which our politics and institutions enhance the welfare of we the people, and protect the dignity of the nation.