The e-Mheshimiwa – Leadership in the Digital Era

Africa is beleaguered by poor leadership. That’s a painful fact that we have to live with day in day out. The way out of this misfortune still remains a far cry despite numerous efforts on the part of many. Often times the question lingers in my mind, “What’s the way out?”.

Yesterday I met a man, a politician, who helped me reshape my perspective of the future of leadership in Africa to a great extent. I would like to acquaint you with Hon. Eng. James G.K Rege, MP.

The Mheshimiwa

Mheshimiwa is the MP for Karachuonyo, and notably the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Energy, Information and Communications. This is the man who is working to turn the much anticipated Freedom of Information Bill into law in Kenya. We have him and his team to thank for the Live coverage of parliamentary sessions, where we also get to see the Waheshimiwas who just warm their bottoms in Parliament at 10,000 bob per sitting and do nothing else except dozing off. At the World e-Parliament conference in Washington DC last year, he was the chair of a session on ‘The use of new social media and other Internet communication tools in the parliamentary environment: lessons learned’.

The Engineer

Eng. Rege isn’t a stranger to the world of digital communication. He has over 20 years of working experience in Telecommunications with highlights of his career being his stints as the founding Managing Director of Vodacom Tanzania Ltd and as the Business Development Director of Vodacom International. In his simple seemingly reserved manner, he pointed out that he doesn’t think Telcos are about price. This was in light of the current price war among the mobile providers. No, the Telco industry is about perception!

The Business Executive

How? I wondered. E.g Rege launched Vodacom in Tanzania as the 5th Mobile provider. At the time, it had the most expensive tariffs among all the providers. Despite this presumably dampening fact, within 8 months, Vodacom Tanzania moved from No.5 ranked provider to No. 1. How? Perception! Engineer would go into a bar at night, find a patron at the counter enjoying his drink and tell him he would like to buy another round for him. But before that, he would check the poor guy’s phone to see what provider he was with. If it was Vodacom, well, Waiter! If not, “Sorry bro, I only buy drinks for Vodacom subscribers”. This small gesture was a just a wee bit of the greater marketing campaign that is team ran, riding on perceptions that turned Vodacom from the new guy in town to the “network you should be on”.

The e-Mheshimiwa
Eng. Rege has a strong belief in the freedom and accessibility of information as well as e-Governance. He is often criticized by his ‘political detractors’ for being too out of touch with the people of Karachuonyo. He however has his style, which struck me as the way forward in Governance, probably due to my bias towards digital technology.

  • E-Mheshimiwa does not see why he has to travel for 6 hours just to attend a 30 minute baraza with the local leaders in Karachuonyo. He is the first MP in Kenya to interact with his constituents through video conferencing, from the comfort of his office. If he needs to contribute any money to a local project, well, M-PESA suffices!
  • E-Mheshimiwa does not see why there is a standing order in Parliament barring members from going in with electronic devices. He is the first MP in Kenya to own an IPad. His presentations, his notes, his books are all in that gadget that he caries around everywhere he goes.
  • E-Mheshimiwa knows the employment opportunities available on the internet. He has set up 6 Community Knowledge Centers in partnership with Cisco, where local youth are trained on basic computer skills which they then use to do jobs online such as data entry and document digitization.
  • E-Mheshimiwa has a lot of friends all around the world. In his recent trips abroad, he has managed to get people who were kind enough to provide 400 laptops which will be distributed to schools in Karachuonyo to be used in computer training.
  • E-Mheshimiwa brought to our attention the fact that Kenya has the cheapest email access costs in Africa, as low as $25 per house per month, compared to countries such as South Africa where email costs an average of at least $54 per house per month. With channels such as email and social media in place, e-Mheshimiwa hopes he will have a better way to attend to his constituents other than the up to 200 or so voice calls he has to deal with per day.

My new Perspective
Not all leaders will be as Tech savvy as Hon. Eng. Rege. Heck, not all leaders will be as educated (thankfully the new Kenyan constitution has a minimum education limit of a University degree for MPs so this isn’t a problem anymore). But ALL leaders MUST have a deep passion for something, anything that they feel would add value to their people, and spend their terms in parliament trying to achieve it. Think President Kibaki and roads, Hon. Michuki and ‘Matatus’, the late Hon. Karisa Maitha and local government etc. If you can’t identify that one aspect of development that your leader is so passionate about, you have cause for worry.

7 Responses to “The e-Mheshimiwa – Leadership in the Digital Era”

  1. 1 mmnjug November 18, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Truth be told, at this age and time, you keep away from social-media at your own risk. With the youth constituting the largest part of the population and being the largest consumers/users of internet, as a leader, keeping away from them is a suicidal mission.

    Watch 2012, the use of social media will be a game-changer, even if to a small factor.

  2. 3 mackel9 November 21, 2010 at 9:48 am

    Me too, 2012 will sure see an overhaul in our governance I hope the thirst for better leaders is growing in each of us…

  3. 4 Mohamed Gharib November 25, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    Superb Article!!!

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