Kenyans knew that Robert William Collymore was ailing. But it was still a great surprise when the curtains came down on the doyen of Safaricom’s success. You could hear the gasp for air when people heard that the Guyanese born British businessman who came, found love and made Kenya his home was no more.
The real show of sorrow was not so much for Safaricom. The giant Kenyan enterprise can always get another leader and move up or go down. How Collymore’s successor will fit in and perform is best left to history.
Collymore was simply different. The sense of loss that many Kenyans felt was rather for the man.
Collymore was unlike many captains of industry. He declared his wealth when he did not have to and when many leaders were going to court to block the same. Indeed, he was unlike many leaders in Kenya, even in the world. Yesterday, Donald Trump ordered a military parade to mark the July 4 independence celebrations in Washington.
Apparently, Trump visited Emmanuel Macron in France during their Bastille Day and was overwhelmed by the show of might of the French soldiers saluting their leader. So he ordered one of his own.
There is no shortage of Kenyan leaders for who the show of opulence and importance is the order of the day. They ride on the wrong side of the road, they cut the line, you would never catch them mixing with the hoi polloi.
Collymore seemed to really fit in. His interaction with the hoi polloi did not seem to be staged but appeared to be truly from the heart. His desire to touch many, and he did, seemed drawn from deep conviction.
In death, Collymore reminds us of the dearth of authentic leadership. We seem to have lost the sense of authentic care, genuine concern and programmes that have the people in the centre of it all. The story of our politicians is now a tired one. Their first agenda after the election has been the same: improve their perks.
For most leaders, it is always about themselves. Even in that hallowed ground where you would expect the best — the Church; it is hard to sense a concern with values and high morals. In the fight against corruption probably the one group most indifferent to it all is the Church.
And it is not difficult to find the reason why. Much of that money finds its way to Church. The open top of the giving to the Church by the politicians hardly finds its way to the congregation.
For long the academy was known to be the seat of selflessness. The founders of the discipline of critical discourse in Greece and elsewhere prided themselves in their obsession with higher values of intellectual engagement.
Today, in Kenya, scholars with pretence to these ideas of the scholarship will be laughed out of town. Academics fight nasty battles for access to the till so that they can have their hands in the cookie jar. Not too long ago a top scholar was barred from taking over the leadership of a University simply because he came from the wrong tribe.
It is this default to the base instinct that Kenya is famous for that Bob Collymore seemed to eschew teaching us a few lessons that the high ground can still be achieved. The problem is not with our environment because he thrived in this same environment.
It seems the problem is our DNA. Collymore leaves behind a rich legacy in leadership. One would wish that we could learn. — The writer is the Dean, School of Communication, Daystar University.