Participating elders reported facilitating accountability for executive misuse of power through direct confrontation, escalating their complaint to a higher office, and through taking the case to the public. Elders seem to be key to facilitating accountability, because individuals cannot perform such a confrontational role in a collectivist society—they are too small and too low in the hierarchy. But elders are respected enough and have the network through which to leverage the system. They can even join together temporarily from several clans and form elder-led committees to address higher levels of government.
Limitations of Elder Leadership
One prevalent theme of limitation on elders’ authority was the declining level of respect elders received from the younger generation. Less than two-thirds of the youth in the focus group even knew who their clan head was. Only one out of three had consulted any of their clan elders for advice, and almost two-thirds reported voting differently from how their elders had advised the clan to vote. On the positive side, the youth maintained an idyllic view of elders in general as wise and benevolent leaders. One student related a proverb that said: “An elder sees in darkness.Nevertheless, politicians were acutely aware of the tendencies of the younger generation and predict a continual decline into irrelevance for elders. A highly ranked government official responded to questions on the subject.
I: Do you see anywhere that elders are coming in on a national level? I know locally most of them may be poor.
P: No, no, no. Elders have lost out.
I: They have lost out?
P: That’s a fact. Because the Parliament, the dominant group, is that group I’m talking of [younger generation]. Yes. Because they [elders] are compromised by poverty. And really therefore they can’t come up. I mean ... unless you have resources, you don’t think of coming up. No, it’s a lost group. That is the people who are immediately older than me. They are a losing group. (Halasi, age 69)
Elders participating in the study did not reject that analysis of their position.
These days politicians are too stubborn. At first, politicians were so comparative. They called meetings and got the elders’ views. But today it is different. They no longer call elders’ meetings. They disregard and despise elders. Ifyou asked them about elders, they will say, “Those things are gone—they are the past.” Even if you try to advise, they will not listen,. (Wamalwa, age 82)
Other serious limitations on elder influence emerged from participants, including perception of an increasing culture of independence that undermines the collective basis of elder authority, elders’ loss of their financial leverage over the young because of shrinking land allotments, and lack of financial resources for funding the elders’ voice—a lack that sometimes extended to elders being unable to support themselves. These limitations and their impact on how well elders are able to facilitate balance of power are difficult to quantify, but they seemed serious and, in the eyes of some participants, fatal to the concept of elder leadership.