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Wrongs that need to be cured in the governance of Rotary

by kenya-tribune

By Yusuf K. Dawood

Now the final crunch… Having eulogised Rotary in my previous three columns, I want to make some critical comments. I realise that in doing so, I am walking on sacred ground and might also tread on some sensitive toes.

I say that because I wrote an article on similar lines, which appeared in the Sunday Nation of February 3, 2013 under the rhetoric title ‘Whither Rotary?’. It went viral and drew favourable comments from past district governors worldwide, including a reply from incoming RI President. However, the Rotarian, official magazine of Rotary, to which every Rotarian has to subscribe, refused to publish it. This proves that Rotarian is the voice of Rotary, not Rotarians.

Considering that all Rotarians have to subscribe to it and the annual subscription is deducted with RI dues, it owes its survival to forcible collection of subscription. It also shows the cowardly arrogance of the editorial staff that the editor-in-chief never appeared in the correspondence and the ruling was made by an anonymous sub-editor.

Before I comment, however, I wish to make two important stipulations. First, I am a great supporter and admirer of Rotary and what it does. In fact, ‘Whither Rotary?’ article’s heading read:  ‘A frank analysis by an insider, staunch supporter and well-wisher’.

I have been a Rotarian since 1967 and my wife joined Inner Wheel, the Ladies’ wing of Rotary at the same time. Marie and I are the first two members of Arch Klumph Society members from Africa. Members of my immediate and extended family are fully paid Paul Harris Fellows.

When I was the governor of district 920, comprising eight countries, we were out of Nairobi for six months in that Rotary year at an enormous cost to my private practice and teaching work. In 2005, I was presented ‘service above self’ award, highest honour which RI can bestow. Therefore my bona-fides are above board.


Second, it is not a matter of sour grapes either. I have been a training leader for successive years and a ‘ripper’, personal representative of the RI President at various district conferences.

Finally, I have held the position of RRFC (Regional Rotary Foundation Coordinator) for three years and organised Institutes and presidential Africa conferences. I have no desire to hold any more positions in Rotary and have no axe to grind. My only purpose in making these comments is to point out the wrongs in the governance of Rotary as I see them and strive to improve an organisation that I cherish. With this long prelude, I will  focus on what needs putting right.

Nominating committee: Currently, the RI president, RI directors and in some cases district governors are selected by a nominating committee. Having sat on a few, I am convinced that it is undemocratic, and subject to rigging. Despite the ban on canvassing, it goes on at a massive scale, resulting in selection of the wrong candidate. I realise that in view of our international spread, one-man one-vote might prove chaotic and cumbersome, but a better system must be devised to make it fair, democratic and transparent.

Not long ago, the nominating committee to select RI president was rigged and a fresh committee had to be set up. It nominated Wilf Wilkinson as RI president. I also sat on a nominating committee in Kampala, where all the members were biased in favour of one candidate seeking the district governor’s post.

(2) Unfettered powers of the president: Currently in theory, the RI president selects trustees, rippers, training leaders, Rotary and Rotary Foundation coordinators. In practice, it is anybody’s guess! His aide, cronies and RI staff have been accused of making these appointments. This is in conflict with our four-Way Test. It must be so because I see successive presidents are gradually chipping away at it. I hope it will soon be abolished and replaced by an equitable method, thus I object to various issues in Rotary, some of which are as follows:

(3) Staff at Evanston: The one-year term of the president, desirable as it is, leaves the continuity and executive power with the paid staff at Evanston. It is time that a better form of corporate governance is introduced.

(4)Honorarium for the RI president:

I might be accused of being a whistle–blower for disclosing this proviso printed in small print in some obscure corner of an unknown RI document, but I have to mention it because the provision of paying the president an honorarium during his year in office and in his incoming year makes a mockery of our core value of being a voluntary organisation.

It should be scrapped forthwith to restore our credibility and respect in the public eye. The president travels with his wife, first class, receives royal treatment accorded by Rotarians, who are informed in advance about his likes and dislikes in drinks and food and his fads in other respects. This is in contrast to many district governors and other Rotarians who serve Rotary with more dedication and diligence entirely on a voluntary basis without a demur, and sometimes find themselves out of pocket! The fact that this proviso is written in small print might be because the recipient is embarrassed. But the cynics suspect that it is tucked away to keep it secret. In any case, the practice should be abolished. The sooner the better.

(5) Finally, Rotary’s emphasis on quantity without any consideration of quality. The rot started when RI noticed Rotary membership going down and its revenue shrinking. It changed entry to the Rotary Club ‘by Application’ rather than ‘by Invitation’, as it has been since Rotary was founded.

We in Africa, where it was dominated by expatriates in colonial era, have tried to indigenise after we attained independence. But in the process, we got mixed up with this unholy rush to increase membership and open new Clubs. We must not mix up the two issues.

There is still a need to assess the suitability of the candidate, orientate the person to the ideals of Rotary and then admit him or her into the hallowed precincts of Rotary. In the words of an RI past president, we must stop asking for more members and funds.

If these reforms are implemented, the second century will be more glorious than the first.

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