Capital FM (Nairobi)

8 November 2012

Kenya: It's Time Kenyans Own the Electoral Process

As the euphoria in Kenya calms down following Barack Obama's successful re-election bid, the reality that a hotly contested and volatile election looms in a country that is still recovering from the post-election violence following the 2007 election is starting to sink in.

Many Kenyans living in the United States of America were directly involved in the process and gained firsthand experience on how fair and free elections are conducted, providing them with valuable knowledge that can be adapted for the Kenyan elections.

Businesswoman and entrepreneur Jacinta Mutonga, who has lived in the US since 1993, said; "One of the things that I fell in love with when I started to understand American politics is how much ordinary citizens take ownership of elections and how much politicians run for office purely for patriotic reasons."

"Ordinary citizens tend to take 'ownership' of elections, they'll volunteer their time and make political donations, whether it's a few dollars or hundreds of dollars, because they so believe in their candidate, in their party's ideology and in the 'good of the country'," she explained.

She added that she felt a civic duty not only to contribute monthly but to knock on doors to convince voters why Obama was the best choice for the country and volunteer her time to register voters.

"The ground organisation and micro targeting of the different demographics is something you don't see in many countries," she said.

"In Kenya, we as ordinary citizens do not take ownership of elections. We expect our candidates to dish money to us to buy our vote, as opposed to us contributing money and donating our time for a cause we believe in," she added.

She pointed out that Kenya is still a young democracy and the country doesn't have the kind of infrastructure that it takes to run the very targeted campaigns that you see in the US.

"I'm talking about things like sending out highly personalised emails/texts to voters, micro-targeting voters to address individual interests and using online and offline data to find appropriate targets and generate models to further refine the message," she said.

"Once we get there, I'm pretty confident political campaigns will be able to engage voters in unprecedented ways. First we'll need a new generation of politicians that see politics as a duty to serve their country rather than a get-rich quick kind of opportunity," she added.

College of Charlestown Associate Professor Mutindi Ndunda explained that Kenyans can learn a lot if they could get organized and use social media to educate themselves on what these presidential aspirants stand for.

"I don't know whether Kenyans are ready for the truth. The problem is that, instead of Kenyans (grassroots) financing their leader, they are trying to align themselves with these aspirants hoping to "harvest" something and in such an unbalanced equation, there is no way truth can find its way to the top," she explained.

Social Welfare and Healthcare Reform Advocate Charles Mayaka said that Kenyans should also realise that a time is coming when money will not be able to win elections.

"As Kenya moves forward and communities are continuously integrated, ethnic and tribal difference are getting more and more blurred. That means, just like in the US, the politicians who will continue to be successful will have to be those that appeal to the better sentiments of the Kenyan people, and not their tribal leanings," he said.

"It is also going to be increasingly important to engage with the population to keep them loyal and in touch with policies, just like Obama's organisation did," he added.

Founder and President of the Kenya Scholars and Studies Association (KESSA) Kefa Otiso said that Obama's message connected better with voters and he focused his message on the American middle and lower classes; a strategy which Kenyan politicians must emulate.

KESSA is a scholar association whose main purpose is to increase scholarship on Kenya, which means increasing research on the country while simultaneously decimating information about the country.

"Obama overwhelmingly won the young people. In a country like Kenya where most voters are young, failure to respond to this population would be catastrophic," he said.

"Also, when Romney lost, he conceded graciously and Obama returned the favour as the two pledged to work together for the country's good," he added.

Otiso acknowledged that Kenya is yet to get such leaders because, "our tribal lords would rather spill blood than put the country first."

"Both Obama and Romney respected the process. There were very few incidents of voter irregularities. In contrast, both of Kenya's political kingpins rigged heavily in 2007 and almost destroyed the country," he added.

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