The Star (Nairobi)

12 January 2013

Kenya: Campaigns Must Be Centered On Issues

opinion

A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus - Martin Luther King Jr

With less than six weeks, President Barrack Obama seemed inevitable in the final stretch of the 2012 US election against, Mitt Romney, an opponent who seemed more prone to tripping and shooting himself in the foot.

That was until the first televised national debate on October 3, 2012 when Obama slipped and fell flat on his face allowing Romney to wipe away his lead in the polls in all but one of the 10 battleground states.

President Obama quickly learnt the art of recovery and gave Romney a shellacking in the next two debates. Add super storm Sandy and respectable employment numbers to the mix and the rest is history.

In the last four weeks of the US elections, I watched, as the Presidential contest became a slug-fest of ideas versus personality attacks. It was a battle between competing ideas about Obama's performance in the last four years versus Romney's vision about where he wanted to take the country in the next four years.

In Kenya, with less than three months to the March 4 elections ceteris paribus (assuming all factors remain constant) and the date election holds, we are trapped in a vortex of absurd alliance debates, crippling fissures and astonishing acrobatics from the political class.

Ostensibly, alliances have become the catechism of a new political order where coalitions are merely vehicles to attain power. Period. Leaders long held as the paragons of our democratic process are nothing more than shrewd power hungry actors holding voters hostage to their whims not ideas.

The media has fed the public with a daily diet of kerfuffle encompassing who has joined which alliance, who is likely to defect, which hyperventilating alliance will hold and the boardroom intrigues within this coalitions that assume Kenyan voters are like sheep waiting to be herded in a certain direction while under the spell of apathetic politicians.

As is often the case, not one single coalition has spent time talking about rising insecurity in the country, the seeming unstoppable grenade attacks, growing unemployment, shocking levels of corruption in all spheres of Kenyan life, the need to maintain and expand infrastructural growth and a dire need to embrace vision 2030 in its entirety.

At the last count, Jubilee coalition was tottering with revelations of a secret deal between Uhuru Kenyatta and Musalia Mudavadi, while the Cord coalition seemed to have a boardroom deal that would avoid the acrimony engulfing Jubilee but diminishes the essence of a democratic process.

The drive towards coalitions is inspired by nothing more than getting the numbers needed to win outright and avoid a run off. In truth, ethnic alliances are nothing more than acts of low voltage imagination.

Don't be fooled that Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka would be ecstatic to play a round of golf together and perhaps have lunch on a weekly basis. Their parting in acrimonious circumstances in the run up to the last elections with Kalonzo leaving with the original Chungwa certificate is still fresh in the minds of Kenyans.

You would think in the last few months we would be inundated with Presidential debates with candidates vehemently addressing the real issues that bite with wananchi; growing poverty, roads, corruption, water, healthcare and so on; issues that should form the lattices of our electoral process.

Which brings us to the main challenge we face as a nation; we need to veer our election process to compel the various actors address concrete issues. In a country plagued by corruption, rising ethnic tension and violence -which has become a function of every election cycle - we are in dire need to find a formulae that makes elections about issues not personalities or alliances.

Elections come and go but Kenya remains. What is important is to mold the system and make it about competing ideas about how to move this country forward. I would like to see a debate in which candidates extol plans to take vision 2030 to the next level, deal with corruption at all levels (and openly talk about it) and provide a concrete vision about where he or she want to take this country.

Fringe candidates like Peter Kenneth, Raphael Tuju, Martha Karua and James ole Kiyapi have attempted to rise above the din and speak up on real issues that would make the debate more issue oriented. Unfortunately the media gives more prominence to coalitions and candidates who are brands but who offer nothing more than generic rhetoric, empty promises and glossy manifestos.

But what's worse, as a nation we are fixated on candidates who either represent ethnic loyalty or political class. Voters are torn between choosing a candidate who is more likely to win as opposed to what they represent or believe in. We need to expose and diminish the era of boardroom elections. If anything, voters should surprise the candidates and their frugal alliances on election date.

Kenyan voters deserve better. And they frantically need a reprieve from politicians who treat elections like a sport that prizes ethnic calculations over principles, political doctrine and national interest.

Machua Koinange is a film Producer, Director, Screenwriter and a Communications Specialist.

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