14 February 2013

Kenya: Lessons From the Presidential Debate


The inaugural Presidential debate that Kenyans witnessed on Monday may have done little in shifting the already set convictions in this Presidential contest, but to me it has posited the right tone in how politicians should treat each other and how they will be held accountable for the statements and their actions in the public forum.

I view the historic event in very different terms. Whereas in the recent rallies around the country each of the candidates has been guilty in referring to each other in unsavory expressions, the mutual civility displayed at the debate, despite the divergence of political viewpoint is commendable.

In fact when the two main contenders referred to each other as the "best of friends" and" brothers" it did not appear as a surprise to me since their actions in public and when not in political contention has always exhibited mutual amiability and respect for one another.

My hope is that this culture of respect for your opponent or competing party extends to the masses who are often polarized at election time.

It is also important to note that despite the differences in party platforms, when asked by the debate moderator, six of the eight aspirants confirmed that they have no children in the public school system, meaning that when the ordinary Kenyan neighbours, who attend the same schools, go the same places of worship, fight and destroy each other they do so on their own.

Politicians are far removed from the consequences of those acts since they live in different neighbourhoods where their children go to the same schools and where they attend places of worship and they do not fight when they disagree.

In fact as seen at the end of the debate, the politicians and their families take time to rejoice in the company of one another without fear or anger after what may have been a heated exchange at times.

To my fellow Kenyans let us see and view politics through the lenses of the leaders who presented to Kenya the image of civility in our public engagements. Let us elevate our discussion of public issues beyond the traditional ethnic schisms.

To the politicians: let us continue to cultivate the same level of optimism and treat each other the way we would like to be treated and not resort to name calling when away from the national view.

The issues facing Kenyans in the area of the economy, security, unemployment, and tribalism provide an excellent barometer to gauge the suitability of any of the candidates when compared with their respective public records.

Apart from Mohamed Dida and Paul Muite, the other six presidential aspirants have been holding public offices in the past five years during which they made many important national decisions.

Some of decisions have impacted the lives of Kenyans in one way or another and it is these decisions that we should interrogate to provide us with a good background of deciding the person most suited to leading the country from the myriad of challenges that it currently faces.

Our tribes will always be our tribes and we had no option in selecting where or to whom we were born because that is the exclusive choice and domain of our creator. However, what we choose to do on March 4 as mature and sane human beings is squarely within our control.

We can afford to make some mistakes in our daily lives and remedy them but a mistake in choosing the right person for the Presidency amounts to mortgaging our own future and that of future generations, so let us take our task of choosing the next president with the seriousness it deserves and devoid of our tribal lenses, because when the voters get it right, Kenya will get it right.

The wounds of 2007/2008 are still fresh as evident by the still languishing IDP's, so let us compete and hold opposed political positions and elect the leaders that we want but also allow for civility and sanity to prevail within our midst.

The election will come to pass, and so will the competition but our lives will have to go on the day after the March 4 elections.

Amin Mwidau comments on topical issues.

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