By Polycarp Igathe
"Whatever some hypocritical ministers of government may say about it, power is the greatest of all pleasures...." ~ Stendhal, De l'amour ~
Monday 11th February 2013 will forever be etched in my mind as the day that Kenya began her journey to achieving modern democracy: the day when politicians were put on the spot and asked to literally plead their cases before Kenyans.
The Presidential Debate 2013 was a milestone for Kenya. Never before in our history have our politicians (and a relatively unknown Kenyan, Mr. Mohammed Dida, who has since become quite popular), been asked to tell us, on live television, radio and the web, in front of an audience of an estimated 40 million viewers and listeners, why they deserve to be at the helm of this great nation.
Never before have presidential candidates had to audition for their desired post, forced to remain standing for hours as they answered questions sent in by Kenyans from all over the country; Kenyans who hold the candidates' fate in their votes.
In all honesty, I thought that putting them on a podium in front of millions of Kenyans and treating them not like powerful politicians or high-ranking members of Kenyan society but as job applicants, must have been humbling for them. By putting the candidates out there like that, where they had no control over debate proceedings, I as a voter felt powerful. I felt like I was the employer sitting away from view but listening keenly to them share their plans for this country knowing that I had a say in who was employed to work for this country.
Watching the debates I felt a surge of pride at how far Kenya has come since 2007. Back then, with tension at its highest and enmity between politicians barely masked in campaigning advertising, Kenyans were oblivious to just how bad the political situation was soon to become. Nobody could have predicted that Kenyans would one day demand that their aspiring leaders prove to them why they should be entrusted with our country.
In five years a lot has changed: Kenya is evolving and power is steadily shifting back to the people, the rightful owners!
We have become more aware of what is and what isn't acceptable from our politicians. Although we are yet to see anyone be convicted of hate speech, the mere fact that people are being taken to court for irresponsible talk is a sign that our politics is indeed maturing.
Further proof that we have indeed grown as a country is the fact that despite their differences, all presidential candidates have been unequivocal in their support of a peaceful election. We all saw the candidates treat each other with respect, even when disagreeing with their statements. There was none of the veiled insults or condescending comebacks, just respect between fellow presidential candidates.
That debate showed me that there is indeed hope for Kenya, and forced me to reflect on the power of my vote. Too many of us take these votes for granted; we think that since the election ends on March 4th, we can then continue with our lives and not think of elections for another five years. But that's not how it works, because the decisions we make at the ballot box will live with us past the day itself. Our involvement in the election has to go beyond that moment when we each cast our vote.
Take a few minutes to reflect on the power of your vote. The history of the word 'power' dates back to the 1300s and has its roots in the Anglo-French word 'pouair,' meaning control, mastery, lordship, dominion; legal power or authority. French author Stendhal in his book De l'amour wrote: "Whatever some hypocritical ministers of government may say about it, power is the greatest of all pleasures. It seems to me that only love can beat it, and love is a happy illness that can't be picked up as easily as a Ministry."
Stendhal may have been right. Often times no feeling matches that of power. There is something about being able to call the shots that makes man want to hold on to power, and the ruling class has embraced that. That is why you will see people fight to stay in power, losing family, friends and sometimes common sense, to retain that which makes them feel superior to others.
This time round, we as voters must realize that we too hold power. With just a few days to our biggest ever elections, we must realize that we hold the fate of the presidential candidates and all other candidates. That said, on Monday 25th February we have the final debate. Much has been said about the last one, with sentiments varying from whether or not it lived up to its billing or achieved its purpose.
But let's watch next week's debate with this in mind: we hold the fate of this country in our votes. We must prove that we are worthy of having the power to control this country, and the only way we can do that is if we exercise this power to vote responsibly, wisely, and above all, with the future of Kenya on our minds.
Mimi ni Mkenya Daima and because I understand how powerful my vote is, I pledge to exercise my power not just to vote, but to vote for candidates whose plan for this country is one that promises realistic development and inspires hope, peace, love and unity.
The writer is a board member at KEPSA, and is a member of the Mkenya Daima Steering Committee.