The presidential debate should have shown us who among the presidential candidates knows that after 50 years of roaming in the desert of poverty, Kenyans are now all set to go to the First World or the promised land of development.
Equally, the debate should have shown us who among the presidential candidates are the Joshua and Caleb that will take us to the promised land. Unfortunately none of these happened. Instead, the debate exposed the inertia, ideological and intellectual lethargy of presidential candidates who, instead of showing us the way forward, they exhibited their deep ignorance of not knowing where the nation should be headed after the elections of March 4.
The way the debate was conducted, it did not make voters wiser than before. Worse, the debate was not only not thrilling as it should have been, it was boring to a point where I found myself dozing and wishing it was over.
And though 41 million Kenyans were said to be watching the debate, majority of Kenyans who exclusively speak Kiswahili and vernaculars were excluded from it except through translation. This made me wonder how presidential candidates who spoke Kiswahili to their public rallies decided Kiswahili was not good enough for the debate unless common wananchi who they addressed for votes were not their primary audience, which they were not.
Sincerely this was an indication that our presidential candidates are only half African or African in colour only.
The language of a presidential debate in Africa should be in an African language like Kiswahili just as it should have been in Russian in Russia or in Chinese in China. That presidential candidates could not decide to use Kiswahili in our own presidential debate is proof that they are not fit to be presidents in a Kenya of African masses.
However, problems of the debate did not only emanate from the presidential candidates. It also stemmed from the media moderators of the debate who seemed to have organised the presidential debate to provide a forum to the candidates to market themselves rather than use the debate as a platform to drill the candidates and extract from them either their qualification or disqualification for the high job they are seeking. That the debate failed to achieve this for the people who need to know persons who will be their president well, it was a lost and wasted opportunity.
Particularly annoying was the fact that moderators from the media were not properly equipped with research data on the presidential candidates to be able to ask hard questions that we see other candidates for vetting and spill the blood of ignorance. Instead of cornering and knocking down candidates who have offered themselves to be president because they believe even ignorance is qualification for presidency, they easily let them off the hook by allowing them to avoid questions and get away with it. This ended up frustrating viewers who wanted real answers for questions raised.
That there seemed to be a cat and mouse game played between moderators and candidates sent one message to serious viewers that presidential candidates are hardly agents for change and there will be no change if most of these candidates happen to form the next government.
There was an even worse sin of slighting one of the candidates Mohammed Diba that was committed by Judy Gichuru, one of the moderators. The way Judy sometimes sniggered when referring to Diba made viewers think Judy was of the view that presidency was not for people like him and he was a nuisance at the presidential debate. In this assessment, I hope I am wrong because sniggering at someone because you think they are inferior is a very serious offence.
Other than sins of commission, the debate had many sins of omission.
When the matter of cartels was floated, candidates were not forced to admit what they knew or did not know about them and whether any one of them had anything to do with them. Without researched knowledge of their involvement, there was no need to raise the matter at all.
As to the matter of bad leadership that is the source of all our problems, it was hardly raised. Even integrity was relegated to the side lines and none of all the things we have had raised about particular candidates and integrity was seriously raised.
As for candidates, they all seemed like Zebras of the same colours and stripes. And though Prime Minister Raila Odinga touched on his ideology of social democracy no one raised the fact of the contradiction between his ideology and practice.
As for the others, they espoused exactly the same ideology that has always misguided Kanu and its government since independence and one therefore wondered how they hoped to change things using the same ideology.
Regarding ethnicity, I was saddened to hear it misidentified as tribalism or negative ethnicity while positive ethnicity was completely missed. Tragically, negative ethnicity was denied by all whom we have heard propagate every day. But like cartels, if moderators were so willing to let presidential candidates deny what we all know is the ideology of their politics and parties, why raise the matter at all?
And while matters of education and health were raised and Cuba praised for her success in health matters, I was surprised that no one mentioned the tragedy of having two systems of education and health, one for the poor and the other for the rich, that is the source of all our problems in these two matters.
Finally, it was sad to hear admission made of lavish campaigns without wishing to know who raises money for them, why and how our next president could be owned by some powerful financiers that might demand corrupt deals later.
Kenyans have a right to expect a better Part 2 of the presidential debate.
Koigi wa Wamwere,
Leader of Chama cha Mwananchi
21st February, 2013.