Kenya: Presidential Debates - Are They Useful to Undecided Voters?


Mark Twain once said "Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience." With the kind of politics we are witnessing around the world it is difficult to tell who is reasonable. It seems that with time, politicians continue to behave ever more foolishly and it is difficult to decipher who is wise or the fool.

Some countries will conduct elections in coming weeks. It will be interesting to watch polls in Tanzania, Guinea and the US considering their diverse contexts.

I used to look forward to the US presidential debates, and ponder if we would ever get to that level of debate as a country here in Kenya.

After watching the first debate, I am wondering if I should watch the next two. When you watch the country that is "looked up to" when it comes to political freedoms and democracy, hardly being able to hold a debate between the two main candidates, perhaps these debates are growing to be redundant. The big question is, whether these debates are beneficial anymore.

Normally, this is when swing voters can get a glimpse of the candidates' views and decide who they will vote for, depending on the kind of policies they support and certain stances on particular issues.

When Kenya held the presidential debate in 2017, that was also the moment for undecided voters to make their choice.

Raila Odinga had his own interview because Uhuru Kenyatta didn't show up. The 'debate' was like a talk show and he had the time to address the nation on all the main television stations.

As much as we are far from where we need to be when it comes to discussing policies and plans that candidates have for the nation, at least we have the platforms, so many would argue that it is a step in the right direction. But, is that the direction that we need to be taking anyway?

Today, one is able to engage on social media circles and the kind of information they have access to is often related to what they like. Thanks to algorithms, we are in an age that is diverse due to technology but at the same time we carry myopic views on politics depending on your circles. People will believe a blogger before mainstream media, anyone and everyone can be a media house.

These days it is difficult to convince people to switch sides, politics has become so rigid and blind-sided that we are willing to lightly ignore matters that can be considered major issues, just so that our political alignments remain.

There is a saying that is often attributed to American comedian Bill Maher, "It's hard to win an argument with a smart person, but it's damn near impossible to win an argument with a stupid person."

Nerima Wako-Ojiwa, executive director at Siasa Place @NerimaW

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