On The Importance of The Presidential Debate

The stage is set, or so it seems.


Tonight, the candidates get on stage, strut their stuff, talk their sh** and try to get us to buy it. And while I may sound cynical, I think it’s a large stride in the right direction. A necessary change, in many ways.

That said, there is another change, equally necessary, possibly more so, that needs to happen if Presidential debates are to have their full impact. And that change is to the political culture in Kenya.

Most people already know who they’re voting for. Most people knew when the candidates were announced. Some even knew before that. A process like the debates presupposes that people want to vote for the most competent candidate. That’s not the culture that exists among the majority. The majority want to vote for someone they know, trust, even if their knowledge and trust have been betrayed severally. I don’t want to blame tribalism because past a certain point, it’s just voluntary ignorance. Some of it has to do with education or lack thereof. Some has to do with indoctrination and the socialization process we undergo with regards to politics from a young age. Some people, and I’m sure we’ve all heard this, are voting for someone they don’t want to vote for just because their candidate doesn’t stand a fighting chance.

In a land where the masses vote like that, what role does a debate play?

Well, there’s the dark side of things which Rayhab highlighted quite well. Media houses need the money, this is PR that can be bought and I’m almost certain that somebody somewhere has pocketed money from somebody on that podium to make sure someone else on that podium looks foolish. Hint, hint, watch the debate.

But then there’s the positive. An idea is born tonight. The idea of truly having a choice.

We, the Kenyans online, on Facebook, on Twitter on blogs, constitute a minute minority. We are early adopters who know what having a choice means and know that scrutiny is not a capital crime. We allow ourselves to make decisions and pass judgements on candidates based on facts. Because we have access to that school of thought, we have open forums for discussion, social media for exchanges.

We know they see us and we know we can make them squirm. That’s part of the reason this blog exists, actually.

But how many Kenyans think the same way? Don’t most people you talk to say they have “their candidate” or “their person”? We possess one candidate and then remain loyal to him/her without looking at the panorama.

Tonight, 6 of the 8 candidates will be taken back to school (quite literally, seeing as the debate is in Brookhouse) and in a perfect world will feel the heat for two hours.

But in any world, perfect or imperfect, 44 million people get to see that they have a choice. And that may not change anything now, but the idea will be planted. Especially in the youth. And the discussion will be generated. And the debate will happen off air in households and communities and maybe next time, just maybe, we’ll see some difference when voters come out this year. But definitely feel the difference in the next elections. Hopefully not just in who votes, but also in who gets the courage to run.

And that would be a large step in the right direction.

What are your expectations for tonight?

If you’re on Twitter, @Diasporadical will be joining Al Jazeera’s @mmbilal and many others for a Twitter chat on the presidential debate @ 9:15PM. Follow or join the conversation here.

3 thoughts on “On The Importance of The Presidential Debate

  1. A step in the right direction? yes…. Here I go being totally cynical. We are used to being lied to so much its been ingrained in us. Ill just assume the ‘let the dogs bark’ attitude. Gods know a proud kenyan, but that does not encompass politics. So lets all watch a bunch of hapless clowns and judge them. Only thing missing is a red nose. Never mind though! That will materialize the moment one is sworn in. In other totally unrelated events, the outlawed ‘vigilantes’ are regrouping!

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