For the first time in history, Kenya’s presidential candidates were set together on the same stage to discuss and defend their bids to be elected fourth president of our country. 44 million people watched the $1 million inaugural debate from around the world. Even my evening class managed to convince our lecturer to let us watch the live stream from one of the studios at school. Everybody got their tweeters out, and #KEDebate13 became the top trending topic. You would really have had to have just landed from Mars not to have heard all about it by now.
Whilst most of us expected the Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, and his deputy, Uhuru Kenyatta, to lead the debate, the underdogs were surprisingly more eloquent and / or entertaining. Most people also said the debate didn’t sway their vote, but I found a few of my affirmations changing towards the end. Like the chairman of the debate steering committee said during the warm-up commentary session, it was a chance for us to see beyond their campaign rhetoric; “we see soundbites, we see them waving at crowds, we see them dancing, but today they have to talk”. And this is why it particularly benefited the politically undecided or decidedly apolitical.
It might be over-simplistic to state that votes can be swayed from a single debate. But it bodes the question, how well can you really, really know any of these people? [spoiler alert: “Dida” rant] They almost always say one thing on TV, and do another, again on TV. They have all practically been around for as long as I can remember, and things have become increasingly worse as they got more powerful and their pointy fingers got longer. They just don’t seem able to work as well as they would claim to when they’re in the back seat. But alas, they would do much better in the driver’s seat. And now that it’s time for us to choose, we are bombarded by promises, promises. In the midst of all this, the middle class, cursed with self-sufficiency and false security, are aloof to the extent that they might actually fail to show up at the polls on D-day.
So I had decided that I would vote, primarily to assuage my conscience, for a fresh and promising face. This, according to wiser voters out there (which happens to be just about everybody) is risky business, or wastage of a vote. They say that the right strategy is to chose one of the two leading candidates that you dislike less. I had almost conceded to this single-minded approach, all the while knowing I would simply end up choosing between tribal camps.
In comes the debate, and everybody gets a chance to look and say their best, in front of the whole world. I can’t say anyone said anything new, apart from perhaps the most discussed candidate, Abduba Dida, for the simple reason that he went a little bit crazy with the punchlines, and his political party, as @JMOxQ put it, is younger than “Kim Kadarshian’s unborn baby”. When a candidate was “economical with the truth”, we even made light of it.
I had always joked that Martha should try and soften her ‘iron lady’ image by kissing a few babies every now and again, and lo and behold, she was shown carrying her grandchild at the end of the event. She was also more feminine than I’ve ever seen her, in the best possible way, and not only because she was the only female candidate out of all eight. She has made Kenyan women proud. With less than 3 weeks to go, I’m certainly done looking for fresh handsome men to save the day whilst hoping I won’t have to change my tribal statement of a name into something more neutral for future personal security.
Another thing, there was a change of tone on the twittersphere after the second round of the debate began. The candidates started “politicking” instead of debating, and the moderator got the blame for being boring, but the bottom line is, all the hype was never about the politics in the first place. It was about alternative ways of sending the political message; including entertaining and, at the very least, civilized approaches. As a strong believer that sometimes it’s the littlest things that make a difference, I feel better informed to follow my instincts instead of jumping blindly on the bandwagon.