The idea of major political contenders, or at least leaders, appearing before the public, on a single platform, to pitch to the public why each of them is the best to lead a country, is not African. This whole concept is from the west. And as usual, it’s taking a bit longer for Africans to adapt to or take seriously an activity that potentially exposes who we are and tears off the mask to reveal our true nature.
It would not be surprising, therefore, to appreciate that one Presidential candidate or another would pull out of any debates as our leaders are not really accustomed to environments that would reveal the soft vulnerable underbelly of our leaders and cause more harm than good. Unless the situation is really dire and worth personal sacrifice to restore order.
I’m not saying the Kenyan situation is not dire and deserves a discussion. As matter of fact, it is. But at the position where we are now, it’s better to look at the pros of pursuing something instead of just doing it for the sake of proving a point while the opposing negative influence could result and destroy any gains already made, for the individual leader, his team and for the public.
The one country considered to be the most mature democracy in the world, the United States of America, is used to this culture of bringing leaders to public forums and holding them accountable for their actions, previous and present, from which the public can make a choice of the potential future they want to have.
But with this culture something ugly comes to the fore. That’s the attitude of disdain, and disrespect among those contending for positions of power, much to the point that the youth, being constantly exposed to this tense environment, slowly adapt to senseless violence and resort to shouting matches instead of maintaining respect for those they hold contrary opinions to or see as competitors or potential enemies.
Resolving Political Conflicts, the African, Kenyan way
Where I come from, and I bet most of us, old parents are not used to shouting matches in front of the youth (children). From the experience I’ve had growing up in Africa and appreciating my culture, Elder Village men come together to resolve matters with peace, without shouting matches. Africans find wisdom in old people quietly resolving disputes, not conducting shouting matches over the media airwaves. So generally, the idea of a Public Policy debate that has the potential to create an environment for disrespect does not really ogre well with the African culture. We are not brought up that way. The Presidential Debate is therefore just another form of conceptual west-based imperialist thinking.
The Debate for Example, between former President Donald Trump and Mrs. Hillary Clinton in 2016, and then the subsequent one with Joe Biden in 2020, revealed and enhanced sharp divisions in the American society that have since been exploited by American perceived hegemonic enemies, chief among them, perceivably, Russia, led of course by Vladimir Putin and led to one of the most violent elections the United States has ever had in 2020. The cultural divisions in the United States only continue to entrench from there with no signs of hope or national healing.
With this thinking, it would only be prudent that team Azimio considers the emotional state of the country and not entrench a tense state as we need a peaceful, free, and fair election. Coupled with this concern, here are other reasons why Right Hon. Raila Amolo Odinga would rather prefer a peaceful town hall in Jericho than the Presidential Debate 2022. A potentially nonprofitable, respect-losing, and emotionally tense shouting match at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa.
Kenya, a Budding Democracy,
The Kenyan media, which has on several occasions been called out for its biasness in almost every election cycle, adopted this idea first in the 2007 general election. 2002 was very tense. We were trying to get rid of KANU and therefore didn’t really care who would be President so long as Moi, and any political projects he had, were gone.
Since then, we have not matured as a democracy to the point where Juniors can hold Elder Statemen accountable for whatever they do in leadership. We may get there someday, but with a constant effort to ingrain such in our culture since it’s not the way the African society is built. We respect and fear our Elders to the point where questions of accountability become a risk. One day we will learn to do this well and have Elder Statemen that can respond accountably, with love, explaining the reasons for their decisions. Until then, the struggle is on.
The Previously Set Precedent / Trend
2007 saw the reignition of the whole idea that going forward, maybe we should question those who want power and hold them accountable. But by 2007, President Kibaki, being very old and not able to present himself before his juniors, and not being able to speak quickly and with eloquence as a result of the accident he suffered in 2002, saw the potential for embarrassment and loss of respect as an Elder Statesman and boycotted the Presidential debate, leaving the whole organization process in limbo.
2013 saw the holding of a very mature Presidential debate, but as usual, under a tense environment with the political crimes of 2007 and perceived ethnic differences between Kenyan constituent lingual nations still lingering. The debate succeeded for one particular reason, all the leading politicians vying for Presidency saw themselves as peers who had fought for democracy for so long and therefore needed to show they were ready to embrace what they had fought for. They didn’t lose respect for each other because they saw themselves as peers. None of them saw themselves as Elder Statesmen with the potential to lose respect from the rest of them and from the ordinary Kenyans. They therefore all felt comfortable.
2017 would bring in another test, with Uhuru seeing himself as Elder Statesman, he would let Raila have his moment in the sun as holding the incumbent accountable is something that the African society and culture has yet to freely and fully embrace.
Come 2022, with Hon. Odinga being old, aged 77, seeing himself as the Elder Stateman and having reached the point where he doesn’t have to continue proving himself to anyone, the Azimio team sees no need for their captain to go have immature shouting matches with a political candidate almost two and a half decades his junior.
Articulation ability, facts, mutual respect, decorum, preventing provocation and agitation
The Presidential debate is usually intended to bring the attention of the entire nation to the TV screen to watch, hear and analyze everything leaders say and then privately make a decision on who to vote for. This activity is supposed to be the ultimate needle mover for any busy, career-focused, economic middle-class undecided voter, to latch them to one bandwagon and safety net or to the other.
But instead, leadership debates have turned out to be places where personal vulnerabilities are discussed and personal matches are encouraged in the name of leaders holding each other accountable. They’ve become places for various media houses to victimize leaders they don’t like and make a feeble attempt at painting a good picture of the candidates they support, subtly, of course, not to be noticed by the hawkeyed public.
Debates are usually a culmination of a tense campaign period, with political leaders calling each other names and concocting slogans and catchphrases, glorifying ones for themselves and demeaning ones for their opponents. To be, therefore, in such an emotional state, then come before the public, pretending to be calm next to your opponent, who you visually disrespect, for the moment, and be able to articulate points carefully for the nation to hear, is a very hard task. And not especially if the opponent, in your eyes, is very hungry for power, willing to do anything, even lie and kill, to attain it.
The much energy spent on the campaign trail, the many speeches given, the many roads traveled, and the many personal scheduling sacrifices made, usually have a major physical and psychological effect on the candidates preparing themselves for leadership debates. Right Hon. Raila Amolo Odinga, while of course, is still articulate, but having spent much time on the road, is 77 years old.
With this age comes the need to be calm most of the time, to take much time to articulate issues in a calm manner without having to compete for speaking space with an opponent 23 years younger, and with mental energy able to spit facts quickly. Now whether those facts, figures, and promises, are lies or truth, is another subject altogether.
It’s probably good to remind the reader that advanced age doesn’t mean weakness in thought processes or the inability to lead or govern. Advanced age simply means that the individual requires much more time to articulate issues well and come to a proper, and stable conclusion. Which is much better than a rushed thought process that ends up giving wrong facts to the public.
In light of this, it’s a better option for Azimio to have the peaceful, emotionally, and psychologically calming Jericho Townhall than an intense shouting match and verbal competition at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa.
Same Platform Inclusion
This concern is specifically for the other candidates. This election has brought Prof. George Luchiri Wajackoyah and Reverend Wahiga Mwaure on board as Presidential candidates. Why media houses choose to classify debates based on the perceived notion of popularity is still puzzling to many as advanced democracies like the United Kingdom and the United States of America, whose models we tend to copy, don’t go down such a dangerous path. As a result of this, Professor Wajackoyah threatened to pull out of the debate due to the biasness of our local media houses.
The pulling out of Hon. Raila Amolo Odinga from the debate and opting for a town hall gives a chance for Professor Wajackoyah to debate Dr. William Samoei Ruto. This is a fairer comparison as both are not so advanced in age, are highly educated, articulate, can equally compete for verbal space, and don’t need the perception of loss of respect for an Elder Statesman. This is the verbal exchange that most of us would like to see. As they both share the “hustler” platform of radically transforming the Kenyan economy to empower the suffering common man and woman. They can therefore spend their energy well to argue their facts before the public. This is a shouting match I would really like to see. I bet most of us would like to see it as well.