The Media Council of Kenya has decided to go the American way, just like we used the US constitution as a blueprint for ours to copy paste the idea of having presidential aspirants debate and intellectually engage each other on live television. This must be a joke that has been taken too far. I remember in 2007 when Kalonzo brought up the topic, he was told off by the first lady Mrs. Lucy Kibaki who instead wanted to debate Raila, Kalonzo, Nazlin, Ngethe, Muiru and the rest on behalf of the president because in her words, the president was very busy working for Kenyans to engage in useless domo, domo, domo (I should add kaya to the domo). We should not expect fireworks if the declared aspirants are the only ones who will debate. This is because at this juncture, irrespective of your abilities and limitations, you are on your own; you either fight or take a flight off the stage.
The apparent mooting and modus operandi of this whole thing smacks of incredulity unless of course they want to host a clowning and comedy talent search in the name of debate. How else would one explain the congregation of the characters’ likes of Prof. James ole Kiyapi, Raila Odinga, Eugene Wamalwa, Bifwoli Wakoli, Cyrus Jirongo, Kalonzo Musyoka, Martha Karua, Mutava Musyimi, William Ruto, Uhuru Kenyatta, Mama Charity Ngilu, Musalia Mudavadi, and Moses Wetangula on one stage? Is it a circus? It would be an injustice if we left out Eric Omondi, Daniel Ndambuki and Maina wa Kageni to complete the cast and spice up the show. Even the political dinosaur and colossus of the Maasai politics, the relic Ole Ntimama would give most of these aspirants a run for their money in debate.
Most of these who have declared interest in the presidency have already registered personal political parties where their words are the unalterable law and cannot be challenged. They suffer from the big man syndrome dressed in the emperor’s new clothes where it can only take the ingenuity and straightforwardness of a child to tell them that they are naked. How then do we expect such characters to fairly, accurately and intelligently tackle issues about the economy, unemployment, domestic and foreign policy, education and health sector reforms?
With about three or four exceptions, these aspirants do not even stand a hell’s chance of being elected members of parliament, senators or governors leave alone the president. They are in “the race” to soothe their feeble egos not to win. Most of them will not even be cleared by the Ethics and Integrity Commission as fit to hold public office therefore the whole issue of factoring them in the debate is jumping the gun. As a matter of fact, two of the aspirants are awaiting the court’s verdict on their suitability to vie for the presidency. The ruling whichever way it goes is bound to be a game changer.
Supposing that facts remained constant and the debate went on as planned, what discourse would we expect? I will sample the likely scenario were the main contenders to step up;
This race has occasionally been termed Raila’s to lose; he just needs to seal a few loose ends and he romps to State House. Raila the German trained engineer and political maverick will without doubt take the moral high ground, talk about the dreams of the founding fathers, call some of the candidates tribalists, drunkards, thieves, anti-reformists who cannot be trusted to implement the new constitution which they opposed (never mind that Uhuru and Kalonzo we in Team Green) and to cap it, declare that farasi ni moja….na ni mimi!, hawa wengine wote ni punda. So while he claims to be a social democrat, he has little or even nothing to show for his time in power unlike his contemporary Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Raila is a man in the public domain a man of the people, mweupe kama pamba comfortable before crowds where decorum and etiquette is not always required, you don’t weigh your words and you do not have to make policy speeches, you talk what the crowd wants to hear, an art Agwambo has perfected to the point. Raila is politically astute but unlike the late Kijana Wamalwa, he plays to the gallery too much without regard to the repercussions. If we want a dose of serious intellectualism and facts, then the ODM wing should field Prof. Nyong’o and Dr. Sally Kosgei whose command of the English language and power of diction is almost unparalleled in the orange party in substitute of Jakom. Agwambo has the uncanny ability of capturing people’s attention but as much as Ababu Namwamba may be termed a loose canon, he would do a better job than his captain because his answers to questions are always forthright at the drop of a hat.
Enter candidate Uhuru the Amherst trained economist and political scientist. There are occasions and events when he does not disappoint. I once had a chance to seat in an amphitheatre and listen to him deliver a speech with an aid of a teleprompter. He did put on a show, the son of Mama Ngina was composed and in his element, he had a command of the language and stage presence never mind that he was addressing watoto wa Kanu. Uhuru may be Kenya’s version of America’s Mitt Willard Romney. These are children who were born with silver spoons in their mouths and perhaps will never know what lack means in practical sense, both have the habit of thinking out loud ( Romney’s 47% remark and Uhuru’s tunyuaanga na nyukwa invective) but that is as far as the similarity goes. Uhuru is a man who speaks according to occasion and demands. During Prof. Saitoti’s burial, he said that he was prepared to shelve his presidential ambitions if this was the contribution that he would make to have a stable prosperous Kenya. But love him or hate him, he can rise to the occasion when circumstances allow.
Assuming candidate Ruto the botanist gifted with the gift of the garb will be on the rostrum, we can expect to see him start off the debate with a Victor Hugo quote, tell off all those older than him to funga virago na Kibaki, or those whose fathers once ruled this country in any position should not vie but give him a free pass to state house. Ruto was an indefatigable mobiliser and a regular guest on television talk shows post the Moi error. You would have been forgiven for thinking that he had a background in either law or political science. His lucky star soared even higher when he linked up with Agwambo in ODM. The icing on the cake came when he was chosen by the ODM to be part of the Serena Team alongside Dr. Kosgei and legal mind Jimmy Orengo. But since then it has been an uphill task for him and things have of late not been looking up for him. He has been putting on a brave face but his demeanor betrays his frustrations with how things turned out post 2007. His parting shot will be to fire a volley of diatribes against Obama, Ocampo and Annan reminding them that we are a sovereign nation who can handle our affairs without outside interference and hindrances.
Prof. James ole Kiyapi, Eugene Wamalwa with his mid Atlantic drawl and Mudavadi are generally easy going chaps who take their time before speaking so perhaps they might turn out worth watching, Kalonzo..I absolutely have no comment to make because words fail me, while Karua comes across as a bitter person. We must take cognizance of the fact that she never walked out parliament on principle, but because her ego had been bruised by President Kibaki, former minister Michuki, Deputy Premier Uhuru, former Attorney-General Wako and the then Chief-Justice Evan Gicheru. So all these noise she has been making do not translate to an intelligent debater she is just another angry Kenyan with a bone to pick with the powers that be. She believes that a stab at the presidency will be the magic stick. For those I have not made an effort of expounding on, well it means they are the pundas that Agwambo is fond of making fun of.
Let us not forget the role that will be played by the moderator. Of what demeanor should he/she be? The key point is that he/she should be non-partisan, not biased and sober in his/her approach to issues. The US has Jim Lehrer, tried and tested having to date already hosted 12 presidential debates.
Irrespective of how the debate goes, I will not vote for any of the aforementioned charlatans but I am waiting to hear Kingwa Kamencu’s platform.