Kenya’s Inaugural Presidential Debates 2013

Am sure by now we have all heard of the media initiative and launch of the inaugural presidential debates as can be seen in this video clip

The plan is to host the presidential candidates in a joint forum and live broadcast with interactive participation from Kenyans

The tentative schedule as proposed by the committee is

  • November 26, 2012
  • January 14, 2013
  • February 11, 2013

However I must at this point raise some preliminary issues.

First: “Issue driven” vs “ethnic” politics.

Almost all those at this launch talk about “issue driven” politics vs “ethnic” politics

This is unfortunate because the media is the largest culprit in fanning ethnic politics. The media has many times twisted and contorted public events into ethnic conflicts either to achieve their sales/marketing objectives and in other instances to either denigrate a politician not in their favor and or alternatively give biased advantage to a favored politician. Regardless, one cannot go objectively into a debate if already the moderators have a prejudiced opinion.

The moderators of this initiative/forum cannot go into that debate with preconceived ideas

Second: Dates for the debates

Especially the first date, is a mere 5 or 6 weeks away. The reality is that parliament the other day created a law that allows party hopping right up to mid January.

What this means is that there could be other presidential wannabe’s lurking in the background looking for the right opportunity to launch their presidential bid in January. Also there are party hoppers that will make their shift and allegiances in January, thereby causing significant shift on the political landscape

But more importantly, apart from the self-anointed or self-appointed chest thumping de-facto presidential candidates, I have not seen or heard of any party that has plans to legally  formalise their presidential nomination process earlier than mid-January (someone correct me if am wrong)

Sure these heads of parties are strong and basically unchallenged in their outfits, but the reality is that due process must be followed in their individual parties, calendars and schedules for nomination process must be publicly announced and followed. In light of the fact that as of today, none of these parties has actually announced their internal dates for these processes, doing so now, would be tantamount to the media debates dictating schedules for these parties. It is my view therefore that interviewing these potential nominees is actually committing and perpetuating a public fraud – the proverbial putting the cart before the horse. I am therefore tempted to state that this initiative is a project by the oligarchs to hoodwink and confuse the public

In my view, the listing of the schedule is premature and should begin a day after at least two parties have nominated their candidates. Provision must therefore be made for late nominations otherwise some candidates will have unfair advantage over others

Third: Number of Candidates at the Debate

Considering that there are at least 5 or more candidates. Could even be as high as 15, there need to be some sense of reducing the actual number of candidates to participate in this forum.

Typically one would chose the top say 3 in the polls, unfortunately the credibility of polls in Kenya is very low and partisan. It is also possible that the polls are grossly misleading.

Its however illogical to even assume that one can have more than 3 politicians on a platform to articulate their vision as well as respond to structured and ad-hoc questions. Realistically either the process will be too rushed to provide any valuable insight, or else will be way too long and carry on for even 30 hours if true opportunity is to be provided for adequate question and answer sessions. And this assumes that the politicians are on the same page, with rival policies, this can stretch even more as the candidates or their supporters  rip into each others credentials.

Finally having expended themselves in the first interview, a second, third or even run-off interviews will not add any new value and they will end up repeating themselves. Follow up interviews may be great, but these should be more to do with clarifying issues arising from the first debate rather than conducting new debates

There will be a need to restrict the number of candidates for the debates, the schedule as well as heavily strucuture format in order to optimise the quality for the session(s)

Fourth: Mindset of the Debates

Kenyans are in the habit of going into debate to finish and destroy each other, and come back carrying our “hero” shoulder high.

The media is already setting such a tone for these debates. I think, the media need to reverse this mindset, and require that the tone for the debates be that of articulating policies, interrogating the viability of the policies as well as review of the candidates background etc, otherwise debate can quickly degenerate into unpleasantries.

Kenyans love opportunity to grill an individual rather than discuss opinion. Huge difference. And in turn, some affluent folks love to hammer sense into detractors.

Also some of these candidates are quite intimidating

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Overall, this is a welcome initiative, the media has time and again showed its bias for and against certain candidates and I therefore recommend that a credible panel be the one to conduct the debates, the media should do what they do best – broadcast.

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This is the first part in this series, keep an eye out for the second part

In the meantime

What do you guys think?