In Kenya elections are majorly shaped by two things-tribalism and emotions. Voters make their decisions based on what tribe they come from and emotional attachment to a particular candidate.
People will vote for ‘their person’ or a person close to ‘their person’ The political debates being organized across the country contribute very little, if any, in shaping political decisions at the ballot. Even as the media is organizing these debates, the majority of Kenyan voters have already made up their mind on how they will vote.
Waste of time
For Kenyans, political debates are a mere waste of time and can only be used as platforms for personality attacks for candidates and their supporters. Kenyans don’t watch political debates for the sake of making decisions but to argue on who debated better than the other not based on issues but personalities.
The Kenyan political debates have so far failed to meet the expectations of many. Both the organizers and the candidates have performed below par. Political debates have been turned into personality contests with real issues that ought to be debated taking a back seat.
Organizers that should be taking charge of the debates have allowed invited candidates to direct the debates and deviate from real issues.
Personalities versus real issues
From the Nairobi Gubernatorial debate to the Deputy Presidential debate, moderators failed to press candidates into explaining how they will address real issues affecting Kenyans. Both debates were turned into personality contests with candidates working hard to shame each other.
Political debates in Kenya are focusing more on individuals as opposed to debating what the common man wants addressed. To show seriousness, the organizers of these debates ought to have allowed members of the public to directly ask questions to the candidates.
So far, the debates are turning out to be a media showbiz and contest of which media house has the best debate moderators.
The debates have failed to capture the aspirations of the common voters who should be the main subject of the debates. Issues touching on the economy, employment, education, water, health, foreign policy, and security have not been adequately addressed during the debates.
On the issue of integrity, moderators have failed to put candidates to task by asking the right questions and demanding the right answers.
During the debates, candidates have made several allegations without being prodded to provide evidence for their claims.
And as for the voters, they have been judges of who won and lost the debates not based on the issues debated but on who attacked who more.
For an ordinary Kenyan watching the debates, political bias has taken precedence over real issues. Kenyans decide who wins or won a debate based on the political formations they support.
The media seem not to have adequately prepared for such debates by doing enough research on the issues affecting the ordinary voter.
Future of political debates
For political debates to make meaning in Kenyan politics, both parties need to show utmost seriousness. Debate organizers should stop treating them as showbiz contests but instead turn them into platforms for dissecting agendas presented by candidates’ vis-a-vis issue affecting ordinary Kenyans
Finally, the Kenyan voter must take such debates with some level of seriousness and use them to gauge candidates on how they propose to address issues affecting them. Political debates in Kenya should be like examination rooms where the voter is the examiner to award marks after listening and assessing candidates. The ordinary voter must be the one to set the examination and must be the one to mark and award marks.
By having the right questions for the examination, by rightly and truthfully marking the examination and by truthfully awarding the right marks, the voter will with no doubt make the right and well-informed decisions at the ballot.