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Of intellect and televised national debates

By Alexander Chagema | Published Thu, May 18th 2017 at 00:00, Updated May 17th 2017 at 21:39 GMT +3

Nostrils flared, Moku the bull walks into the ring majestically. After three steps, he stops, looks around disdainfully and lets out a threatening hiss. He goes on to tag at the soft earth with a big hind hoof, lets out a chilling bellow and drives one horn into the earth, staining it with the red soil. He causes so much excitement among his fans; they are strung as tight as a guitar wire.

Across the field Sia, the other bull of lesser build, looks on almost disinterestedly. He appears reluctant to go ahead with the fight but his trainer and owner whispers something in his ear and he moves forward slowly to meet his opponent.

When the referee gives the go-ahead, Moku notices Sia and charges. From his size, spectators are convinced it is a walk-over for the aggressive Moku and he almost proves it.

Hot air

He charges Sia, hooks a horn in his flank and pushes him halfway to the ground. Stoically, Sia recovers and when Moku charges again, he moves aside, lets him pass, then moves behind him.

Moku brakes hard and at that moment Sia hooks a horn in his scrotum. He contorts, but Sia is not yet done. A moment later, unable to bear the excruciating pain, Moku bolts out of the ring. What an anti-climax!

Makes you think of Moses Kuria, televised debates, the ‘F’ word to journalists and walking off the set when things get elephant, doesn’t it? Let’s talk about it. Last year, Moses Kuria, the Member of Parliament for Gatundu South was invited for a debate at Citizen Television.

He must have known what the issues at hand were and deemed himself capable of handling them. He looked composed until a pointed question made him shirk a direct answer. This prompted moderator Mohamed Hussein to play him a video purposefully to jog his memory. Kuria baulked and walked off the set.

Poor show

Next, Kuria appeared on Radio Maisha’s Kenya Leo televised talk show moderated by Mr Tom Japanni. Two questions later, Kuria bristled and walked out of the studio. I recall a colleague jokingly saying we should arrest him as he walked through the newsroom heading for the lifts and take him back to complete the debate.

Then a few weeks ago, he was at it again, insulting journalists using an expletive I can’t reproduce here and walking off a live interview on NTV. Clearly, Kuria doesn’t have the substance and depth of a debater. He feels quite macho when he is wielding the stick, but completely bewildered when someone else has it.

It is important to understand the essence of live debates on radio or television. They gauge one's character. They test one's patience, intellect and competence in the area of interest. They are a measure of capability.

During his tenure as President of the United States, Barack Obama was always a pleasure to watch and listen to. He exuded such control, confidence, charisma and intelligence it was impossible not to admire him.

That is the stuff good debaters are made of. It is good to bear in mind debates are not fashion shows where spectators admire you. They are not catwalks where people look at you silently and applaud.

They are not for the faint-hearted, the excitable and the uninformed. They are the closest thing to crucifixion without getting actually nailed on the cross.

Not getting fixated on anything, keeping an open mind, getting your facts right and keeping them at your fingertips are prerequisites.

If you are not quick on your feet, if your mind loads slower than an android phone assailed by malware, don’t go on television. But if you must, insist on a questionnaire and have the presence of mind to be terse. Keep your wits about you.

Give concise answers, don’t attempt winded explanations because in an unguarded moment, you could create an opening the interviewer uses to crucify you. Thus, temperamental individuals have no business appearing for debates; debasing themselves.

Insulting journalists cannot aid the cause of anybody, particularly politicians for, in reality; journalists don’t need politicians, but any serious politician needs the media; the best promotional medium anywhere.

Presidential debate

This brings me to the presidential debate slated for July. In the run-up to the 2013 General Election, I watched the presidential debate and it did not disappoint. Tempers did not fly, but lately Uhuru has shown he occasionally flies off the handle if pressed hard enough.

The running-mates debate could turn out a different kettle of fish. William Ruto easily loses composure when pressed and I have watched him adroitly twist debates to become the moderator rather than the interviewee.

There is nothing as effective as a leading question to set the tempo of debate. Interviewees should be made to candidly answer all those questions that some of them have been leaving in a fuzz before. Moderators should get digging now.

Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]


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