Lessons Kenya can learn from the US presidential debate

By Ms. Audi C. Zilper

The news that Kenya, for the first time in its history, will be holding American-style town hall debates ahead of the transitional March 2013 general elections, that will be beamed live in all TV, broadcast live on Radio and streamed live online, was a welcome early Christmas gift for all Kenyans who want to see a change in how business is conducted in the government of this country.

Having watched the 16th October tension-filled 90-minute debate between incumbent US President Barrack Obama and Republican’s Mitt Romney, I could not help but admire the mien of the two gentlemen, who are both very sharp and smart.

The stakes couldn't have been higher: after his poor performance in the first debate that saw his lead evaporating in national polls, Obama’s win in this debate was key to breaking the tie, and thus came out as more forceful and aggressive in his renewed attack on Mitt Romney. This gave him a 46% win against Romney’s 39% despite the fact that more republicans (than democrats) were watching the debate.

It’s obvious that most Kenyans are exhilarated about the 26th November Presidential debate, that will see all the presidential contenders define their plans for this country-Kenya. Naysayers have predicted a flop of this noble idea, but we cannot be compared to the USA. It will definitely be a bigger debate with more contestants who will have even lesser time to answer different questions, unlike the American Presidential debate, where only two contenders face off. All in all we will learn from our mistakes and there is always a first time for everything.

That notwithstanding, this is a rare opportunity for the contenders to showcase their policies, stances and leadership agenda that will propel the country towards better development.

Having the chance to dissect the eccentricities of the individual candidates will instill informed decision making process, and will enable Kenyans interrogate their leaders before making decisions and is by far, a grand step towards a transparent Kenya.

Most politicians flourish on populist pronouncements and cheap propaganda and many Kenyans know nothing about the candidates they are supposed to vote for, making the November debate a must-watch.

The politicians must for once focus on issues rather than personalities and other trivialities. What do they have to offer us? What makes them different from those who have been tried and tested and why do they think they are the best placed to lead this country for the next five years?

We want issue based discussion, to ensure the electorate votes in smart leaders with character, vision and who will shape and brand Kenya's democratic landscape as a vivacious, accountable and peaceful space.

It is a fact that Kenya’s economy is yet to find its equilibrium after the all time low 2011 depreciation of the Kenyan shilling that passed the one hundred shilling mark against the dollar, and the hard reality is that sustained double-digit growth rates are needed for Kenya to meet its goal of becoming a middle income country by the year 2030. The contestants for the Presidency must therefore clearly tell Kenyans how they intend to spur the country’s economic growth, especially given the hard economic times we are currently facing.

The candidates therefore must come well prepared for the hot seat. Kenyans do not want sketchy details that do not add up. We do not want inconsistencies and concocted half-truths, but above all, we want a mature discussion, which will help chart a clear path on reforms and the development of this country.

Are they going to continue with the tried, tested and failed policies of their predecessors? the “cut and paste” manifestos from other political parties? What is their take on unemployment, insecurity, reforms, and economic growth? What new thing are they bringing to the table? Is it a case of same monkeys changing trees yet still living in the same forest?

That for me as a viewer and a voter, is what I will be looking out for, so that I can make wise and informed decision come March 2013.

The author, Ms. Audi C. Zilper, is a PR &Communication Officer  at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA-Kenya)

The opinion expressed in this article is that of the writer and not necessarily that of the Institute.









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