Ask Raila Odinga, William Ruto hard questions to avoid refined rubbish in future

ODM leader Raila Odinga and UDA leader William Ruto. [File, Standard]

Kenya could be headed for a no-issue presidential election on August 9. Embittered raw emotions, half-truths, fear-peddling, purposeful forgetfulness and elided historical glosses, seem to be the only significant items to help voters choose.

The ongoing barnstorming across the country by Azimio la Umoja and Kenya Kwanza formations is disappointing for its absence of issues. In this age of ubiquitous television and online citizen journalism, the vacuous dramatic scripts, lewd dances and salacious off-colour jokes, empty verbiage and defamatory depredations, are repetitively boring and predictable.

It is tragic that a 20-million-strong electorate should decide its fate over the next five years based on clownish shows of insolence. You are tempted to paraphrase and quip with the man who wrote the Biblical book of Galatians at chapter three, “Oh, you foolish Kenyans, who has bewitched you?” 

A non-issue based campaign can only lead to a non-issue election. And the election will install a non-issue government. The non-issue government, for its part, will do nothing for citizens. It is the perfect case of processing garbage and expecting to get a useful product at the end of the production line. The bad news is that there will be nothing, but refined garbage.

Prepare for refined rubbish between August 2022 and 2027, if you are buying ongoing elisions of history and hate campaigns. It does not matter who wins. Prepare for another lost five years – and possibly ten. 

The closest we have come to hearing about issues has been in the Azimio clarion call against corruption and the Kenya Kwanza bottom-up agenda. Yet, neither can be taken seriously. The Azimio call does not go beyond words. They do not intend to fight corruption, or to jail any thief. If you believe them, you need to have your instruments of belief examined. Our people say the trajectory of the day is seen in the morning.

A future government that will fight corruption cannot be born out of a pre-election team that is itself full of characters who should themselves be in jail for theft, or as beneficiaries of theft. Just because they are louder than their opponents does not take away their own entanglement with grand theft that spans across Kenya’s four regimes, since independence.

Without theft, some of the people talking about theft would be nowhere. They would not have a foothold to stand on and shout out words like, “Thief, thief!” Believe them at your own risk and peril. On the other hand, the bottom-up economic model has not gone beyond phraseology, clichés and banalities. There is little wonder that a globally known and respected development model has been ridiculed and parodied in Kenya, because its advocates do not seem to understand it, in the first place – leave alone their failure to explain it to the electorate.  

Development communication scholars and economists, like Everett Rogers, Wilbur Schram, Daniel Leaner, Juan Somavia and Sean McBride, among others, engaged in healthy debates about this model of development in the 1970s and in the ‘80s. They contrasted it with what were then dominant models of development.

They argued that those models would not work in emerging new nations and states of the world. The proposers of Kenya’s bottom-up model ought to break down their agenda and sell it to Kenyans as a programmed schema, with a crystalline clarity. The ongoing verbal thunderstorms and defamatory paroxysms speak of leaders with huge holes in the head.

It is gratifying that the Media Owners Association, Media Council and the Editors Guild, are coming together to host this year’s presidential candidates to televised debates. William Ruto and Raila Odinga should come face to face on TV and hard questions put to them. They should clearly tell us why we should elect them. 

So far, the competition between them has been about who takes home the crown of insolence. Let these debates help us to decide. And while at it, let us not waste invaluable time by bringing in fringe candidates.

Dr Muluka is a strategic communications advisor.