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Presidential debates are over but this is what they left out

UDA presidential candidate William Ruto during the presidential debate. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

We love Americanisation. It started with the airlift in 1959 when the US put the first generation of Kenyan leaders through their schools.

Americans play the long game. Movies and media have reinforced the coolness of being American. So much that Kenyans are on the US visa waiting list till 2024. Our children have more American names than Chinese or say Italian.

We love American music and movie stars. And political stars.

I know Kenyans called Kennedy, Clinton, Washington, Jennifer Lopez (do they change their names when stars divorce), Beyoncé, or Lincoln. Never met a Putin, Xi, Gaulle, Azikiwe, Sellasie or Guevara. Greencard adds to the US mystic.

We copied the American constitution as much as we could.

Just read our 2010 Constitution and the US one. Nigerians had to some extent copied the US constitution before us. Context matters so much in constitution-making.

The latest streak of Americanisation is presidential debates. We have watched them despite some contenders skipping. It’s still an open question if that was a smart move.

We have an almost two-party system but only in word. Our two leading contenders are fronted by a coterie of parties called coalitions. This seems a truly Kenya innovation.

In Americanising our socio-political system, we have avoided the Protestant work ethic. We avoid work by any means even when Americans take pride in working.

Corruption is the best manifestation of our disdain for work ethic.

 In Americanisation, let us add the love of pets and clothes themed on the American flag. Check even the slogans on matatus.

Let us get back to the debate. A few things about the debate left my head spinning. First the good things; media houses cooperated in running the debate. I wonder why they did not put adverts and share the revenues with such a huge audience.

Why not a few breaks? 90 minutes is a long time and breaks with adverts would have made it more exciting, like halftimes in football.

I would suggest two breaks each of five minutes. What’s wrong with media making money when economics was the hottest topic?

The debates were too dry. No running mate or presidential candidate made a memorable joke? Is humour disallowed in such debates? Do you watch the US presidential debates and their moments of humour?

Humanising the debate

A good example; “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience,” Ronald Reagan told his opponent during the 1984 presidential debates when he was asked if he was too old to be President at 73.

Candidates should have humanised the debate like Martha Karua who invited her grandchildren to the podium. Why not wives and husbands? My biggest concern is why global and emotional issues were skipped. The debates focused too much on local issues, the moderators made the economy and character the bogeymen of the debate.

Martha Karua (right) invited her grandchildren to the podium. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

They should have asked harder questions like how and why our economy got to where it is.

Is it just because of Covid-19 and Ukraine? Did these events expose our economy’s soft underbelly?

I never heard any debater mentioning Vision 2030 or why we have hunger with the 540-kilometre coastline.

Let’s enumerate other issues that were skipped and will matter no matter who wins. One is global issues. Kenya is not an island.

We would have wanted to hear questions on global warming, the war in Ukraine, the rise of China, why we trade more with China when India is nearer and talks English, the expansion of the East African Community, particularly why Somalia is not a member, our readiness for Africa free trade area, or why we never talk of South America except during World Cup.

Why not a question on whether it makes economic sense to send men and women to the moon or Mars?

The debate left out some emotional issues too. How do we take care of Kenyan communities that are still traditional like pastoralists? Do we force them to modernise or wait for them to do it at their own pace?

What of Kenyan identify? What does it mean to be a Kenyan? Is Kenya “hollowing out” as we lose our identity? How would one reverse it? Do you recall “Najivunia Kuwa Mkenya?”

I would have asked how the next president will ensure that children will stop their mother’s name as a surname in central Kenya, like Kamau Nyambura.

What of women empowerment? Someone should have asked when it will be declared a success and what’s the end game. Must men lose power for women to gain it? Is the amount of power constant, what one gain, the other must lose?

Teenage pregnancy

What of teenage pregnancy? How can we reverse it? What about the age of consent?

What of same-sex marriage? Why were moderators so lenient on men and women who are so willing to shoulder the burden of leadership?

What of the 8.4.4 system versus the competency-based curriculum (CBC)? Does education not take the biggest percentage of our budget?

CS Prof George Magoha commissions CBC classrooms in Migori County. [Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

Why not a question on dynasties and monopoly of power by a few Kenyans? What of constitutional change after getting elected?

Why not ask them how they will reverse the state of helplessness and pessimism among the citizens?

Finally, moderators should have demanded from the debaters to explain what’s the third liberation. How successful were the other liberalisations? Who took the credit?

What does the third liberation entail? How does it differ from other liberalisations? What will be its key performance indicators?

And a few questions on our behaviour. Why do we mistrust everyone? Why can’t we get a better substitute for tribalism? The moderators, to appear academic gave the debaters a continuous assessment test (C.A.T) not a final exam.  Any other questions they left out? Please share with us.