With just over three weeks to this year’s General Election, it is fit and proper to review the conduct of the campaigns across the country in comparison to those preceding previous elections.
We need to evaluate what we are doing well, what can be improved, and what is outright dangerous that we need to stop doing.
First, the good in these campaigns is that for the first time in our history, presidential candidates and their proxies are discussing real issues in their campaigns across the country.
After the launch of the Jubilee and Nasa coalition manifestos, the respective party spokesmen dissected their opponents’ promises, criticising specific areas and suggesting that their parties would do better if elected.
Key emerging campaign issues include education (whether all basic education will be completely free or not), health (especially human resources for health), security (internal security and the threat of terrorism), and infrastructure (including whether we are getting value for money in the ongoing mega-projects).
We have argued before in this column that the main role of government is to guarantee the education, health and security of the population and then provide the infrastructure for productivity.
That we are now seriously engaging in these conversations at the national level is a very good thing, and my reckoning is that this trend will grow in future elections at all levels.
The importance of having politicians discuss real concrete issues during election campaigns cannot be understated.
The opportunity to hold them to account should they get elected is huge, especially in this era in which the internet has made information truly immortal.
Throughout their term, and at the end of it, we are able to constantly ask them why they are not doing enough to implement their own manifesto.
This progress does not mean that all is now well.
We have maintained some of our bad habits that are proving really difficult to eliminate.
Out of all our bad habits, the most enduring is that we still believe that tribe should be the organising principle at the core of our politics.
Looking at all the predictions by the so-called pundits in the recent past, the elections are being analysed based on the expected voting behaviour of “regions”, a euphemism for tribal coalitions.
The tribal coalitions that are being touted as the key determinants of electoral behaviour are loosely structured around the ethnicity of political leaders contesting the elections.
We have seen projections based on voter preferences of whole counties, allegedly based on previous elections but really based on the dominant ethnic communities in each of the counties.
While these calculations are incredibly anachronistic and perhaps not the way we want our politics to go, the real tragedy is that they are most likely accurate.
Many Kenyans are going to vote for candidates based on their tribe, their clan, and their family of origin.
As expected, we will dismiss these lamentations with protestations of our common Kenyanness, but when it comes to the ballot we will regress to our primordial proclivities.
It is tragic because while our politicians are slowly evolving, at least nationally, our behaviour is lagging behind, therefore threatening the pace of change into issue-based politics.
We all know that there is absolutely no correlation between tribe and access to security, education, health, and infrastructure, and it therefore beats reason why we would keenly listen to and discuss the issues raised by our politicians in these areas and then go ahead and ignore them when marking our ballots.
Finally, the ugliness that must constantly be called out is the emergence of violence during these campaigns.
While the scale of violence is definitely lower than in several previous campaigns, we are still seeing people who attend political rallies to heckle and attack politicians they do not support.
We need to enter an era of politics in which we can disagree in a civil manner, and express our political displeasure using the ballot rather than bullets and stones.
Atwoli is Associate Professor and Dean, Moi University School of Medicine [email protected]