Monday, March 4, 2013

It’s time to separate the math from myth

PHOTO | FILE When all the votes in the 47 counties and the few embassies have been counted, we will know who, among the eight gunning for the presidency, will call the shots on us.

PHOTO | FILE When all the votes in the 47 counties and the few embassies have been counted, we will know who, among the eight gunning for the presidency, will call the shots on us.  NATION MEDIA GROUP

By WAGA ODONGO [email protected]

The most expensive electioneering period in Kenya’s history goes to the final stage on Monday, ushering the nation into a new era of governance structures and constitutional optimism.

When all the votes in the 47 counties and the few embassies have been counted, we will know who, among the eight gunning for the presidency, will call the shots on us. Seven of them will have lost the gruelling battle and only one will be due for the presidency, winner of the historical immortality, the power, the glory and (we hope not) the contracts.

You, dear voter, are well aware of the complex, mixed and at times self-serving motives of those running for the post of president. You know their grey areas, their strengths and their weaknesses. It is now up to you to chart the course of this great nation.

You finally have relief from the endless extended news shows, the adverts, the sleight of tongue propaganda, the wink-wink, nudge-nudge, vote-one-of-our-own whistle politics.

The candidates travelled to every underprivileged, ignored, marginalised, forlorn crack in the country. Stepping out of their air-conditioned cars periodically to empathise with the long-suffering denizens of the far-flung county and drop a few tailor-made promises to the locals. They have been on the prowl for way too long. They sold their campaigns to the underprivileged and to the shallows of the society. They are, after all, dealers in hope. We have been presented with posters of candidates with flags on their lapels, showing the growing American-style “fetishisation” of the flag, as though the visual conjunction of candidate and flag will make us believe the candidate is more patriotic.

There was the feckless and frequent opportunity to appear at the sight of a tragedy to condole with the bereaved and say a few words on how the tragedy would become a thing of the past under their leadership.

By some feat of black magic they have managed to keep their helicopters in the air. They really should tell us who their pilots are.

The candidates were crowned elders and spokesmen, endorsed by professional, youth, and women groups, anointed by bishops, consecrated by reverends, approved by covens, and endorsed by charlatans. But, dear Kenyans, after all that talk about self-sufficiency and free enterprise, after all the hullaballoo about sanctions, age, growth, and land, after the promises galore, it is now time to decide. Get out and join the queue.

Now!

The campaigns logistics have been dizzyingly complex. Travelling with the presidential candidates have been troupes of camera crews, pundits, social media apparatchiks, rent-a-musicians, paid hangers-on, spinners, hired musclemen, and several battalions of police since they are VIPs.
But it is all over now.

Local politicians running for posts have had the chance to share the stage with a national politician and get endorsed, both hoping that the other’s popularity can rub off. It is a sort of sycophantic symbiosis that works well in politics.

The party is over for the cretins who take photos with tablets. There is something dilettantish about tablet video journalism that ends up on social media that is laughable. But I am glad the lights have been turned off on the bash.

You have seen the masses of bussed-in rent-a-crowd supporters who have been furnished with harsh, man-made, garishly branded fabrics in support of the politician. The crowds have been always less than the politician’s ego would like them to be. The processions began with boda boda outriders and were soon followed by environmental destruction elicited by tearing twigs and holding them aloft. Locals turned up and cheered, hoping for handouts as politicians went about selling their agenda. The presidential candidate was welcomed by his local forelock-tugging, coattail-riding “pointman”.

News has even been lengthened to give us live interviews with various candidates. There has been talk of numerical tyranny and presidential opinion polls whose methodology has been questioned simply because of the last names of the various managers in the company. Unwinnowed numbers leaden with psephological chaff have been deployed to tyrannise. The opinion polls say it is neck and neck in the final straight; the scales could be tilted on a hair’s breadth either way.

It is squeaky bum time, as they say in football. Any misstep could cost you the election. The polls say that neither candidate has the support of the majority nationally. Well, today is finally the day we get to separate math from myth. Polls, I believe, should have a money-back guarantee for those who commission them if the margins are beyond acceptable levels of accuracy.

According to the polls, Kenyans are divided down the middle and the key may be getting more of your voters out on polling day than the other guys. Asking voters to change horses midstream does not seem to be working as candidates in the end concentrated on getting large turnouts to bolster their chances.

To many, the polls are a towering Babel of syncretised wizardry when they do not chime with the party you support. We remain in a gripped sense of unknowingness, with each side guaranteeing its supporters a first-round clear victory to stop us from the spectre of pumping good money into a run-off.

In case of a run-off, the octet of pretenders shall be slimmed down to a duet to give the paying public the duel it really wants to see, which echoes a similar one involving the front runners’ fathers decades ago.

In the haste and hustle to target the middle class voter, they have sent a barrage of unsolicited emails and Facebook alerts. My Facebook page is filled with suggestions on which politician’s page I should like as they try and suck everyone into their vortex of direct delivery propaganda on your social media timeline.

Kenya has been in election mode since the referendum. Many are tired of the whole expensive spectacle. It is time to decide.

But for the expense, perhaps we should ask why candidates are ready to spend more than they would ever hope to earn in some posts. One aspiring MP has promised to donate his entire salary while in Parliament, while another has discovered the Christian virtues of charity and has pledged his entire salary to the unemployed in his constituency. Candidates seem willing to spend without end to get to the hallowed precincts of power.

Julius Caesar nearly bankrupted himself holding games to entertain the people. All of it was a calculated move to get the people on his side. It helped him kill the Roman republic and start the era of the emperors. So ask yourself why candidates are willing to spend so much on positions that are now less attractive monetarily.

The electoral commission has undergone a biopsy and is showing signs of life. In case you forget, they included the term “Independent” in its name. Hopefully, all the changes and the fact that it has conducted itself well in past by-elections will prove to be a civilising influence on our elections.

The media, while caught in the headlights of capacious information flowing forth, has conducted itself well. It has given us interviews, more statistics than we could visualise, and a compendious web of interlinked factoids beyond what the average voter requires. The bottom feeding sleaziness was relegated to social media as the candidates pretended to always be above the fray. There was cyclical charge and countercharge, retaliating to retaliation and cynical barrage of accusations.

But all that these politicians want is a cross or a tick. Or even a dot. We should by now be able to tell that these are just salesmen, slinging hope surrounded by expensive strategists, spinmeisters, and propagandists out to get you to vote them in.

So vote them in. Peacefully.

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