The campaigns for the 2017 General Election are now officially upon us. The fact that we are now "officially" in campaign mode was reiterated recently by Mr Wafula Chebukati, the chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. He said that though the election guidelines set the June 28, 2017 as the official start date for campaigns, nothing in law stops any politician from campaigning ahead of this date.
There is danger that in the currently charged political atmosphere, it might be easier for us to gloss over concerns that could have a bearing on the overall integrity of the election. This danger becomes even more poignant if we consider the fact that oftentimes, our election campaigns are driven by an inordinate focus on superficial topics or promises. Consequently, the polls have come to mean different things to different voting constituencies.
In the eyes of some people, they represent a launch pad for opportunity and liberation. To others, they are periods of intense anxiety, uncertainty and conflict. Yet still to others, they are moments of political theatre and performance, enhanced corruption and manipulation of insecurities.
The question therefore remains: how do we harmonise all these different perceptions and make them a common voice in which the focus of elections is on issues that are actually important to the Kenyan voter? This can only happen if we, the people, respond to our civic duty by taking over the political process so that we may set the agenda for politicians.
However, for a common voice on elections to emerge, we need citizen platforms supported by politically-neutral state and non-state actors throughout the country. The singular focus of these platforms should be to bring citizens together in an honest and candid dialogue on what the 2017 General Election actually means for them.
It is encouraging that one such dialogue platform has already been established in Nairobi. Starting February 2017 and running on a monthly basis until the election, Goethe-Institut, in partnership with Twaweza Communications, have launched a “Tumetega Sikio” (we are alert) in which they will host election dialogue forums on topical issues. On February 15, 2017, I attended the debut session as a panellist together with Daisy Amdany, the champion of women rights, Wandia Njoya, the erudite social critic, moderated by Prof Kimani Njogu.
During the session, we engaged in a lively dialogue with a diverse full-house audience. From this dialogue, we were able to distil the following key issues that we would like politicians to address: how will they ensure the full inclusion of women, persons with disabilities, youth and other minorities in elective posts in line with the Constitution? How will they improve the provision of social services in education and healthcare?
How will they set up publicly accessible recreational facilities and what are their plans for setting up a comprehensive mass transit system in major urban centres in the country? Are they committed to ending electoral mismanagement, lawlessness and impunity? Can they say no to voter bribery, intimidation, violence and stealing of votes?
I am sure that if any of the politicians currently running for political office ran into any of the people who attended the introductory Election Dialogue Forum at the Goethe-Institut in Nairobi in any one of their campaign rallies, he or she will be forced to address these questions. Eventually, common-dialogue voices across the country will reduce the current drama and flamboyance that has contributed to the death of issue-based politics in Kenya. The next Election Dialogue Forum takes place from 6pm on March 2, 2017 at Goethe-Institut in the city. It will be on social media and elections. Make time to attend.
George Morara is vice-chairman and commissioner, Kenya National Human Rights Commission.