Trawling the Internet over the weekend, I came across The Salt Lake Tribune endorsing President Obama over the challenge of ‘favourite son’ Mitt Romney.
So what? It is routine for American media houses to endorse candidates for office.
Yet The Tribune’s endorsement of President Obama has become major news in its own right, being analysed by newspapers across the country and going viral on Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets.
It is best explained by a local analogy. Imagine the ‘Gatundu Gazette’ endorsing Raila Odinga over Uhuru Kenyatta, or the ‘Kibera Chronicle’ endorsing Mr Kenyatta instead of Mr Odinga.
In other words, it’s about an important paper turning down the “homeboy” to endorse the “other” candidate, the outsider. Governor Romney may represent the state of Massachusetts, but he is considered an adoptive native son of Salt Lake City and the Utah State.
The Republican challenger who is now running neck-and-neck with President Obama is the first candidate from the somewhat quirky Mormon faith to get so close to the presidency.
Utah is the heartlands of the Mormon Church, aka Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, of which Governor Romney has served as a high official.
To look at it through our ethnic and sectional prisms, Utah is to Governor Romney what the Mt Kenya region is to Mr Kenyatta, the Lake Victoria to Mr Odinga and the Rift Valley to Mr William Ruto.
It should be his ethno-political stronghold where no one else dares hold contrary opinion. Yet the influential hometown newspaper can openly back a rival candidate without the risk of facing a fatwa for selling out through treasonous thought.
Never will it be accused of having been bought by enemies of the tribal chieftain. The Tribune gave well reasoned arguments why it prefers President Obama to Governor Romney, focusing on policies, programmes, track record, trust and other standard measures.
I wonder whether in today’s Kenya, I can endorse a candidate on this page without facing violent accusation of being either a Kikuyu or a traitor, however cogent my reasoning.
For our democracy to evolve to the next level, perhaps we in the media must start coming out to openly endorse candidates for political office.
Maybe then we will force Kenyans to start evaluating candidates on factors other than tribe, tribe and tribe.
I must confess I am not ready to endorse a candidate yet; not when I am faced only with picking the best of a bad lot.
However, I can provide a check list for any candidate who might come asking for my vote:
- Do you put the nation above self?
- Do you put the interests of the country above the interests of some ethnic following?
- Do you seek to be president for all Kenyans or a tribal leader lording it over ‘other’ Kenyans?
- Are you prepared to, before elections, make public an account of all your wealth and that of immediate family?
- Are you prepared, once elected, to eschew all business ventures and put all existing holdings in a blind trust?
- Have you engaged in or otherwise benefitted from land-grabbing, corruption, smuggling, drug-dealing, and such other crimes?
- Have you benefitted from the irregular or unfair appropriation of public assets?
- Have you ever promoted, sponsored or directed ethnic violence for political purposes?
- Does you campaign team or campaign alliances incorporate persons implicated in either of the afore-mentioned crimes?
- Do you seek office as means to securing protection or immunity from any crimes?
- Do you seek office in order to pursue vendetta against rival individuals or groups?
- Once in office will you pursue without fear or favour criminals who have looted the country or prosecuted ethnic violence?
- Once in office will you be true to the implementation of the new Constitution, the reform agenda and real transformation of society?
- Will you be true to addressing poverty, inequality, the wealth gap and unequal development?
Candidates for the presidency are asked to respond soonest on the e-mail below.