I imagine the number of eyeballs transfixed on Julie Gichuru’s Sunday Live show on Citizen TV was in the millions. Peter Kenneth had been scheduled to be on the show, and had tweeted about it earlier. I was looking forward to that interview.
At the beginning of the bulletin however, Ms. Gichuru announced that Nairobi’s Biggest boys (for now) Ferdinand Clifford Waititu and Evans Kidero, both running for Nairobi’s Governor Seat were on the popular show. Together.
(P.S I refuse to use the word gubernatorial in my blog, as well as the word shambolic- the title of this blog doesn't count :-) .
I was too tired and didn't catch the interview, but next day I managed to catch it online. It was quite the show. On one hand you had Baba Yao talking about his plan for Nairobi in his regular street smart way, and the other hand, Kidero, the man famed for Mumias Sugar’s turnaround, who I would like to call Nairobi’s middle class choice.
This blog however, isn't about that debate, or how Waititu managed to sway some more votes his way or what was largely perceived as Kidero’s arrogance judging by my twitter timeline. It also isn't about the middle class that was accused of “tweeting” votes from the comfort of their desks instead of moving their backsides to the primaries poll stations.
I’d like to engage with you about the lack of information, ownership in primaries or party nominations and lagging interest in politics in general.
That is not a middle class problem. It is a Kenyan problem.
I remember way back then when party nominations were a day when people were transported in hired heavily branded buses, wearing colorful T-shirts headed to Kasarani. Many of the party members attending, apart from those with political ambitions and had something at stake; were incentivized. That is an open secret. A number however attended because they understood their role in the voting system, while others were true supporters of their parties, with loyalty only seen during KANU days.
But last week’s primaries got me thinking, what really happened? Why didn’t the middle class largely participate? Or is the grassroots the politicians’ playground?
A random survey in my office, home and circle of friends showed that very few people actually knew that they were, as registered voters to attend the primaries and vote in a candidate of their choice who would then stand at the main polls on March 4th.
Some thought only registered members of political parties were to attend, some thought the only time they needed to vote was on March 4th, and others had no idea what the primaries were all about. Many are not registered in any party, and most are not even sure which party they want to vote for.
Martin, my hair dresser said he knew about the primaries, because of the activation that should have had NEMA arrest the event organizers, which were too loud to be ignored. Why did he not attend? His answer, “because I had to work.”
For all we know, it has been standard that one has to be a member of a political party to vote in the primaries, but under the current law, political parties create their own nomination rules.
For party primaries, each party’s election board created rules over who should vote in the primaries. ODM aligns itself to Universal suffrage, meaning anyone with a national ID card, over 18 could vote for the primaries, whether or not you registered as a party member. This means, if ODM is your party of choice, then you failed your party if you did not vote in the primaries.
My argument is; Most Kenyans do not really know what party nominations were all about and why it was pertinent that they put their vote in.
I spoke with “Boss”, Citizen TV’s Managing editor Peter Opondo who argued that the argument should be about where politics actually ranks on the priority list of Kenyans.
It is in retrospect, a combination of both.
In the words of Kofi Annan; Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.
I believe that information seekers in Kenya’s political scene are driven by a hunger for knowledge, liberation, self-education, and ultimately, inclusion.
I believe that a number of the middle class who voted last week went out of their way to find out their rights and roles as citizens and most important, as voters.
Civic education was basically at ground zero.
But, when the system fails, we don’t have to go down with it. Sometimes the system will plan to fail so voters are locked out of a process that would be transformational. If more people knew that primaries are in fact a mini election, and in some places, an outright ticket, we would have seen a lot more involvement.
Kenyans (and not only the middle class) will need to get off their comfort zones and place politics higher up their priority gradient.