By Amos Odhiambo

On 9th May, the Presidential Debate Steering Committee announced the schedule for the presidential debate. They made the announcement with journalists and executives from nearly all media houses in the country.

Speaking to the Press, Mr. Wachira Waruru said they intend to promote a culture of civilized discussion in the country’s politics. Mr. Wachira is the managing director of Royal Media Services. Based on his remarks, I think either he is mistaken or is fooling Kenyans.

The fallacy of the presidential debate

The event dubbed “The Presidential Debate” is not the way to bring sanity to our politics. It is through a well-organized process driven by the media and other players. The process begins with issue-based reporting and panel discussions in the newsrooms. This should happen before political temperatures reach fever pitch. In that way, Kenyans will turn off ethnic-based politics from their minds.

We are being dishonest with ourselves when we pretend to host the televised debate. We hope falsely that it will give presidential aspirants a platform to communicate their vision for the country. However, all along, we have made ethnicity the centre of all our political discussions.

I oppose this debate vehemently because it gives a false impression of our maturity as a nation. Clearly, we know that we have a long way to go. Please let us not fool ourselves. These window dressing activities do not make us look good.

The media portrays negative ethnicity

Largely, the media has portrayed ethnicity as the main factor in deciding our elections. Therefore, the planned event is a waste of time. Since independence, we have based our politics on ethnicity. We believe this is a major reason for our failure as a country.

Everyone acknowledges that we need to engage in issue-based politics. This will enable our society to progress. However, we are not putting much effort to make this a reality. It is disheartening to see that the conversation is not even happening in our media houses.

We have a good example that illustrates this unfortunate situation. The media treated us with ethnic-based reporting early this year and after the mass voter registration. The media presented to the public a comprehensive breakdown of voters based on ethnicity.

The implication of these ethnic numbers on Jubilee Party and CORD (now NASA) took centre stage. The main theme of ethnicity dominated political discussions during prime time news.

All this goes a long way towards setting a negative agenda for the country. It conditions the minds of the people to think and approach politics from a tribal angle. Thus, we should blame the Kenyan media for perpetuating the culture of ethnic-based politics.

Some reasons exist that prove that our media does not understand its role, especially in the election process. I am aware that we base our politics largely on ethnicity. However, the media is making matters worse by magnifying the problem.

If the media gives ethnic voices a blackout increasingly, then ethnicity in our politics will play second fiddle or become unimportant. Therefore, it is our collective responsibility to steer the political discourse away from ethnicity.

(First featured on Ureport. Edited for clarity)

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