Arunga: Are election sideshows obscuring the real issues?

UDA campaign rally

Members of the public follows proceedings at a campaign rally by the United Democratic Alliance, ahead of the March 18 Machakos senator by-election, on January 31, 2021.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The closer we get to elections, the more confusing the narratives become.

You know Kenyans – we like a good conspiracy theory, but the election year seems to be the year where it all comes out. Are we really in another Covid wave, or is someone just trying to make sure that people don’t congregate? (this one isn’t a conspiracy theory, Covid is, unfortunately, back. Dig out your masks.)

Is Raila being put forward as a candidate, only to lower his guard and then hand Ruto the presidency? (I have no idea). Is Wajackoyah being the fifth a possibility in any way at all? (this, I am sure, is a hope, but does he have a real chance? Who can tell with a Kenyan election?)

The most recent one that fascinates me, however, is this whole degree fiasco with Sakaja. It has been a while since I have seen such enthusiastic and deliberate besmirching of a candidate. My vote is neither decided nor absolute, but it definitely does make me curious about why the target is so primed. First, he had a degree, then he didn’t, then he did, then the Commission for Higher Education said he didn’t, then the one in Uganda said he did, but can we really believe a university that has a name like a meeting app? Eventually the drama died down, fortunately for him, but that has resulted in so much free publicity, it makes you wonder who engineered it – or who is benefiting from it. And if the degrees are so easily found, then whose bright idea was this in the first place?

There’s a lot of drama going on in Nairobi, every election. It is, after all, the administrative and economic capital of Kenya – which results in melees like this that should not be happening. In a more decentralised Kenya, the focus is not always on one part of the country – which it always feels like it is. If you have been even a little past Nanyuki or Nakuru, you know that there are parts of this country that do not even feel like they belong to Kenya, except during election season when all of a sudden the focus is on them, and people remember to come promise them electricity, and water, and connectivity, and five or so stadiums and a laptop for each child.

The Sakaja conundrum is emblematic of a bigger picture – the elaborate production of sideshows that rival TV sets. I cannot tell you whether or not the act of voting changes anything, but if you do choose to vote, do so as an active citizen. Ignore the shows. I beseech you – and remind myself – to pay attention to who is pulling the purse strings, and the ultimate puppeteer – whether that is the voices in media, or the previous government, or the first five families, or whoever. They are in this game too, with their grand shows of distraction and misdirection – it’s a sleight of hand on a national level. What do they not want you to see? What should you be looking for? In the same way that they are aligned, solidly, with their interests, vote based on yours as well. That’s really the only power we have.