Move over wooden dais. There is a new dais in town; the sunroof of fuel guzzlers. Politicians in this year's election are increasingly using sunroofs of their cars as political podiums in a trend that intensified at the height of Covid-19 pandemic and has refused to go away.
Politicians, led by Deputy President William Ruto, ODM chief Raila Odinga and their counterparts in the One Kenya Alliance, have been using their vehicles as platforms for addressing rallies and gatherings, away from the conventional and traditional methods as efforts by aspirants to cut costs, while at the same time reaching out to as many voters as possible, shape the campaigns. Initially, politicians adopted the style to avoid mingling with supporters and keeping social distance when the coronavirus broke out.
All that one requires, unlike before, is an SUV with a sunroof from where one can easily stand and address a gathering, as well as a good public address system, usually mounted on top of another vehicle.
In addition, one does not need to seek the approval of the police or the authorities for permits to host their events or hold a rally since with the new trend, a small gathering on the roadside, or even one in the market, can easily be turned into a rally.
Unlike before when a politician would be required to make elaborate plans looking for and even securing a venue for their event, hiring a dais and even a public address system, the current trend has not only reduced the cost of campaigning, but also offered politicians the convenience of addressing multiple gatherings in different locations with much ease.
Dr Ruto has been traversing various parts of the country and campaigning atop of his vehicle. Last week, for example, he was in Western Kenya and addressed numerous rallies without the hustle of booking a venue or even a dais. The DP has been using the strategy in almost all of his campaigns across the country.
Mr Odinga, who is also seeking to succeed President Kenyatta in the August election, has also been using this growing trend and strategy, moving across the country atop of his vehicle to speak to his supporters.
“The technique is more practical because it is cheap, convenient and it also helps in observing the Covid-19 regulations since one does not have to call for a meeting unlike before,” said Mr Opiyo Wandayi, ODM director of political affairs.
And it is not just the two. Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka, his Kanu counterpart Gideon Moi and other aspiring leaders have also been using their vehicles as a podium to address rallies across the country. Those aspiring for other political seats, be it governor, senator, MP or even MCA, have also adopted the trend.
So popular has this trend become that last week, President Kenyatta, while castigating his DP for constantly criticising the government, accused the Dr Ruto of conducting his businesses atop of a vehicle, instead of in an office.
“Kuna wale wanaongea maneno tupu na hakuna kitu wanafanya. Kazi haifanywi juu ya magari, inafanywa ofisini, kwa mahospitali (Ignore empty rhetoric. Work is not done atop vehicles but in offices and hospitals),” said Mr Kenyatta during the upscaling of the Universal Health Coverage in Mombasa.
In a quick rejoinder, Dr Ruto said that work is planned in offices but the real implementation is done on the ground.
“I know too well, I have been in politics long enough, that you plan theories in offices but you execute practical in the field, sometimes on top of cars,” the DP said while in Kakamega County.
Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi, an ally of Dr Ruto in the newly formed Kenya Kwanza Alliance, said the technique has offered them much convenience.
“If you are campaigning and you are on the run, would you be spending so much money building extraordinary tents for a two-hour meeting dotted all over the country. Will a politician will be spending all that on branding from his pocket?” the ANC boss posed.
Cutting down campaign costs
Political analysts believe that this growing trend has offered many politicians the convenience that they need, while at the same time cutting down on the costs of campaigns.
University of Nairobi lecturer Prof XN Iraki says leaders have decided to do what he described as ‘Americanising’ Kenya’s politics, which helps them to minimise costs.
“Politics is expensive and we have less than a year before the polls. You have to minimise the costs and why pay for venues and mobs when you can avoid it, you may pay for a venue and no one turns up,” said Prof XN Iraki.
But even as this trend continues to gain traction and momentum, others have warned that it could put the country into an electioneering mood way too early, following cautions from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.
IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati warned that the early campaigns by politicians were not only illegal, but also violated the Elections Act, which stipulates when the campaign period is supposed to officially start.
Circumventing the law
Police Spokesman Bruno Shiosho told the Nation that they were becoming increasingly alarmed by the number of politicians circumventing the law, in the name of meetings and roadside addresses.
“What has happened, unlike before, is that when someone wants to hold a meeting, they would inform the police within the area of the said meeting. The police within that area, like the OCS, then assesses whether the meeting is possible, and if there are possibilities of violence, chaos or not,” Mr Shiosho said.
“The only problem has been that most of these meetings end up becoming political rallies, which in our view is wrong. It is a matter of personal responsibility. Sometimes enforcement becomes a little difficult,” he added.
He further said motorists should not be inconvenienced by such meetings and advised traffic police officers to take action by enforcing the law fairly.
“Causing snarl-ups and obstructions on public roads is a traffic violation. Road users should enjoy free flow of traffic without the inconveniences of artificial blockages. Traffic police are directed to be on the lookout and enforce traffic laws strictly but fairly and without exceptions and exemptions of any persons,” said Mr Shiosho.
Mr Mark Mchuma, a car dealer in Nairobi, told Nation that the trend has been profitable for many car dealers, with most anticipating that as the campaign nears, it will even be more profitable to stock and sell cars with sunroofs.
“It is the peak season for black Prados and V8s. During this political season, many clients are asking for those with sunroofs and running on diesel engines,” he said.
“And the prices have significantly risen owing to the rise in demand... However the prices skyrocketed after the coronavirus. A [Toyota Land Cruiser] Prado now goes for Sh7 million while a V8 is slightly more expensive.”
Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata, one of Dr Ruto’s close allies, says that the new trend has offered many politicians more convenience away from the bureaucracies of previous techniques.
“UDA has been doing both types of campaigns. We have been holding town hall meetings while simultaneously doing roadside rallies. These meetings have better impact as the people engage a leader at a close range, hence clarify their issues,” Mr Kang’ata said.
University of Nairobi’s Herman Manyora said politicians have to become clever in the manner in which they deliver their messages to different audiences.
“Times, demography, the people are changing. Politicians are able to get idlers who are ready to cheer them but the real voters are busy with their work. There is also the role of the media which wasn’t realised before,” he explained.
Segment their audiences
Mr Manyora added: “They also have to choose what works for them like what works for Raila may not work for Mudavadi and what works for Ruto cannot work for Raila. Politicians must now segment their audiences. You cannot talk to people the same way, everywhere.”
For some, it is one of the ways of cutting costs in what has become the expensive affair of campaigning, and rallying across support in the country.
“Delegates, if well selected, can provide the intelligence needed to win the polls. It is also possible we are getting Americanised with town hall meetings. Finally, politics is borrowing from science by using samples,” Prof Iraki said.
Additional reporting by Daniel Ogetta