- Published on Saturday, 16 February 2013 01:50
- Written by JAFFAR MJASIRI
- Hits: 20463
WHOEVER watched the neighbouring Kenyan political debate, which took place last week, would agree of the many perspectives of the presidential candidates’ performance. It was good that the debate or public speaking experts analysed the issue of authenticity among the candidates.
These are issues of serious concern to Kenyans, a country that is riddled by tribalism, and many other challenges. There are those who think that the candidates were more of political animals, shifting goal posts. I always believed, so do many people, that politicians have neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies. It is always the chicken game that politicians bicker among themselves in the public, but strike hefty deals behind the scenes.
That is why the issue of authenticity is very important to be brought up during the debate to make the viewers aware of the political games often played by politicians in their own interest rather than for the interest of the people. It is always clear that the motive and primary objective behind politics is self aggrandizement. Let those who want to occupy political posts deny, but time will tell.
The debates, in this case, are supposed to steer the electorates’ interest about a particular candidate’s agenda and trying to prove his/her competence on the positions he/she is vying for. I wish the question of tribalism will fade out in the coming Kenyan elections, since there was every testimony from the speakers that tribalism was a hard nut to crack in Kenya. Going back to the Kenyan debate some presenters appeared too much of elites or academic professionals.
They indeed presented their agenda imagining they are talking to a classroom which cannot challenge them or check the facts. It is extremely important to note that the electorate who are mass audience and in diversity can be fooled once or twice, but they cannot be cheated all the time. It appears that most speakers were rhetoric. Mind you the reaction of the listeners who were in the auditorium where the debate took place came forth to tell the candidates to discuss issues.
In the last four weeks I have run series of articles on debate clubs. The articles were meant to help students to improve their English communication skills and develop logical flow of ideas. But some of the elements mentioned in the debate is sincerity and authenticity. Sam Nelson and Ken Johnson, two professors at the University of Rochester, in the US, came up with three story templates coaches can tell their students.
The enabling story is one in which the coach recounts a times of adversity and tells his students how he was able to persevere and become a proficient debater. Then, the cautionary tale alarms them of common pitfalls and how to avoid them. And the instructional reports are stories that teach and reinforce various debating skills.
These discussions, however, coincided with the time when the political parties in the neighbouring Kenya are holding debates. To me, this was a perfect time for those who were following my previous articles to compare the theory they read and the practicability of holding debate clubs, especially at the highest level such that of those seeking highest political offices -- the presidency. Many Tanzanians were glued to their TVs for three hours.
The debate was centred on ethnicity or tribalism, party politics, security, education, health and corruption. There was no doubt that the question of International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague dominated the debate. Every element that was discussed at the debate was crucial in clearing the candidates on their ability to deliver a formidable solution that will determine the destiny. The discussions were supposed to address issues that are currently affecting the people of Kenya, especially the common people.
The question of Tana River killings was one of the major thorny issues in Kenyan politics. As a viewer, the answers given by the aspirants left a lot to be desired. This is where the need of training on how to participate in debate comes in. When I started discussing the Zanzibar School of Health debate club it appeared to some readers that it was an academic topic. But when Kenyans decided to bring these presidential materials to debate, it sent message to the doubting Thomas that debates techniques is a cross-cutting skill in terms of delivering information crucial for public consumption.
In this pretext it is important to start debate clubs in our schools and encourage students to participate fully. I also started thinking of the Kenyans who have taken a lead this time to introduce debate clubs in their schools. In my views some politicians who appeared in the debate lacked debating skills, which, to me indicates that they were either deprived of attending debate clubs while still in school or something happened to them.
Some candidates did not address issues or presented issues which were not substantiated with facts, statistics or logic. It was also unfortunate that when the question of Tana river was raised some candidates were not able to offer amicable solutions. It was disheartening that such a question appears that it was not anticipated by some politicians which to many was one of the most crucial issues that have claimed innocent lives in the Kenyan history.
Most of those who debated did not use the body language which experts say it helps to show someone’s authenticity and sincerity. Body language also helps to communicate with the audience and to show them that you are talking to them and not reading your professorial notes. It is clear, in my views, that the political debate that took place in Kenya is another political mechanism of promoting dialogue and explaining tough questions that face the nation at a particular time.
If the experts can examine the behaviour of the candidates who took part in the debate, in the way they conducted themselves before the camera, as quite a revelation on how tense the candidates were. For example, it was revealed that some candidates walked to their podium so tense and preoccupied that they forgot to greet their colleagues. But it all boils down to training on debate skills.
Those who were well groomed into the art of debates appeared very confident. Some Kenyan analysts ranked Mohammed Abduba Dida - Alliance for Real Change candidate, as the most authentic candidate. I do not agree with the premise that he was sincere because he has nothing to lose. It is the question of integrity.
If someone believes in authenticity it is built in one’s personality and character over a period of time. When you observed the debates there were those who had the economies of words, which was clearly manifested in Uhuru Kenyatta - One of the two Deputy Prime Ministers. I always believe that investing in the right and quality education is crucial. Uhuru stood out from the crowd as the best performer in the president race debate.
Musalia Mudavadi, one of the two Deputy Prime Ministers, who took part in the debate was also very articulate and diplomatic in his approach. Another candidate, Raila Odinga - Prime Minister of the republic of Kenya, was more of a professor talking to intellectuals. He could not forget his ideological inclination of socialism in his debate message. But all these flamboyant candidates were united on certain issues. It was obvious that Raila was on the spotlight on the issue of referring Kenyatta to The Hague.
It was obvious that he could do little to tell the public that he was not the architect of ICC. Martha Karua, Gichugu Constituency squared Premier Raila on the matter showing the viewers how it was obvious that he wanted to get rid of his opponents in the forthcoming elections through ICC, something that he denied.
What was also very interesting was that often the debate which is dramatic created humour that helped viewers to relax. But some of the humour was based on truth. It appears the serious questions raised by those who attended the debates were not answered with the same weight of seriousness.
Those who posed the questions are people who have suffered the atrocities in Tana River, professional teachers who work in appalling conditions, etc. One can see the catalyst of training students on conducting debate since the recent Kenyan debate was a testimony of the importance of starting to groom leaders at the tender age. Debates are very helpful. Since the next Kenya Presidential debate will take place after two weeks, let’s try to be inquisitive and look whether these conditions will be observed by the moderators and coaches as well as debaters at the next debate event.
In an ideal situation the following has to be observed in conducting debate: Designate the place where your team will meet that can accommodate all members. Encourage research. Give examples of how research can be done using online search engines or books. Give constructive feedback during the debate practices, such as the language used by the candidates must be proper English. Help the candidates speak loudly and clearly, discourage reading notes.
The moderators should review or establish or revise debate rules. Develop strategies of who will speak first and what they should say and in what manner. Practice scoring each candidate in his or her debate skills during the rehearsal period in these two weeks. Try to engage all presidential candidates so that they attend the debates of their team members to learn from them and support them.
In the next debate we are going to have a chance to see some of the candidates win and others lose, but the entire team can learn from the experience when the debate is finished. In Kenya’s context the debate should minimise the element of tribalism and send a strong message that tribalism is a social menace and a time bomb for Kenyan elections.