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June 25, 2018

Detribalising Kenyan elections towards issue-based politics

NASA protesters along University Way, calling for the resignation of Ezra Chiloba and other electoral officials on September 26. /Jack Owuor
NASA protesters along University Way, calling for the resignation of Ezra Chiloba and other electoral officials on September 26. /Jack Owuor

Elections should be a means of elevating the best to lead, and not a contestation amongst leaders. It is not supposed to be a perennial source of antagonism and conflicts amongst tribes, communities and people of the same nation.

Removing adversity as the basis of democratic contention began with England’s King John and his nobles in the signing of the 1215 Magna Carta. It is time we in Kenya reclaimed the consensus methodologies as espoused by the founders of democracy. In their solemn deliberations, the arts of persuasion, rather than disputation, were practiced, comprehension preceded argumentation, discussion avoided disputation, and the calculus of addition reigned over the impulse to subtract.

It is on this axis that Kenyans’ upcoming presidential repeat election should revolve. National unity could easily be achieved by giving legitimacy to the ultimate leader elected as President in the rerun between the top two contenders. This is where the elected leader will not just have the majority but a huge burden to deliver on the agreed-upon issues of national importance during that election.

Kenya today is faced with a myriad of problems that should be consolidated into four issues that then form the basis upon which voters cast their ballots. This, in my estimation, would include: National unity and inclusivity, equitable distribution of resources, economic development and strict adherence to ethics and integrity.

To achieve this, it is time Kenya as a nation thought outside the box.




Based on the agreed number of critical issues of national importance, a Likert scale questionnaire should be developed with a score for each question. Each aspirant should then be rated based on what they promise to do and then the scores aggregated and the candidate with the best score handed the mandate to lead; not as the winner, but first among equals.

In our case, the voter would then be asked to assign a preferred score to UhuRuto or RaiLonzo, with number four designating the top preference, and one designating the least choice on the topical issue at hand.

That would be a great way to start making our politics issue-oriented, as development issues become the centre of our politics. The people who manage to assume office from such a process are held accountable not just for what they pledge to do in their manifestos, but what propelled them to the top.

The choice then is not on one against the other, but of the two being given different weights of preferences on critical issues affecting the country at a time.

In this scenario, the top on aggregate score will be a majority’s choice and effectively becomes the President not to serve their tribe but the nation on the election issues at that time. There are only layers of preferred choices, giving nods to candidates to play the roles they applied for, in this case, President, governor, MP, senator and MCA.

If we apply this scenario to all our elections, where we give valence to all candidates at all levels, our choices would not isolate anyone, but do a preference rating.

At the end, the tabulation of the ratings would reflect both a quantitative and qualitative choice of the leaders. Such categories as the majority and the minority choices would not apply.

Because the choice is made on preferences rather than on exclusions, best rated leader(s) could turn around after the election and offer concrete roles to their fellow candidates, beyond the perfunctory words of “needing to work together.”

Valencing the vote might change our candidates from ferocious pugilists out to incapacitate their opponents, to strategic sumo wrestlers, who are merely out to nudge their opponents out of the circle of attention.

The end result of valencing the vote would be “many intentions, one direction.”

We would balance the ballot so that it does not rend community but solidifies it.


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