How will I vote? I do not understand your agenda
By Lilian Kaivilu
How will they vote if they have not seen or heard? How will they decide if they do not understand? How will they understand if it is not in their language?
These questions represent the situation of many Kenyan voters who, despite being fully prepared to vote on August 8, 2017, have no clear grasp of the policies and political agendas that they will be voting for.
To such Kenyans, the only chance they get to interact with political party manifestos and the development agenda by their political leaders is when the latter visit the village for campaigns. Often, such campaign sessions do not last more than three hours.
The manifestos, which essentially outline all the plans of the political party, should they assume office, is a document that should be accessed by every Kenyan. But is this the situation on the ground? How will my grandmother in the village, who only speaks Kikuyu, Giriama or Maragoli be able to understand the issues outlined in these manifestos?
Availability of vernacular versions of these manifestos would place every Kenyan voter, regardless of their level of education, in a better position to understand the issues indicated therein.
Alternatively, political parties would have done better by breaking down the manifestos to a language that the common citizen understands. For example, if a political outfit wants to address the issues of farmers in a remote village in Western Kenya, then the bulky document, with so many figures will not make sense to the farmer. A Swahili or a vernacular version of the manifesto would serve the farmer better.
Although access to information is the right of every Kenyan, it is clear that many political parties, in their agenda, have done their best to ensure that every Kenyan not only hears but also understands the implications of their political promises.
Apart from the campaigns on the ground, social media updates and the party manifestos, the only other platform that Kenyans had was the highly publicized Presidential debate. The debate aired in all local mainstream TV and radio stations was conducted in English and Kiswahili. The final debate that was to host Jubilee Alliance presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta and National Super Alliance (NASA) presidential candidate Raila Odinga was conducted in English. However, President Kenyatta did not show up for the debate.
The sessions organized by Debates Kenya Limited sought, among other objectives, to give candidates a platform to interact and engage with the electorate as well as help voters make informed decisions. But how many voters clearly understood the issues discussed during the debates? How relevant was this session to a Kenyan who does not understand English?
All the questions, very key and relevant to the common citizens were addressed in the 90 minutes allocated to the debate session on July 24, 2017. This was the final episode of the Presidential debate ahead of the August 8, 2017 General election in the country.
While many Kenyans took to social media to share their opinions about the highly publicized debates and political party manifestos, some Kenyans never enjoyed this privilege. They either did not have access to a television set, a radio or could not afford internet to enable them follow the entire debate. The organizers assumed the language barrier that some Kenyans have.
Needless to say, these Kenyans were left with no new information regarding the policies of the NASA presidential candidate. This, therefore, is a call to the organisers of such debates and interactive public fora to ensure that at least all classes of Kenyans are catered for, regardless of their ethnic background or literacy levels, during such debates.