BY David Matende
Almost all TV and radio stations, including the most provincial vernacular radio, have one or two of them. They are now a regular feature on prime time slots. Others have invaded the limitless platform of the Internet, where they ply their trade using social media networks such a Facebook.
We are talking about Kenya’s political analysts – the men and women that purport to interpret major political events for us.
While in the past one needed to read the Sunday newspapers for perspective on the big political questions of the day, today, one only needs to press a button or click a mouse.
And with the General Election coming in a matter of weeks, these political seers are having a field day.
When it is professionally done, analyses of politics, or any other subject for that matter, can help the population to understand what is going on. It is the analyst who decodes the actions of the politicians. He puts things in perspective and helps his audience to see the hidden meanings, if any.
Viewers should leave each and every episode of political analysis a little wiser, and, hopefully, in a better position to make informed decisions on the D-day – Election Day.
But are our political analysts and commentators up to this important task? More often than not, they are a let-down. The viewer or listener looking for refreshed, informed and inspired opinion is left hanging, like having sex sans orgasm.
But are our political analysts and commentators up to this important task? More often than not, they are a let-down.
To be fair, some of the analysts are able political interpreters whose perspectives enlighten. But the majority are a disappointment. While some are painfully mediocre, others are downright parochial. Quite a number do not even have their facts right, never mind the fancy tittles they carry.
When they are not sounding like stuck records, some of the analysts will be mouthing frothy fallacies in the pedestrian style only Kenyan “intellectuals” can. Like their newspaper counterparts who read our politics using only ethnic lenses, the TV and radio analysts are given to sterile ethnic computations.
Maybe the studio journalists who moderate these debates are to blame. While some TVs have undoubtedly able hosts of political discussions, the rest are a disaster. Their inability to ask good questions could be contributing to the lowly studio debates. Good questions elicit appropriate answers.
It is worse when the studio journalist has biases against one of the now familiar political divides of NASA and Jubilee.
Such bias can and does actually colour interviews with the result that the true story is left untold. While the values of objectivity and fairness that guide journalism also apply to talk shows, this is hardly the case on local TVs and radios.
The abilities of the journalists notwithstanding, most analysts simply do not pass the credibility test as they do not exhibit expertise and objectivity, with quite a number appearing not properly informed.
Little wonder they have little impact on the audiences and on decisions made by politicians. The goal of political analysis is not to please either side of the political divide, but rather to put the voter in the best position to make the best-informed decision possible.
It is no wonder that even after months of such analyses, there is still no rise in the level of political knowledge, with Kenyans still taking narrow positions in their political discourses.
So what are some of the characteristics of a good political analyst?
First, a good analyst must understand Kenya – history and cultures. This is critical because the innate biases that shape our perceptions are a result of history and culture. Analysts must understand that and factor it into their thinking— not because they need to tailor their product to fit the bias, but because that bias preconditions how Kenyans interact with each other.
In the Art of War, Sun Tzu advises that it is as important to know yourself, as it is to know your enemy. The key to understanding people today is to understand their past as they understand it.
In all lives, there are key moments. These are the events that shape a person’s worldview and act as filters through which subsequent events are perceived. Political analysts should be able to identify the two or three seminal events in a generation’s lifespan. These are the hard lessons of history that seep into a nation’s bones.
For our fathers’ generation, it was struggle for independence, for people in the middle age group, it was the struggle for the second liberation and for the younger generation, the post-election violence of 2007 and the enactment of the a new constitution in 2010 are obvious milestones.
Although these events recede, the lessons that they taught—consciously or unconsciously—do not fade. Psychologists tell us that as we grow older, we become less open to new ideas and more inclined to look back when trying to see ahead.
The competition between Nasa and Jubilee would be better understood against such a background
Additionally, a good analyst should read books written by Kenya’s philosophers, historians and novelists, as well as works by other key thinkers for perspectives on the national psyche.
Anyone who has not studied historians Gideon Were, William Ochieng and Godfrey Muriuki, among others, as well as writers such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o, has no business being a public political intellectual in Kenya today. Equally critical are works such Jaramogi Odinga’s Not Yet Uhuru, and the philosophical thoughts of the likes of Odera Oruka and John Mbiti.
The works of leading intellectuals provide invaluable insights in how Kenya has evolved and what shapes the views of the political elite.
Fourth, analysts must understand the value Kenyan’s place on political power and how that power is welded. They should explain to the audiences the illusions and delusions of power and why it may or may not be important who welds it.
But instead of looking at politics using these various yardsticks, our analysts imagine that the only way to read election politics is via ethnic calculus. This is simplistic.
There are real possibilities that this year’s election could be determined by factors other than tribe. For instance, for most Kenyans today, the high cost of living is the most critical existential issue facing them. Prices of essentials have gone through the roof and the majority are suffering, regardless of tribe.
A commentator who does not see this as important is not worth the airtime he is allotted. Indeed, fifteen years ago, Kenyans rejected tribalism and instead chose to vote for change when they elected Mwai Kibaki. What makes anyone think that they cannot reject Uhuru Kenyatta seeing as his performance has been poor?
One wonders why only a few television political experts focus on this as possible determinant of the results of the impending election.
It is important at this point to pause and ponder the role of mass media in general. Media not only informs but also teaches and inspires. True, ethnicity is a reality in Kenyan politics. But is it not the responsibility of media to educate people on the dangers of ethnic politics? One way to do this is stop analysing politics using purely ethnic logic.
In other words, media should be helping people create new possibilities in politics. As opinion leaders, they should be showing the way, and not let themselves be dominated by popular thinking.
In the past, media played a critical role in showing the legitimate political direction. Right from the fight for independence to the struggle against one-party dictatorship, they were in the vanguard. Why has the current generation of media failed to identify its mission? ^