THE STATESMAN’S PUNCHLINE: Why You Should Not Run Yourself Crazy Over Running Mates
The headline story across the bulletins and newspapers is the choice of running mates for presidential aspirants. And it is proving to be a major headache. A sticking issue. A dilemma, I may say. Particularly for the leading State House contenders, the choice they make has obvious political consequences, 88 days to the general election.
Presidential aspirants have until close of business on Monday, May 16, to submit to IEBC names of their running mates. I will not be surprised if they drag it to the very edge of the deadline; 11.59pm. Not that Azimio flagbearer Raila Odinga doesn’t know who he prefers as his deputy. Not that Kenya Kwanza presidential contender William Ruto hasn’t made up his mind on his second in command. They know. They have decided. But they are well aware of the competing political interests. They would rather wait for who makes the first move, to necessitate a rejoinder. Whichever way, whatever the case, that decision is inevitable. Whoever they settle on, there will be disappointment by those eyeing the slot but will miss it.
But this situation takes me back to January 1998 when the late president Daniel arap Moi took away the vice president’s slot from the late Prof. George Saitoti. For more than a year, the country did not have a vice president. Moi kept everyone guessing. He kept dangling the vice president seat to prospective candidates. Some were falling over themselves, trying to impress Moi to secure the plum job. And then Kenyans started pushing Moi to name his deputy, a demand he ignored for almost 14 months, until one day in April, 1999, he reinstated Saitoti, and while at it threw a dismissive remark; ‘wacha tuone hii kiti ya vice president kama itaongeza sahani ngapi za ugali…’ Twenty three years later, I am tempted to ask like Moi, hii kiti ya running mate itakuongezea sahani ngapi ya ugali?
Well, before you direct salvos my way, I confirm that I am fully aware of the functions of the deputy president, as outlined in the Constitution enacted 12 years ago. I know the place of the deputy president in the country’s political matrix. But I will still pose the Moi question; hii kiti itakuongezea sahani ngapi za ugali? I ask this because the obsession with the running mate slot, in my opinion, is unhealthy. It is a distraction.
You see, whoever is named as the running mate for your preferred presidential aspirant, will be part of a bigger team called government, should that pair win in the August general election. My concern is the ‘regionalising’ of the running mate seat. Should it be about merit or region? Should it be about the running mate’s competence or ethnic considerations? What would you rather; a running mate coming from your region who ends up in a government that does not render services or a deputy president from another region, who is part of an establishment that effectively delivers and resolves national challenges, such as unemployment, poor health facilities, rising cost of living and lack of incentives or markets for your produce as a farmer?
Here is my submission; let us stop this obsession with things that may not matter. Let us spend a lot more time understanding and interrogating the grand promises being made by the presidential contenders. What are their key policy promises? How practical or workable are they? Are they persons of integrity? Can they be trusted with the national purse? How will they exercise power? Will they abuse the instruments of power? Will they enhance national unity, equitable distribution of the national cake? Are they humane? Maybe I am asking for too much, but it is never too late to do the right thing. And for us in the media, I will readily say; guilty as charged. We have not done very well in profiling a proper national conversation on dissecting the promises being dished by the political class and particularly the leading presidential contenders.
While at it, let me remind you that this is the season of grand promises; the practical and the impossible, the real and obvious outright lies. Teresa Heinz, a Portuguese-American businesswoman and philanthropist captures it aptly; “political campaigns are the graveyard of real ideas and the birthplace of empty promises.”