Columnists

Spare us the hubris of political news

political

A political rally at Kongowea Market in Nayli. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

jenny

Summary

  • The apolitical form of political news is entrenched — who went to whose house, who said the Mount would vote which way, who wrote what article slating which other candidate as a non-runner.
  • Politics is supposed to cover governance, how good or bad it is and who gets what, how the playing field is set, the winners and the losers, the principles, beliefs, proposed policies.

I’m a journalist. I have always been a journalist. I even train journalists. So I don’t know if that qualifies me to be able to express profound frustration at the media and not be swept aside, just as all others who express frustration at the media are.

For here we are again, back into another hot pre-election season, with every news outlet we have crammed full of stories that they call politics.

So no, I am not going to complain about so much political coverage. What I’m going to complain about is the nature of the media coverage. For this isn’t politics, Sir, it’s hubris, and chest-beating, and gossip.

For sure, the apolitical form of political news is entrenched — who went to whose house, who said the Mount would vote which way, who wrote what article slating which other candidate as a non-runner. It’s what we get every time. It’s our solid diet. There’s never any variation.

So let me try to paint another picture of politics. For, what, really, is politics?

Maybe it’s a lady saying voters will vote with their heads and not just their hearts, with no clue at all on what might be grounds for any reasoned head-based voting decision.

Well, yes, that is politics, in the sense of office politics and someone jockeying for position and power.

But in terms of government, politics is supposed to cover governance, how good or bad it is and who gets what, how the playing field is set, the winners and the losers, the principles, beliefs, proposed policies.

And, most of all, it’s supposed to cover issues like what we are doing to build our nation and solve the problems that hurt our citizens.

Stuff like why our youth are unemployed and what we are going to do about it, or why 2021 is a great year to be a nation with thousands of people with trachoma that takes no more than an antibiotic tablet to cure, or what we are going to do next about our debt crisis to ensure a better future for our children and not a bankrupt and backward one.

For all policies are politics and which party is promoting which policies, or even how an alliance of parties will impact their collective policies, is really politics.

Yet our political debate is so small. Of course, we do get serious and credible writers in that space. But why the gulf between their analyses of land rights issues, or regional inequity, or countless other issues, and our ‘political news’.

For please let’s understand the implications of staying off our real governance issues as reporters. When our biggest political news is someone’s rally to announce they are running for post, but not what they propose to spend next time, we end up with leadership that isn’t ‘permission-based’.

In this, every situation has a ‘defining issue’. In Kenyan politics, let me suggest that the defining issue now shaping every policy we implement (and NOT whose house who meets in) is the massive leap in our borrowing from China under the current government to buy huge infrastructure projects.

Now it’s a strategy that has things for it, like that one day these assets may be net income contributors and create jobs, and things against it, like all the things we can no longer afford as a result, like stopping trachoma blinding people once the donors don’t pay.

For, with any government, there is only so much tax revenue to spend. It’s a matter of strategy how much forward spending we do by borrowing now, and whether we do that for productive assets that will generate extra tax revenue ahead or whether we just consume tomorrow’s taxes.

Those decisions get taken by the politicians we vote in. But since we don’t even ask them at each press conference what their spending priorities are, they are decisions that get taken without our votes.

Did you vote for massive infrastructure spending? Did you vote to leave trachoma and bilharzia out of universal healthcare?

And nor will you this time, for as long as politics is who is running, and not what they are proposing to do.