Weeks before the debate, there was already a debate on whether the candidates will turn up for the this very important discourse
By Carole Kimutai
If there is one thing that has got Kenyans on social media talking, it is the Presidential Debate. Weeks before the debate, there was already a debate on whether the candidates will turn up for the this very important discourse where the media is expected to interrogate the capacity of candidates to lead Kenyans.
With two weeks to go to the August 9 General Election, all eyes and ears are fixed on the four leaders who want to be the country’s chief executive when President Uhuru Kenyatta exits the House on the Hill after serving the maximum two terms allowed by the Constitution.
The media has already aired two debates – 90 minutes each – under the Presidential Debates series to interrogate those gunning for the Nairobi City County Governor’s seat and the presidential running mates. The third and the grand finale is scheduled for Tuesday July 26, during which the four candidates cleared by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to seek tenancy at State House will present themselves for public scrutiny at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) main Campus in Karen.
Topics driving conversations on social media
The hashtag #PresidentialDebatesKe2022 has been a constant trend on social media. However, every debate has generated heated discussions, opinions and humour about the candidates as well as journalists moderating the debates and topics discussed.
Conversations are mainly driven by die-hard supporters of candidates and users with huge following on social media. These posts are, however, subjective and contain hard-hitting opinions and comments without considering content and objects of the debate. These posts attract a lot of engagement in form of comments, shares, and reactions as politicians deploy influencers to win the online duel. Screenshots of some of these posts are also shared in WhatsApp groups where they become a topic of discussion.
The first debate, the Nairobi Gubernatorial debate, was held on Monday July 11. Despite it being a public holiday to mark Eid al-Adha, the debate generated a lot of conversations on social media. For the Tier 1 debate, four candidates – Esther Waringa (Independent), Harman Singh Grewal (Safina Party), Nancy Wambui (Usawa Party) and Kennedy Nyamwamu (UPA) – presented themselves to the public.
This debate generated conversations mainly about the candidates’ manifestos and how they argued their points. Singh’s plan to include IT in the operations of the city was a topic of conversation as social media users described his ideas as very practical.
“Haha. People need to be adequately prepared before these debates. This young man Herman Singh Grewal is good!” tweeted @Joegachira.
The noise on social media got even louder during the Tier 2 debate that had Polycarp Igathe of the Jubilee Party and Johnson Sakaja of the United Democratic Alliance Party. Before the debate, there was much discussion online about how each candidate was expected to perform. By the time the debate started at 8pm, Sakaja had not arrived, and rumours went round that he would not turn up.
When photos of Sakaja arriving at CUEA were shared on social media minutes before he got to the podium, there was a sudden spike of viewers on both Facebook and YouTube.
By the time the debate ended, memes and hashtags about Mr Igathe and Mr Sakaja and how they answered the questions were circulating.
Two of the most viral videos on social media were of Igathe welcoming Sakaja to the debate and jokingly telling him his late arrival was caused by traffic snarl up and of Zubeidah Koome of KTN News asking Sakaja what his real name was.
“Sakaja ni jina lako halisi?” Asked Zubeidah in Kiswahili.
“Nafikiri mulialika Sakaja… Jina lako ni Zubeidah?” Retorted Mr Sakaja.
Deputy Presidential Debate
The running mates debate was held on July 19 and all the candidates turned up – this time on time. Tier 1 had Justina Wamae of Roots Party face off Ruth Mutua of Agano Party while Tier 2 treated Kenyans to a duel between Azimio’s Martha Karua and Kenya Kwanza’s Rigathi Gachagua.
Ms Wamae of Roots party was a major topic of discussion on social media as she articulated the Roots Party manifesto eloquently, making her one of the trending topics on Twitter.
The Tier 2 debate, just like the Nairobi Gubernatorial debate, was seen as a battle of the titans. There were already social media opinion polls running asking Kenyans who they thought would win the debate.
Photos of Ms Karua and Mr Gachagua arriving and shaking hands at the podium ahead of the debate were shared widely. Conversations were about the questions the two were asked and how they responded.
The interwebs went wild when Mr Gachagua removed a paper from his pocket to read the definition of state capture. Soon after, memes were going round as a section of Kenyans related the action by Mr Gachagua with how students use ‘Mwakenya’ (notes sneaked into the examination room) to cheat.
After the debate, both principals of Azimio and Kenya Kwanza congratulated their running mates on Twitter.
“Congratulations Rigathi Gachagua my very able running mate. Kenyans are confident that in you we have a seasoned, passionate and focused leader to help us steer Kenya Kwanza to victory and the nation to prosperity. We thank almighty God na ubarikiwe sana. Never mind the media,” Dr Ruto tweeted.
“Your poise, mastery of subject matters, and staying calm even when provoked were impressive. I congratulate my able deputy and team member. The Azimio family stands proud of your performance during last night’s debate. Keep selling,” Odinga tweeted.
No doubt the Presidential Debates have confirmed one thing, Kenyans consume media on multiple screens. Social media has proved to be a platform where viewers and listeners express their thoughts about the content they are watching, critic and give feedback.
The comments from users on social media have been very useful to the Presidential Debate Secretariat. During the Gubernatorial and Deputy Presidential debates, the Secretariat crowd-sourced questions from users on social media and the questions were evaluated and used by the moderators to know the most important issues Kenyans want addressed.
Social media will certainly be the one place where Kenyans will give their verdict as to who will win the debate.