MAINA: Let candidates campaign freely

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During the reign of President Daniel arap Moi, photojournalism was considered a risky occupation, especially when covering a political event. They focused and clicked their cameras at the risk of capturing an image that would put them in trouble with the government.

When covering a political rally, a cameraman was expected to focus their device in a way that it captured thick crowds, even when such an event was poorly attended. On the other hand, a journalist could get into trouble for capturing scenes that portrayed the popularity of a person who was seen as anti-government.

With the advent of multiparty democracy, cameramen are now free to zoom and click as they wish without the fear that strange fellas might pay them a visit the following day. Other than this freedom, the photojournalists of today have technology to their aid. They can edit a photograph to produce the desired effect. This brings me to the photos and video clips we have been seeing from the current campaign rallies where the crowds have been growing thicker and thicker. They have been dismissed by some people as Photoshopped, while the crowds have been described as jobless idlers. Whether these crowds are made up of idlers or not, does not matter. What really matters is that they are made up of Kenyans who will be headed to the polling stations on August 8. Their importance increases even more when one refers to the recent poll by Ipsos Synovate where eight per cent of eligible voters were projected as undecided on which presidential candidate to vote for.

The other important thing we learn from these photos and video clips is the mood of these crowds. We have seen them jeering, booing, jubilating and even fighting. Some of these dark moods are created by goons paid to disrupt rallies and create a negative image of the candidate. This is unacceptable in a democratic society where every candidate has a right to freely seek votes anywhere.

A good case study is the recent campaign tour of Kiambu by Mr Raila Odinga, the Nasa presidential candidate. He is reported to have been warmly received, with no incidents of jeering or violence were reported. This is in an area that has been described as the backyard of President Uhuru Kenyatta, an area which is generally perceived to be a Jubilee stronghold. This kind of reception points to a people who are politically mature, a people who respect the rights of Mr Odinga to seek votes in their area. Whether attending a campaign rally for the local MCA or for any other candidate, this is the kind of behaviour expected from every Kenyan. It also tells us clearly that peace in our nation during this electioneering period and after is in the hands of the ordinary people and not just the politicians. This is true because a lone politician and his/her family will not go to the streets and riot, but will use other people to perpetrate unlawful acts.

But sadly, a recent visit by President Kenyatta to the lakeside city of Kisumu and that of Mr Odinga to Baringo were marked by jeering and violence. This is a worrying trend and such incidents must be condemned by the leaders from these areas in the strongest terms. However, such violence should not make Mr Odinga end his campaigns in Kiambu, but should they transverse Murang’a, Nyeri, and all the other areas in the Mt Kenya region.

Likewise, we expect President Kenyatta, Mohamed Abduba Dida, Ekuru Aukot, Michael Wainana, Cyrus Jirongo, and Joseph Nyaga to campaign in Kisumu, Siaya and all the other areas which are Mr Odinga’s bedrock.

We have not heard much of the other presidential candidates and it would benefit voters a lot if they got an opportunity to meet them. Such occasions give Kenyans a chance to assess and make their own decisions on the best candidate to elect.

As the August 8 election day fast approaches, let us ask ourselves whether the sun will fail to rise as it has always done, if our preferred presidential candidate, or those for the other positions fail to clinch the seats.

Leaders come and go, but the nation remains. President Kenyatta has yet to visit what is popularly referred to as Luo Nyanza for his campaigns. When he does, he should sell his policies in peace.

Andrew Maina is a businessman and the author of several books including ‘Lying on the Mound’, ‘Obama’s Bed’, ‘Mama Grace Onyango’, and ‘The Ngware Ride’.