IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati speaks during a meeting at Anniversary Towers, Nairobi, on September 13, 2019. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Deputy President William Ruto and Rt Hon Raila Odinga have been formally nominated by their respective parties.

So now let the campaigns begin! I use “begin” here advisedly. Forget the incessant podium dancing and desecration of religious institutions and funerals of the last few years.

Kenyans are still waiting for coherent party platforms from the two leading camps. Coherent in the sense of a detailed articulation of headline promises, the time frame of their implementation, and how they will be paid for. Several observers have cynically dismissed this election as being about nothing.

Raila and Ruto are both household names and dyed-in-the-wool political insiders. What new ideas can they offer? I respectfully disagree with the cynicism. My disagreement is grounded in the idea that there are no good politicians, just properly incentivized politicians.

Election materials at Moi Secondary School, Nakuru, March 2, 2021. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

We should, therefore, not sit back and hope to be excited about the elusive elections in which politicians without blemish run on coherent programmatic platforms that reflect the true needs of the country. These are the politicians we have got.

Instead, we should be open to the idea that the people can shape the behaviour of politicians. Indeed, for the first time in our history, the economy has shot up to be the most salient issue in a presidential election. Both camps have been forced to pay attention to the plight of the lower rungs of our economy.

The literati should view this as an excellent opportunity to expand the space for policy discussion. What do our think tanks and civil society organisations make of the proposed ideas for improving agricultural productivity, social protection, and expansion of light manufacturing? What reforms do we need to fix our higher education system?

The important lesson from this election cycle is that if the politicians do not listen, we can still get to them by creating demand among the voting public. In other words, mass political education can be a channel through which to shape the behavior of politicians.

The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University