Because campaign financing is a grey area, deep pockets and handouts are mistaken for good leadership. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

When I covered President Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign, I witnessed first-hand the door-to-door vote-hunt by his legion of volunteers combing through estates and communities convincing them why an Obama presidency was a better bet that John McCain’s. 

The Baltimore Sun had sent me off with David Nitkin, the then Washington DC reporter, down to Pennsylvania.

Obama would knock at people’s doors, introduce himself and then respectfully ask to be let in, a mark of great respect for Americans who naturally love their private space and then explain his vision and mission.

There were no stampeding security men shoving around people, obstructing his interaction with those he had come to persuade to vote for him to lead them.

In some places, the door would be slammed in his face and he would gracefully walk away not throwing up his hands or causing a huge scene even though you could tell that the rejection had hit him hard.

Later on in his televised speeches at town halls and stadiums, Obama  -like many others in the race – would recall these solemn moments; meeting people facing daily struggles such as sickness, lack of education, housing and experiencing discrimination because of their race and his proposals for a solution.

After all as James A Baker, a former Secretary of State, said,“the point of holding power is to get things done and accomplish things.”

One cannot help, but despair at our politics. What with the lack of enlightened political discourse where optics (crowd size) is considered the gold standard for everything?

All one needs is a social media influencer with clout and you are home and dry. And therein lies our problem. The love for huge rallies masks the real problem; ineffective politics that then leads to ineffective leadership.

Those bombarding us with images of which political formation attracted the larger crowd are perpetuating the owner-slave syndrome that so much defines our politics.

Someone who wants to lead you should persuade you to listen to them at your level, not talking down on you from a podium. Why should he pay you to go and listen to them if what they have is important to you?

Also, with the Obama and other American campaigns, crowds that fill up football stadiums pay to get in there and listen to the candidates. They understand that there is no free lunch.

The only way to disabuse the politicians of the notion that only they have the solutions to fix our problems, is to be blunt and tell them hatupangwingwi. But, how do you do that when he has bused you into his rally to tell you what he wants you to hear? After all, you owe him the Sh200 (and the free t-shirt with his image and poster) he gave you. He owes you nothing.

In the US, because of finance caps, a correlation between funds raised and the popularity of a candidate has been established.

Obviously, there are exceptions, but the thing is most of the time, those with policies that chime with the voters raise more funds because the followers propel you forward, materially and emotionally (buying your merchandise, attending your rally for example).

Here, because campaign financing is a grey area, deep pockets and hand outs are mistaken for good leadership.

The more goodies a politician can distribute, the more revered they are. And if they can do that with the help of State, the better. This is dead-end politics at its best – usually characterised by predetermined outcomes and which retard rather than foster growth.

What to do? One of IEBC’s core responsibility to the voter is to do civic education besides telling them to register and turn up to vote.

Together with agencies like the EACC and the moribund civil society they ought to sensitise the masses on why electing or enabling charlatans to be elected while expecting angels out of them is foolhardy. Media can only do so much, much less a media that has been squeezed from all sides.

The place to start is refusing to be shepherded into rallies where the politicians have decided the agenda including how you will echo back their meaningless sloganeering and then get their paid-up bloggers to use you to score off against opponents.

Mr Kipkemboi is Partnerships and Special Projects Editor, Standard Group