Political Showmanship A Critical Analysis of Electoral Debates in Kenya

Document Type

Book Chapter


Graduate School of Media and Communications


This chapter discusses televised electoral debates in Kenya, focusing on the 2013 and 2017 events. The article locates the arguments within media and political discourses, and discusses the role of media, and specifically television, in deliberative and mediated politics and democracy. It posits that the debates offer a platform for the interaction with, interrogation and popularisation of candidates, and opportunity for audiences to know and understand the contestants and are thus critical to the expansion of civic space and open and transparent electoral politics. However, the chapter contends that although they are gaining traction among audiences and presidential candidates, the debates are controversial, and sometimes misunderstood. The article also argues that the “staged” or “scripted” performance of the debates has not done much to placate Kenyans who think contestants deliberately equivocate, skirt around issues or go off on a tangent to address their ethnic constituents, especially when confronted with difficult questions of leadership, corruption, and statecraft. Hence debates abound about the place and efficacy of such events in Kenya’s volatile electoral and democratic processes. What is more, there is little empirical evidence to demonstrate the effects they have had on voter attitudes, intentions and political behavior, and attendant democratic decision-making.


This work was published before the author joined Aga Khan University.

Publication (Name of Journal)

Routledge International Handbook On Electoral Debates

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.