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How media has been distracted by Raila AU job story

The country is inundated with stories of Raila Odinga relocating to Addis Ababa as chairman of the African Union Commission. Apparently, the leader of the Azimio Coalition will abandon his local politics to pursue a pan-African cause. The media has presented Raila’s quest for the AU post as the end of his local politics. One is left with the impression that the political landscape in Kenya will soon be flat, without hills, valleys, forests, rivers, or even different paths.

This story of Kenyan politics without Raila being a world without an alternative voice or opposition, a world of millions of political orphans, has entirely shifted the public gaze from urgent socio-economic issues. Indeed, one would even take the noises about Raila running for the AU Commission job as well-executed propaganda.

Why? Because suddenly public attention is fixated on the exit of one man from the political stage. Speculation abounds about what will happen to the political coalition he leads. Endless acres of newspaper pages and media hours have been dedicated to guesswork about the future of ODM. Women and men have offered several conjectures on who would wear his political shoes locally as the ‘undisputed leader of the opposition.’ Thrown in there are several formulae of the 2027 political realignments.

Where is the cost of living story? What has happened to the story of mama mboga, boda boda guy, unemployed youth, the hustlers that the current government vowed to free from socio-economic misery? The opposition, too, had offered salvation to this lot. The cost of living campaign that gained currency last year amid public protests led by the opposition had promised freedom from socio-economic wretchedness for millions of Kenyans. The media was not just a purveyor of this story of likely socio-economic relief, but also a key driver of the national conversation. Whether in government or the opposition, consensus emerged that life was unbearable for ordinary Kenyans.

Then, the AU Commission job story happened. Raila was searching for work in Addis. He was lobbying African countries to support him. Oh, former President Uhuru Kenyatta was in the mix, too. Retired President Jakaya Kikwete, the media suggested, was Kenyatta’s preferred candidate, not Raila. Then the plot got thicker. Other African countries would not necessarily support Raila or Kenya for the AU job. Raila himself would go ahead to declare that wanting to work at the AU didn’t mean that he had no political interests back home.

And so, the media continues to push or pursue a story whose finer details they do not really know, or do they? The media retails mere speculation, dramatising a tale whose real cast the journalists are yet to meet. Yet, ordinary Kenyans are caught in an endless cycle of daily struggles: They can’t pay school fees or medical charges or rent; they can’t buy food; administrators of public schools are complaining that they don’t have enough money to keep the schools running; the cost of public transport is high; fuel is expensive, etcetera.

Oh, and that little matter of too many taxes on too little income is now hidden somewhere in the inside pages of the newspapers. But there are whispers, yet to become a proper tune, of unhappiness about taxing farmers at the farm gate. Yes, even MPs who supported the bill that introduced a huge basket of taxes are now claiming that the tax burden is too heavy for their constituents. These are problems of ordinary men and women; people whose quality of life seems to be deteriorating every day.

Kenya’s media may wish to continue with the Raila for AU Commission job narrative. The media probably have their reason for pursuing it. However, that story should not be used to avoid public debate on the hardships that today Kenyans are experiencing. The media owes its consumers balanced reporting.

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