In each election cycle, citizens are constantly communicating either through negotiations or engaging in dialogue with their respective political aspirants seeking office regarding pressing local issues. This communication process can be either vertical communication where information moves from the bottom going up (feed forward) or top going down (feedback). It could also mean horizontal communication where the information moves on either side in a straight line. In this regard, the process of information feed forward and feedback makes it easy for those aspiring for political office to understand the felt needs of the citizens which are diverse.
Based on past election cycles, most of these needs tend to range from improved infrastructure, available healthcare, affordable education, improved sanitation, food, security and peace among many others.
It is therefore not surprising that, though communication plays an important role in the election cycle, it is not all issues that eventually become part of the communication process or make it to the table to be negotiated upon. For instance, even with the ongoing 2017 political parties primary nominations in Kenya, as a blogger I am yet to stumble upon a campaign manifesto specifying the need to end cultural practices that affect the wellness and productivity of a community. I am also yet to hear of an aspirant publicly declaring that they will work with the community to end cultural practices that deem retrogressive to his/her people.
In democratic societies, communication between the leadership and citizens plays an essential role of ensuring that information vital to the existence, survival and development of constituents of such societies is availed to them in a timely, equitable, fair and balanced manner. Thus the visible silence regarding harmful cultural practices by the major candidates vying for party primary nominations can only be interpreted as poor utilization of communication channels by both aspirants and citizens to articulate the need to end harmful practices.
As a communication practitioner, I would have expected information feed forward by fellow anti-FGM activists during this political primary nomination season; principally to reach out to prospective candidates and have a genuine discussion about the need to include eradication of FGM as part of their agenda as well as get their commitment for implementation when they get into office.
Given the officialdom associated with accessing legislators such as Member of County assemblies (MCAs), Members of Parliament and other elected officials, the party primary nominations season provides a perfect opportunity for accessing prospective power wielders. This is particularly important because apart from being eventually responsible for representing their people both at the county and national assembly, legislators are responsible for making and amending laws. Therefore an encounter at the primary nominations can help create a rapport that will be useful during respective terms in office
Alongside the abovementioned, communication also offers an avenue for both vertical and horizontal communication. In this regard, anti-FGM activists have an opportunity to influence political aspirants to channel grassroots issues such as FGM and early marriage to their corresponding parties and leadership. In effect, this has the potential to not only make anti-FGM negotiations as part of the party manifesto but also raises the possibility of becoming official policy should the particular party and its leaders ascend to high office. In this case, anti-FGM activists can piggy back on political aspirants at the grassroots to reach their respective political parties as well as their party leaders as a means of escalating the message to discourage the practice of FGM to a wider audience.
More specifically, women political aspirants, by virtue of vying for special political seat of “Woman representative” have a more powerful platform to mainstream ‘women issues’ such as FGM within their various agendas considering that men would rather not talk about. In this regard, I consider women representative seat aspirants easy targets because irrespective of party affiliation are by virtue of their position expected to speak on and champion women causes without fear of losing votes.
In retrospect, I also fault the donor community who despite being conscious that 2017 was an election year did not or have not considered the importance of investing in activities aimed at bringing together anti-FGM actors and aspirants in areas where harmful traditional practices still occur. While it is understandable that Donors may prefer to remain apolitical, when it comes to battling FGM they may need to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty! In this respect, understanding that FGM is a cross cutting issue that requires massive political capital, hence donors ought to have facilitated conversations between and among activists and aspirants during this election cycle.
Finally and on a disappointing note, it is most likely that even in this election cycle most politicians will avoid talking about FGM among other harmful traditional practices. This, according to me is a cowardly and selfish act of seeking for office. It beats logic how our leaders elected on the promise of hope of alleviating poverty and misery- educated and well traveled-can ignore and even encourage a practice that continuously enslaves the same electorate to live impoverished lives.