Kenya’s presidential debate was held this week at the Catholic University for Eastern Africa (CEUA) in Nairobi and it was split into two tiers. The first tier was to be between presidential candidates whose approval ratings, based on three recent opinion polls, were below 5%, while the second tier involved candidates who had achieved more than 5% in the same opinion polls. ‘opinion.
As for Tuesday’s debate, I don’t even know where to begin, or if I should identify it as a debate at all, given that it was a one man show in both segments. In my honest opinion, the debate was a disaster and a waste of resources. In the end, it turned out to be interviews about nothing memorable.
The first segment of the exercise was between the presidential candidate of the Roots Party George Wajackoyah and Agano’s presidential candidate, David Mwaure. Wajackoyah showed up for the debate but left immediately afterwards, stating that he would only participate in the debate if the four leaders were allowed to argue their case in the same room. Mwaure was therefore left to answer questions posed by the moderators for the remaining allocated time. Nothing really memorable happened, with many complaining that Mwaure seemed more of a motivational speaker than a man currently running for the presidential seat.
The second segment was also a one-man show. This also happened in 2017, when President Uhuru Kenyatta failed to show up for the debate, leaving Raila Odinga to debate alone. The only difference this time was that Raila Odinga, the leader of Azimio la Umoja, was the one who did not show up, leaving Dr Ruto, the leader of Kenya Kwanza, to take part in the debate alone. “He is a man who has no respect for ethics, public morals or shame. It would be a mistake to reward such a person with a national debate,” Raila Odinga said. Raila went on to state that he would meet his opponent on election day. His reasoning was driven by the fact that Dr. Ruto and his team had required earlier to learn about the topics of the debate and have a say in the questions that will be asked. This has caused a lot of controversy online and leads many people to already doubt the authenticity of the debate.
The second segment was a solo one, with Dr Ruto being asked about issues such as the high cost of living, the country’s debt and corruption, for which he blamed President Uhuru Kenyatta and his government. This turned many heads considering he was also part of that same government he blamed. He then pointed out that if he becomes president, he will make all documents related to the debt public. Many wondered why he couldn’t just share this information publicly before he was named President and when asked about it he implied that his powers as Vice President (DP) were limited, which meaningless. This comes from the fact that article 147 of the Constitution of Kenya states that the DP is the chief assistant to the President and shall deputize for the President in the performance of the President’s duties. So it made sense to many that Dr Ruto tried to distance himself from the President’s actions and yet the President cannot do anything regarding the country without his prior knowledge.
The final segment controversies didn’t end there. Another issue that troubled many Kenyans was the question of insecure. When Dr Ruto was asked about the violence in areas such as the Kerio Valley, the DP said wars were being waged by the Jubilee government to undermine him. Many Kenyans have wondered if the wars were really caused by the Jubilee government, why Dr Ruto never said anything before the debate or why did he do nothing to end the violence if he was actually the cause of the bloodshed. The final issue that caused an outcry among Kenyans was the land grab scandals around the DP. Ruto denied all claims of land grabbing and said all land under his name was acquired legally. This has led Kenyans to make memes, jokes and even discuss the issue online. In fact, the hashtag #Uongo (lies) was trending on Twitter after the debate. Indeed, time and again there have been news of its land grabbing activities, such as in 2021 when there was rumors that he seized land from Langata Primary for his hotel or the incident when the courts found him guilty to illegally acquire a 100-acre farm from Adrian Muteshi, victim of land clashes in the Rift Valley. The DP tried to defend itself by saying it was being scammed, but many Kenyans did not believe it.
In general, nothing really important happened in the whole presidential debate. In the first segment, the problems were discussed but no real solution was provided; in the second segment, we simply heard the same promises we made in 2013 and 2017 when the DP was campaigning for President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Few Kenyans were enthusiastic about this debate. This was seen in how the audience turnout in the DP debate was higher compared to the turnout in the presidential debate. Most were disappointed with the debate since nothing new was brought to the table. Obviously, there are those who were pleased with the way Dr Ruto conducted himself and said that Raila Odinga was a coward for not attending the debate. However, there are those who were disappointed that Raila was not present as they saw it as the perfect opportunity for Raila to call Dr. Ruto out on his lies. There are also those who supported Raila in his decision and said it would have been a waste of time as it would have ended up being a smear show rather than a real debate.
George Maina, a Ruto supporter who followed the debate, says his candidate performed well and slammed Raila not to be present. “He feared Ruto. He should have attended,” he said.
“The debate was like a talk show. Raila’s absence was unfortunate,” Wanyama said. The Africa Report.
We are now 10 days away from national elections. With the completion of all debates, Kenyans now have the responsibility to decide who they want as their leader. Of course, some rallies are still going on, but at this point I’m sure most Kenyans have already decided who they want as their leader or if they will actually vote on that fateful day.
There can only be one winner and I hope whoever wins the election will be peaceful. I also hope that the leader who emerges victorious will actually bring positive change to this country.