Kenya dispatch: walkout and boycott turn national presidential debate into two one-man shows Dispatches
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Kenya dispatch: walkout and boycott turn national presidential debate into two one-man shows

Kenya’s presidential debate was held this week at the Catholic University for Eastern Africa (CEUA) in Nairobi and it was divided into two tiers. The first tier was to be between presidential candidates whose popularity ratings, based on three recent opinion polls, stand below 5 percent, while the second tier involved candidates who have polled above 5 percent in the same opinion surveys.

As regards Tuesday’s debate, I am not even sure where to begin, or whether I should identify it as a debate at all, considering 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 being interviews about nothing memorable.

The first segment of the exercise was between Roots Party presidential candidate George Wajackoyah and Agano’s presidential candidate David Mwaure. Wajackoyah turned up for the debate but left immediately after, stating that he would only participate in the debate if all four leaders were allowed to defend their case in the same room. Mwaure was therefore left to answer the questions asked by the moderators for the remaining time allocated. Nothing really memorable happened, many complained that Mwaure seemed more of a motivational speaker than a man who is actually running for the presidential seat.

The second segment was a one-man show as well. This also happened in 2017, when President Uhuru Kenyatta failed to appear for the debate, leaving Raila Odinga to debate alone. The only difference this time around was that Raila Odinga, Azimio la Umoja’s leader, was the one who failed to appear, leaving Dr. Ruto, Kenya Kwanza’s leader, to participate in the debate alone. “This is a man who has no regard for ethics, public morals or shame. It would be a mistake to reward such a person with a national debate,” said Raila Odinga. Raila went on to state that he would meet his opponent on the day of the elections. His reasoning was prompted by the fact that Dr. Ruto and his team had demanded earlier on to know the topics of the debate and to have a say in what questions would be asked. This caused a lot of controversy online, and led to many already doubting the genuineness of the debate.

The second segment went on as a solo show, with Dr. Ruto being asked questions regarding issues such as the high cost of living, 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 this very government he was blaming. He further went on to emphasize that if he is made president he would make public all documents related to debt. Many were left wondering why he could not just share that information publically before he was made president and when he was asked regarding this he implied that his powers as the deputy president (DP) were limited which does not make sense. This stems from the fact that article 147 of the Constitution of Kenya states the DP is the principal assistant of the president and shall deputise for the president in the execution of the president’s functions. It therefore did make sense for many how Dr. Ruto attempted to distance himself from the actions of the president and yet there is nothing that the president can do in regards to the country without his prior knowledge.

The controversies of the final segment did not end there. Another issue that confused many Kenyans was the issue of insecurity. When Dr. Ruto was asked about violence in areas such as Kerio Valley, the DP stating that wars were being driven by the Jubilee government to undermine him. Many Kenyans were left wondering if the wars were really being caused by the Jubilee government, why has Dr. Ruto never said anything until the debate or why had he not done anything to end the violence if he indeed was the reason for bloodshed. The final issue that caused an uproar among Kenyans was the land-grabbing scandals revolving around the DP. Ruto dismissed all land grabbing allegations and stated that all land under his name were acquired legally. This led to Kenyans making memes, jokes and even discussing the matter online. In fact, the hashtag #Uongo (lies)  was trending on Twitter after the debate. This is because time and time again there has been news of his land-grabbing activities, such as in 2021 when there were rumors that he had grabbed land from Langata Primary for his hotel or the incident when the courts found him guilty of irregularly acquiring a 100-acre farm from Adrian Muteshi, who was the victim of land clashes in Rift Valley. The DP attempted to defend himself by stating that he was the victim of fraudsters, but a good number of Kenyans did not believe him.

In general nothing really important happened in the entire Presidential debate. In the first segment, issues were discussed but no actual solutions were provided; in the second segment, we simply heard the same promises that we had both in 2013 and 2017 when the DP was campaigning for President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Not many Kenyans were excited for this debate. This was seen in how the turnout rate for the audience in the DP debate was higher as compared to the attendance rate for the presidential debate. Most were disappointed by the debate since nothing new was brought to the table. Obviously, there are those who were pleased with how Dr. Ruto conducted himself and stated that Raila Odinga was a coward for not attending the debate. However, there are those who were disappointed by the fact that Raila did not attend since they saw this as the perfect opportunity for Raila to call out Dr. Ruto on his lies. There are also those who supported Raila on his decision and stated that it would have been a waste of time since it would have ended up being a bashing show rather than an actual debate.

George Maina, a Ruto supporter who watched the debate, says his candidate performed well and slammed Raila for not attending. “He feared Ruto. He should have attended,” he says.

“The debate was like a talk-show. Raila’s absence was unfortunate,” Wanyama told The Africa Report.

We are now 10 days away from national elections . With the completion of all the debates, Kenyans have now been handed the responsibility to decide who they want as their leader. Sure some rallies are still being conducted, but at this point I am sure most Kenyans have already decided on 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, regardless of who wins, the elections will be peaceful. I also hope that the leader who emerges victorious will actually bring positive change to this country.