KAMPALA – Those who have participated in any democratic election will tell you that last minute touches are very crucial can influence the outcome of the election.
Like a marathon, the energy so reserved for the finishing line can go a long way in sealing the trust of the supporters and woe the undecided. A random local Survey carried out on the internet revealed that millions of Kenyans in Kenya and in the Diaspora are anxiously waiting for the televised Tuesday 26th July, 2022 Presidential debate.
This therefore means that a candidate who fails, refuses, ignores, rejects and or neglects to take part does so at their own risk.
One of those threatening to boycott the first segment of the Presidential debate is Roots Party Presidential Candidate Prof. George WaJAHkoyah who argues that the polls used in segmenting the Presidential Debate into two tiers are not factual, are discriminatory, undermine his popularity and as such the whole event is already biased and meant to isolate other candidates.
According to the organizers, the debate is set to be held in two tiers and according WaJAHkoyah, the polls used as a determinant to pair the presidential candidates.
The Roots Party insist Wajackoyah will only attend the debate if he will be debating with the Azimio and Kenya Kwanza presidential candidates, a push that will obviously be rejected by the organizers since there are rules and regulations that govern the process.
The organizers intend to have the first tier with WaJAHkoyah facing the Agano Party counterpart David Mwaure on grounds that they are deemed to have polled below five per cent in terms of popularity as per the latest opinion polls.
According to the organizers, the second tier was expected to have Deputy President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Amollo Odinga since their popularity ratings are above five per cent according to the same opinion polls. The organizers insist that the debate will go on whether or not any of the invited Presidential candidates refuses or neglects to attend in person.
On Sunday 24th July, 2022, Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition presidential candidate Raila Odinga through his handlers announced he will not be attending the much hyped Presidential debate between him and William Ruto.
Asked why they had taken such a hard stance, Professor Makau Matua in his capacity as the spokesperson of Raila Odinga Presidential Campaign Secretariat said the principle would not participate in an exercise where his rival is dictating what kind of questions are to be asked and what questions are to be left out.
Sadly, in questioning Ruto’s demands, Makau Mutua inadvertently placed a condition on the table that a traditional debate structure with opposing candidates is a bad idea in 2022. By insisting on a certain debating structure other than the traditional one, Azimio is also dictating what must be done by the organizers if they- Azimio are to attend. In effect, both candidates have set up conditions for their participation which in my view may not be practical at this stage. In my view, anything that affects the ordinary Kenyan must be a subject of the debate and it is not the duty of participants to determine what they are to be asked.
During Prof Mutua’s address, he informed Kenyans that Raila Odinga’s decision was premised on demands made by Presidential candidate and deputy president William Ruto that the debate should not focus on corruption, integrity, ethics, and governance.
To them, Ruto’s demands were intended to water down, demean, devalue and undermine the core values of the Azimio coalition. For Azimio, any debate short of the questions that in their opinion affect the ordinary Kenyan would tantamount to nothing but an insult to the intelligence of Kenyans and by necessary implication to Azimio and its flag bearer.
As a consequence, they had taken a stand not share a national podium with a person who they described has lacking basic decency. Whatever that sentence is supposed to mean is a debate for another day. He added that it would be a colossal mistake to reward such a person with a national debate.”
He can explain himself and his poor record to voters without our help”. Fearing they would lose an opportunity to counter Kenya Kwanza, the Azimio group has planned to stage a parallel engagement with voters at Jericho Social Hall in Nairobi’s Eastlands allegedly to avert what they termed as an anticipated ’empty self-serving political theatre.
Indeed, history repeats itself. In the race to the 2017 Presidential elections, Kenya’s current President Uhuru Kenyatta and his main rival Raila Odinga pulled out of two televised presidential debates. Officials in both camps said Kenyatta and Odinga decided to pull out after they got wind of plans to change the format, pitting all eight candidates against each other.
In my view, they both had very weak reasons for absconding although open minded Kenyans felt it was fear of confrontation that informed their decisions especially on the part of Uhuru Kenyatta. On that day, Raila was on the Podium alone but failed to convince Kenyans to vote for him.
Readers may want to recall that Kenya held its first ever televised presidential debate in 2013 which debate included Kenyatta and Odinga. Afterwards, Uhuru Kenyatta claimed he had been unfairly targeted by the moderators. That could explain his reluctance to participate in similar debate in the year 2017, again with Raila Odinga. Could it be that the tough questions Martha Karua and Rigathi Gachagua faced in last week’s running mate debate could have scared Azimio and Raila Odinga especially regarding his degree allegedly obtained from Germany.
Now let us take this discussion to another level and try to establish who is fooling who. Let us assume DP Ruto wrote a letter to the organizers making certain demands. An intellectual would be asking one obvious question, were Ruto demands granted?
It appears Azimio and Raila Odinga are simply acting on their emotions to boycott the debate. To me, the letter if at all was a mere application that awaits a response from the organizers. In the absence of a reply, we are left with one conclusion, Raila is either playing mind games or he is scared of facing unapprehendable questions, a condition usually referred to as Myxophobia. What will happen if the organizers reject Ruto’s request, will Raila find reason to appear and participate in the debate or he would rather send a representative only to be rejected.
Before even the sun went down on same day after their announcement, Suna East Member of Parliament Junet Mohammed listed several conditions for a change of mind. Speaking during a campaign rally in Kitale, Junet, the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition Secretary-General noted that the coalition’s flag bearer Raila will only attend the debate if the moderators agree to focus on vital issues such as Integrity, corruption, and governance failure of which they will send Embakasi East MP Babu Owino to represent Raila Odinga. “If the debate will be similar to the running mate debate between Kenya Kwanza’s Rigathi Gachagua and Azimio’s Martha Karua, then he, as the Secretary-General, will send Babu to represent Raila.
Hardly five years ago, Raila Odinga who was a Presidential candidate in the 2017 Presidential elections shocked the nation when he took part in a debate he had earlier rejected arguing that he had received assurances that he would not have to share the stage with “fringe” candidates.
During that time, Uhuru skipped the debate which gave Raila all the time to talk alone with guidance and questions from moderators. Many believe Raila Odinga changed his mind because he was 100% sure Uhuru Kenyatta had refused to attend. Could it be that Raila Odinga fears intellectual debates?
After the debate, Mr Odinga told reporters at the Catholic University of East Africa that he felt like a footballer who had scored a goal in an unguarded net. He went on to lose the election before going to court. Despite his Court victory, he again lost the re-run to Uhuru before declaring himself the people’s president.
It appears Mr. Odinga did not learn anything from his past experience; he is again playing games of a boycott in 2022 or sending Owino to debate on his behalf. To you Mr. Junet Mohammed, a Presidential debate is a live question and answer time.
The questions are tailored by the moderators and answered by the nominated candidate in person and occasionally, the participants can also ask themselves questions. The rules of engagement do not permit prior knowledge of the questions or answering these questions through a proxy. The underlying intentions of the dabate among others are to give a chance to the participants to convince or confuse voters and to show cause why they should or should not be voted into office.
The debate among others seeks to test the levels of intelligence of the participants and the ability to apprehend and understand questions. This duty cannot be delegated to a third party like Owino.
In this case, the participants in the second segment can only be Raila Odinga and William Ruto, period. A boycott in this case will see William Ruto present his campaign agenda alone and who knows, his ratings may even double by close of this week, courtesy of the debate. With barely two weeks to the finishing line, a decision to boycott the debate will only serve to propel William Ruto as Kenya’s 5th President. It is said that even with Odinga’s participation in the debate, Uhuru will have no choice but to hand over to Ruto. Ends
Wadada Rogers is a commentator on political, legal and social issues. Wadroger @yahoo.ca