Well Kenya’s Great Presidential Debate 2013 may have mimicked the US presidential debates but it was done in true Kenyan style – two candidates had to be fitted in at the last minute, the programme’s agreed format seemed to have been ignored, and the two-hour show ran on for three-and-a-half hours!
MUITE AND DIDA JOIN IN AT LAST MINUTE
Paul Muite and Abduda Dida had only decided to join the other six candidates for the debate at the last minute so the stage looked slightly odd: six shiny gleaming lecterns flanked by two wooden and cardboard boxes (or so it seemed).
Did any one candidate win the debate outright? Or suffer a major setback to their campaign? Not really but there were some interesting aspects to the proceedings.
The opening statements from the candidates immediately threw up a couple of surprises for this Kenya Forum correspondent. Peter Kenneth stumbled and mumbled, and Raila Odinga was told his time was up (not something he is surely used to). Dida warbled while Muite, Karua and Mudavadi seemed the most assured. Kenyatta and Kiyiapi just about held their own.
GOD AND APPLE PIE
And so we were off. Martha Karua got in the first mention of God, quickly followed by Raila Odinga who seemed to realise he’d missed a trick but later Odinga thanked Kenya’s armed forces so he seemed to have got into the stride of how the Americans do these things.
Most of the candidates were really rather bland in looks and from the point of view of the content of their answers to the questions. Muite sounded good but on occasions looked mad.
TWO MOST EXPLOSIVE MOMENTS
The two most explosive moments of the evening were probably Paul Muite’s suggestion that Odinga and Mwai Kibaki should also have been investigated over post-election violence (PEV), and Martha Karua’s challenge to Raila Odinga that he was not telling the truth over his claim that he had argued for a local tribunal to try those suspected of involvement in PEV.
The surprises of the evening were probably Musalia Mudavadi’s reasonably assured performance (although he got less time to speak than the main two candidates) and Kenneth’s poor performance at the start of the debate (although he finished quite strongly).
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM?
Paul Muite kept referring to the ‘elephant in the room’, by which he meant “corruption” and “impunity” and he called for the implementation of the ‘Kenya Kroll Report’ but for this Forum correspondent the elephant in the debating chamber was the issue of the economy and creating jobs
EVERYTHING FOR FREE BUT WHAT ABOUT ISSUE No1?
Several candidates said that if elected they would provide 100,000 more teachers, free health care, free maternal health care, more money for teacher’s pay, all free, but not one said how they would pay for it (other than by cutting waste).
Too much time was spent discussing the candidates’ position regarding Migingo Island (surprise, surprise, they all thought it was part of Kenya and surprisingly Muite and Kenneth were the most belligerent) and little or no time discussing the big issue.
So if there was one disappointing and surprising missing element to the debate was the failure of the organisers to ask the candidates and probe them at length as to what they would do to build Kenya’s economy and create the jobs – the number 1 issued among voters.
Will the debate change anything? Probably not. Kenyatta and Odinga did enough to hold on to their supporters but not enough to win over too many converts. The other candidates are in the race but have no chance of winning.
The good news is that the debate took place. Millions of Kenyans got to see and hear the candidates and to make up their own mind as to who to support. A precedent has been set and future elections in Kenya are almost certainly going to include live televised debates between the candidates. In that sense the Kenyan voter was the main winner of the evening.
We look for forward to the next debate scheduled for February 25 but hope the organisers will remember the main issue of the campaign – “it’s the economy, stupid!”
Here are most of the comments made by Kenya Forum readers during the debate. Do please add you own and if they are fit to publish, we will!
20:03:37 Dida is clearly out of his depth
20:03:53 Kenneth disappointing so far
20:06:47 Quite actually… He seems to think he is at a rally…
20:10:02 Muite in my mind has an interesting answer to tribalism…
20:18:41 Sorry… what is this part about? Technicolour yawn incident…
20:19:07 Uhuru vs Raila
20:19:38 Format seems to have gone out of the window
20:32:51 Uhuru must be sweating under the collar… Valid comments by Dida and Martha… here comes Peter Kenneth with his scripted responses…
20:37:12 “My brother on the ballot”… such PC statements… at least Obama and Romney took the gloves off…
20:37: 13Muite has just said Kibaki and Raila should be on the ICC list… Muite for President!!!
20:37:14 Most explosive moment so far
20:39:51 Okay… now the gloves are coming off… Martha’s salvo [that Odinga’s claim to have supported a local trial for the ICC suspects was not true] has just made things interesting…
20:40:58 The other ‘lesser’ candidates must feel like spare d**** in a porno movie
20:43:53 Round of applause for Kiyaipi… head of sensibility
21:06:06 Safe answers on Migingo Island
21:07:01 Well until we got to Kenneth and Mudavadi
21:46:03 Oh, cynical…
20:51:11 Muite again comes through like a champ!
21:18:58 Each 30 second spot was 500 thousand shillings by the way…
21:19: 03 Oh, cynical!
22:05:50 I’m losing the will to live…
22:05:57 Round 1 DVDs are already on sale at River Road!
22:10:35 Is it me or was round 1 better than round 2?
22:11:33 Not sure. Perhaps it’s because I fell asleep in round 2…
22:13:33 I stepped out to make a burger…
22:51:16 I rank Raila’s answers as some of the dumbest, second only to Dida…
22:52:20 Dida has to get back to Narnia before the portal closes…
22:53:23 Kenneth got better, pragmatic. Kenyatta not bad…
22:58:42 based on the issues addressed… Muite made the most sense…
23:09:01 Nobody had a disaster but Uhuru stood out because he was asked the hardest questions and he was able to handle them.
23:06:22 The debate was great. All the aspirants did well in articulating their policies but Paul Muite stood out while Dida’s sense of humour was captivating.