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Kenyans Unhappy With President Kibaki’s Refusal to Debate Opposition Leader

Some Kenyans are reportedly disappointed with incumbent President Mwai Kibaki’s refusal to debate the leading opposition presidential candidate ahead of this month’s general elections. The debate, which was expected to pit President Kibaki against Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), was supposed to be the first in the country’s history. Some political observers said the president has robbed Kenyans of the opportunity to see the two leading contenders square off before this month’s elections.

Meanwhile in three different polls recently released, Raila Odinga continues to lead the pack with about 46 percent, followed by President Kibaki with about 42 percent, and Kolonzo Musyoka of the Orange Democratic Movement-Kenya (ODM-Kenya) trailing at a distant third.

Mustapha Ali is a Kenyan political analyst. From the capital, Nairobi he tells reporter Peter Clottey Kibaki’s recent poll gains could be in danger because of his refusal to debate Raila Odinga.

“Generally, Kenyans are disappointed. Kenyans were looking forward to this debate and of course this was going to be a historical event as it was going to be the first one ever to be conducted in Kenya,” Ali opined.

He said the president’s campaign team explained the rationale behind his refusal to debate Raila Odinga.

“Just this evening, the presidential press service did issue a statement. And it’s sad to say that Kibaki does not think that the debate is going to add any value to the campaign process currently underway,” he noted.

Ali said Kenyan’s were looking forward to the President defending his track record against Raila Odinga’s.

“In fact that’s what we all expected that Kibaki who has done very well in terms of the economic growth. And we thought that in fact he was going to take on Raila head on and explain to Kenyans that his track record is dying,” Ali said.

He reckoned Kibaki’s recent poll gains could potentially be undermined by his refusal to debate Odinga.

“Yes, I think this is going to reflect badly on the incumbent President Mwai Kibaki. I think what he (Kibaki) is worried about is the charisma issue. Remember, Raila is a very charismatic leader, and he can defend his position and can explain always with statistics, facts and these are what Kenyans are looking for. I am not sure that Kibaki would explain with the same level of charisma that Raila would otherwise do,” he pointed out.

Ali said President Kibaki would refuse to further comment on his refusal to debate opposition leader Rail Odinga.

“I think Kibaki, he’s just going to keep quiet; he is going to snub these issues, this debate and any debate that will arise from his refusal to participate in the debate and will go on with his campaign. While at the same time, I think somebody like Raila Odinga is going to say now look, I challenged the incumbent president and he refused because he is scared,” Ali noted.

(English to Africa 12-12-07)