NAIROBI — In Kenya, eight presidential candidates met for the first of two presidential debates Monday night at Brookhouse International School. The candidates discussed tribalism, pending cases at the International Criminal Court, security and social services ahead of the March 4 general election.
For the first time in history, Kenyans had the opportunity to see their favorite presidential candidate take the podium apart from the campaign to discuss real issues affecting people's lives. For more than three and a-half hours, the eight candidates discussed how they would fix the problems facing the East African country.
Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, whose Jubilee party enjoys popular support in central Kenya, said in order for his government to implement a certain agenda, it would need the numbers in parliament to do so.
“We saw a situation where for example, you have a number of candidates in a particular constituency all saying they support the same presidential candidate, but yet are on different platforms," said Kenyatta. "And I said if we really want to implement the agenda we have, given our new constitution, given the strength and the power given to the parliament, if we don’t have the necessary numbers in parliament to implement our agenda its going to make it difficult.”
Prime Minister Raila Odinga of the CORD party said his coalition was not formed on the basis of tribal alliance, but with the idea of people sharing the same values.
“You know Kenyans must come from different regions they cannot be invented from the moon, so people come together for a particular purpose like now we’ve got CORD is the coalition of willing people who have come together because of certain values that they share together," said Odinga.
Organizers of the event say they expected more than 40 million viewers across the country to watch the debate, which was broadcast live on all television and radio stations, as well as on the Internet.
Kenyatta and his running mate, parliament member William Ruto, are both charged with crimes committed during inter-tribal fighting that erupted following the last disputed election in 2007. He said he takes the charges leveled against him as a personal challenge.
“The way it currently is many Kenyans are faced with personal challenges and I take this as a personal challenge," he said. "I am sure my colleagues here also have other challenges, but those challenges don’t prevent one from continuing with their day-to-day job.”
In an interview with VOA, Wachira Waruru, the chairman of the presidential debate steering committee, said it hopes that after this debate Kenyans will make informed choices at the ballot box.
Social and political analyst Atieno Ndomo notes the debate won’t change much because the Kenyan electorate will vote along ethnic lines.
“It’s another chance for glamorous glitz for these politicians, I am afraid to say I don’t think for instance people are going to change their votes," said Ndomo. "People are being motivated by very strange reasons, I think a bit of analysis, the Kenyan electoral process is very baffling. So I think there are other factors and we know what those are whether its ethnicity, name recognition, people have been on the scene for a long time.”
In the second debate, to be held on February 25, candidates will discuss contentious issues involving land, foreign policy and the economy.