President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday said he skipped Monday night’s scheduled debate with his main challenger Raila Odinga because it would have been a waste of his time.
The President said in Nyeri County on the first day of his last 12 days of campaigning ahead of the August 8 General Election that he could not debate with “someone who does not have an agenda for this country”.
He criticised the National Super Alliance (Nasa) flagbearer, citing his history in and out of government.
“Do you want me to spend my time responding to Raila or commissioning projects?” President Kenyatta asked the crowd at a campaign rally in Kiandu.
“I decided that he will debate alone because I have nothing to debate with him. I will not waste my time there.”
And, although the Head of State accused the media of not supporting his bid and also helping his rivals to discredit him after he skipped the debate, he nonetheless said he was not bothered by that.
The remarks reflected the general mood within the President’s advisory team and Jubilee Party, which he leads, in the wake of the debate in which Mr Odinga had 90 minutes to articulate his ideas and answer questions with only the moderators to challenge him.
The President’s advisers were also reported to have been unhappy with Debates Media Limited, the organisers, and were of the view that their preparations for the event were not inclusive and did not involve everyone from the outset.
They were also upset that, despite the reluctance by the President and assertions by the Jubilee that he would not attend, advertisements of the debate continued to feature his image.
Jubilee was also not happy with the choice of moderators. They had their suggestions, including BBC’s Sophie Ikenye and Joseph Warungu, as well as renowned playwright and former Kiss TV interview host John Sibi Okumu.
Generally, there was a lack of confidence in Debates Media as well as media houses.
The President was also said to have been against a one-on-one with Mr Odinga given his actions and statements regarding the elections – such as suing the IEBC and making allegations against the security agencies – and so did not want to share a stage with him.
Mr Odinga said later he had decided to attend after getting assurances that he would not have to share the stage with fringe candidates.
He told reporters outside the auditorium at the Catholic University of East Africa (Cuea) that he felt like a footballer who had scored a goal in an unguarded net after the incumbent, President Uhuru Kenyatta, snubbed the event.
“I had a breakfast meeting with the chief editors of the major media houses in the country and I gave them an assurance that, if they made it a serious debate, in other words, not just a talking shop, then we would attend,” said Mr Odinga.
The former Prime Minister’s condition was that there was a need for a threshold of followers to qualify to be on the same table with him and, when that was eventually confirmed, he agreed to attend.
The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party leader had earlier insisted that he would only attend the debate if President Kenyatta confirmed he would show up.
Guidelines stating that candidates with more than five per cent support from opinion polls would participate in the second session were issued from the very start.
It is more likely that Mr Odinga realised that, even if President Kenyatta failed to attend, he would have the entire 90 minutes to himself and the only people to challenge his assertions would be the moderators.
His running mate Kalonzo Musyoka missed that opportunity two weeks ago when he followed Deputy President William Ruto’s cue and decided to skip their debate.
He was subsequently criticised by the organisers and the Press.
Nasa National Campaign Committee chairman Kibisu Kabatesi led the coalition’s team on presidential debates in the negotiations with Debate Media that would later lay down the ground rules for the participation of Mr Odinga.
At a meeting held on July 5, whose minutes were seen by the Nation, Nasa made it clear that given the limited time and uncertainty on Jubilee participation, the Nasa campaign could not make it to the debate and requested that the event be rescheduled.
The meeting was attended by the Nasa team of Mr Kabatesi, who chaired the session, as well as Mr Salim Lone, who is Mr Odinga’s spokesman, Ms Kathleen Openda and Mr Adams Oloo.
The event’s organisers had Ms Faridah Karoney, Mr Francis Munywoki and Mr Danny Mucira.
— Reported by Grace Gitau, David Mwere and John Ngirachu