By Francis Ngige and Steve Mkawale
Kenyans continued to be in the dark on the date of the General Election, with President Kibaki beating a hasty retreat after hinting at polls being held this year.
On Friday, a visiting United States of America official called on Kenyan leaders to end anxiety on the election date.
Ms Wendy Sherman, the US Under-Secretary for Political Affairs, is scheduled to meet with senior Government officials in Nairobi. She is expected to stress America’s interest in peaceful and transparent elections, and continued implementation of the Constitution.
At a function in Nyeri, President Kibaki was forced to issue a clarification to an earlier statement he made at the same function to the effect that he expects elections in December.
After news alerts were circulated in regard to his earlier statements, there was a flurry of consultations among his handlers that eventually led to his clarification.
Before the President’s clarification, the Director of Presidential Press Service Isaiya Kabira had told journalists that the President had been quoted out of context.
When the President, who opened a Nyeri County Forum meeting at Sagana State Lodge, rose to close the meeting, he said he wanted "to clarify some misleading information being peddled by the media on the issue of elections".
"It is important to restate that the court ruled when the election date will be – March 2013. I cannot change that because I respect what the court ruled," said Kibaki.
"The issue is not whether I like the date. The court has stated when the election shall be, which is March 2013. I did not change that position during my earlier speech," Kibaki declared.
But in his address earlier, Kibaki said: "Kama tutachaguana, tutachaguana mwisho wa mwaka huu (If we are going for elections, it is at the end of this year).
The President, who together with Prime Minister Raila Odinga, were handed the mandate of dissolving the Coalition Government to pave way for elections earlier than March next year, said he expected the devolved government to be operational from early next year.
The issue of the election date has caused anxiety among Kenyans, with the country facing a potential constitutional crisis because Kibaki’s term ends on December 30. Yesterday meeting at Sagana State Lodge and dubbed ‘County and Beyond’ attracted a cross section of leaders from Nyeri County.
Accompanying the President were Cabinet ministers Njeru Githae, Esther Murugi, Sam Ongeri, George Saitoti and Amos Kimunya.
Others were Nyeri MPs Kabando wa Kabando, Mr FT Nyammo, Nemesyus Warugongo, and Ephraim Maina. Githae, the acting Minister for Finance, said there was likelihood of the elections being held in March.
"If (they) are held in March, it will be a very difficult year for the Treasury since the polls will be just three months away from the beginning of the new financial year," said Githae.
In Nairobi, the visiting US envoy said the matter on the election date was purely a Kenyan decision.
Sherman expressed support for the ongoing reforms to build investor confidence, social development, and prosperity.
She added: "(Kenyans) should remain committed to the Constitution implementation to avoid a return to the violence witnessed after the last General Election," the US official told journalists.
Last month, Prime Minister Raila Odinga added to the confusion around the poll date when he told Parliament that the decision was ‘too huge’ to be left in the hands of the two principals.
Early in the year, a Constitutional Court ruled that Kenya must go to the polls by March 2013, or earlier, if President Kibaki and the PM agreed to dissolve the Grand Coalition Government. The court ruling left everyone speculating on the elections date, raising tension among Kenyans and foreign investors.
Sherman, who was accompanied by US envoy to Kenya Scott Gration, said President Barack Obama’s administration recognises the challenges Kenya faces due to the conflict in Somalia.
"We support the inclusion of the Kenyan soldiers in the African Union Mission in Somalia forces and we are talking to other partners," she said.
Earlier, Sherman held a breakfast meeting with women political leaders.
Sherman is on a whirlwind tour of Africa and has visited Nigeria, Angola, Malawi, and Zambia.
Her visit to Kenya follows an international conference in London on Somalia, a lawless neighbour that has had no functional Government since the overthrow of President Siad Barre in 1991.
Sherman is scheduled to meet Somali leaders in Nairobi.
Mr Gration pledged the US’ financial and other support for the next General Election to ensure it is peaceful, free and fair.
Sherman later met with Speaker Kenneth Marende, where she said Kenya remains a key US ally and her country would help advance constitutional and electoral reforms.