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Raila Odinga missed an opportunity to explain his vision to the nation

Azimio presidential candidate Raila Odinga at Kirigiti stadium in Kiambu County during a rally on Monday, August 1, 2022. [John Muchucha, Standard]

With national elections less than a week away, candidates are running neck and neck. Pundits have proclaimed the race for the presidency to be too close to call. This is why last week’s presidential debate should have been a “must attend” for all candidates.

It should have been the perfect opportunity for all four presidential candidates to elucidate their campaign manifestos.

Prof George Wajackoyah showed up on time. Then curiously, he left the venue without a word. One hoped that he hadn’t succumbed to his own marijuana mantra and taken the first puff before the presidential inauguration as he promised. Certainly, his attempts at directing the debate, by demanding that all four candidates take the stand at the same time, were ill-advised.

Whoever advised former PM Raila Odinga to eschew the debate displayed a paucity of thought. For starters, it was duplicitous for Mr Odinga to claim he would not “share a national podium with a person who lacks basic decency”.

Yet in 2013, he shared a podium with an International Criminal Court Indictee. Odinga also missed the opportunity of extolling the merits of his presidency to a national audience covered by all major television networks.

Waihiga Mwaure demonstrated the rudiments of leadership by turning up. With his priestly garb, he came across as a clean alternative to the usual noisy, toxic politics. His only downside was a marked lack of experience in matters of governance.

And it showed in some of his proposals like ruling by decree or cutting diplomatic ties with countries holding Kenyan money in offshore accounts.

Still, Mwaure remains one to watch. He embodies the words of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius who once said, “waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be; be one”. If he stays the course, he may one day be one of Kenya’s best presidents.

The man of the moment was indubitably William Ruto. Not one to shirk from a contestation, he took to the stage with gusto. And he acquitted himself admirably. Even when faced with an onslaught from moderators determined to pin him down, he had an answer for just about every question. And to many Kenyans, it was revelatory.

For instance, contrary to what has been spurned by rumour mills for the last couple of years, Dr Ruto is not responsible for the Arror and Kimwarer dams fiasco. In fact, the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji in 2020 absolved him from blame saying, “ Kimwarer and Arror scandal has nothing to do with the deputy president. It is about loans that were taken to the detriment of the people of Kenya.”

Mr Haji further said, “the president was the one who signed Arror and Kimwarer funds from the Treasury, not the DP. The DP has no authority to sign funds from the Treasury. We should not politicise corruption in the name of healing political scars.”

Perhaps other spurious allegations of similar ilk would have been put to rest with a longer session. Perhaps there is a salutary lesson for those who missed the debate; that there is no merit in being a groom who misses out on his own wedding party.

Talking of missed chances, President Uhuru Kenyatta has had 10 years to grow the economy, put money in the pockets of Kenyans and rid the country of corruption. His scorecard is now indelibly marked in history.

With just days to go before the end of his final term, there is nothing much left to do save for one last thing. He can live up to his mandate as a symbol of national unity and thus, answer the cri de coeur of many Kenyans.

Mr Khafafa is a public policy analyst