All set for Kenya’s first presidential debate

By DAILY NATION

The stage where the much awaited for Kenya presidential debate will be taking place on February 9, 2013 at Brooke House International School in the capital Nairobi. JENNIFER MUIRURI | NATION MEDIA GROUP (NAIROB

The stage where the much awaited for Kenya presidential debate will be taking place on February 9, 2013 at Brooke House International School in the capital Nairobi. JENNIFER MUIRURI | NATION MEDIA GROUP (NAIROB

The Big Debate airing Monday night will be an epochal event in the history of Kenyan presidential elections.

Nation Managing Editor for Special Projects Macharia Gaitho, who will be on the panel of pundits analysing the debate for television, gives his own take on what to expect of the candidates.

The participants are listed alphabetically.

MARTHA KARUA

She may have started the race too early and burnt out well before the finish, but one thing nobody can take away from Ms Martha Karua is her mastery on the debate platform.

A quick intelligence, grasp of issues and dogged persistence will enable her best most foes across the table.

An impressive performance Monday night might well help rejuvenate her campaign, but a lot will depend on whether the format of a rather crowded field will allow much in the way of lively debate and exchanges.

If the format allows, Mr Karua who also claims the reformist tag will be keen to slug it with the leading candidates such as Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta, but she will also have to be careful that her sometimes legendary temper does not rise.

PETER KENNETH

The Tunawesmake candidate will probably be one of the sharpest minds on display when it comes to debating policy and offering prescriptions.

The Eagle alliance flag-bearer displays a sharp mind and is bound to be well prepared in crunching the numbers and analysing issues; and he also needs to put on a powerful performance to propel himself form near the bottom of the ratings.

Mr Kenneth, however, will have to be on his guard against a tendency to perpetually whine over what he sees as lack of enough media attention.

This will be chance to demonstrate that he can stand toe-to-toe with the front-runners.

He will be hoping nobody suggests he is merely running for president of the Starehe Old Boys Society.

UHURU KENYATTA

In the run-up to the debate, there were indications that advisors of the Jubilee coalition candidates were counselling a withdrawal.

Their concern was that Mr Kenyatta might be hemmed in from all sides if rivals ganged up against him on the International Criminal Court case and the eligibility issue.

But it would have been disastrous to pull out at the last minute in a manner that might suggest he chickened out.

One thing you can be sure about Mr Kenyatta is that he has learnt lessons from the infamous table-thumping histrionics.

Mr Kenyatta’s campaign events over the last few months have been carefully choreographed and he has mostly managed to keep strictly to the message.

Where need be he has carefully rehearsed his presentation down to the jig he might perform on stage.

The same level of preparation might be evident in his responses to the trickiest of questions tonight, but his handlers will be praying he is not goaded into losing his temper and spewing out four-letter expletives in the mother tongue.

JAMES KIYIAPI

The policy work claims stellar credentials as an academic followed by stints as a Permanent Secretary for environment, first, and then education.

Prof Kiyiapi was one of the first candidates to hit the campaign trail offering solid policy prescriptions rather than just leadership of some regular ethnic-political cause.

However, he has struggled to be seen and heard above the dust generated by the main contenders.

The debate presents a golden opportunity for Prof Kiyiapi to remind Kenyans of his message, but he also has to debunk impressions that he is just a lone-ranger professor entering the presidential race as an academic pursuit rather than real contest for power.

MUSALIA MUDAVADI

A safe pair of hands, is how the Amani coalition candidate packages himself, and that was much in evidence at the launch of his campaign manifesto on the eve of the debate.

Mr Mudavadi wants to be seen as the compromise between the feuding titans Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta whose fierce rivalry, his campaign suggests, is harmful and only leading Kenya towards ethnic hatred.

The calm and collected Mr Mudavadi would be solid in debate on economic issues and his promise of national healing and reconciliation, but he can be flat, wooden and uninspiring.

Questions abound over whether he is his own candidate, especially after the farcical circumstances in which he entered the fray.

His being duped and dumped by Mr Uhuru Kenyatta on being initially offered the Jubilee coalition ticket still rankles, and it will be interesting to see whether he will throw a few barbs in that regard.

RAILA ODINGA

The Cord alliance torch-bearer projects himself as the reform candidate, but he has garnered more attention in recent days for his attacks on Uhuru Kenyatta over the sensitive land question.

He would probably want to continue an onslaught that would keep his main rival on the defensive, but the format of the debate might not allow for direct confrontation.

Mr Odinga is a master hectoring crowds on the campaign soapbox, but a more structured debate might cramp his freewheeling style.

Mr Odinga rose in politics grounded in mastery of issues and defined policy platform, but he also has a tendency to shoot from the hip.

He might also easily disregard the discipline—hours of preparation and rehearsal—required to ensure a winning performance in debate.

That could expose him tonight, especially if he goes off message and brings out the rabble-rouser of the campaign platform rather than the statesman required to steer the ship of state.

Mr Odinga might also need a few lessons to stop mumbling and speaking through clenched teeth.

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