Nasa flagbearer Raila Odinga during the debate for leading presidential candidates at Catholic University on July 24, 2017. President Uhuru Kenyatta did not attend. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Nasa presidential candidate Raila Odinga said he agreed to attend last night’s debate after getting assurances that he would not have to share the stage with fringe candidates.
Mr Odinga told reporters outside the auditorium at the Catholic University of East Africa that he felt like a footballer who had scored a goal in an unguarded net after the incumbent, President Uhuru Kenyatta, skipped 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 need for a threshold of followers to qualify to be on the same table with him and when eventually that was confirmed, he agreed to attend.
“It’s not that we did not want to have a debate. Debate is very healthy for society, particularly in campaigns like these, so we have attended and we hope that the next time around, Jubilee will think again,” he added.
Mr Odinga had earlier insisted that he would only attend the debate if President Kenyatta confirmed he would show up. The guidelines stating that candidates with more than five per cent support from opinion polls would participate in the second round had also been 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 it. He was subsequently criticised by the organisers and the press.
Last night, Nairobi gubernatorial candidate and political commentator Miguna Miguna criticised the President for failing to attend the debate. “He is a leading presidential candidate. There is no reason and no justification why he did not come,” said Mr Miguna.
Three of the six fringe candidates – Dr Ekuru Aukot, Dr Japhet Kavinga and Prof Michael Wainaina - attended the first session while President Kenyatta skipped the event. Also missing in action were independent candidates Joe Nyagah, Cyrus Jirongo and Abduba Dida.
Mr Odinga brushed aside the suggestion that he took a seat after the first break in the debate because he was tired.
“They (the organisers) are the ones who asked me to sit. I had been told that I would stand for the first half of the debate and I would sit for the second half. Chairs were provided for both candidates. That was meant that you talk when you are standing and the second half you sit down,” said Mr Odinga.
He said he had also been told about the strong studio-style lighting, which affected his eyes. Mr Odinga has a persistent teary right eye that he says was damaged by poor lighting during his stint in prison during detention.
Mr Odinga was happy he had the opportunity to articulate his ideas to Kenyans.
“I had an opportunity to talk to the people of Kenya about pertinent issues that affect them, so I hope that I was able to respond to their needs, their requirements, issues that are dear to them. That is what I take from here today,” said Mr Odinga.
Mr Odinga said he regretted the lost opportunity to have President Kenyatta react to what he had been saying, particularly the claims he made.
“I would also have liked to hear what he would have to say about me and my team of Nasa. That would have really been a wonderful opportunity for this nation. We missed it today and we hope that next time round it will be different,” said Mr Odinga.