Nairobi — Kenya's second and final presidential debate on Monday (February 25th) tackled controversial topics such as integrity, corruption, the economy and land grabbing, but left many other issues unanswered and some voters no better informed.
Held at Brookehouse International School in Nairobi, the debate started at 7:10 pm local time and lasted nearly four hours.
All eight presidential candidates participated in the debate, including Jubilee Coalition flag-bearer Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta who earlier said he would not attend citing "numerous acts of omission and commission" in the first debate, particularly the focus on charges Kenyatta faces at the International Criminal Court.
The candidates -- Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi, parliamentarian Martha Karua, Assistant Minister for Planning, National Development and Vision 2030 Peter Kenneth, former Education Permanent Secretary James ole Kiyiapi, former parliamentarian Paul Muite, and businessman Mohammed Abduba Dida -- answered questions on how to tackle land disputes and jump start Kenya's economy, but provided little detail about specific plans.
Devolution and foreign policy were scheduled debate topics, but were not addressed.
Kenya's Vision 2030 Director General Mugo Kibati said much of the time was used on tackling land issues.
He said he had expected the candidates to discuss foreign policy and tell Kenyans more about how they plan to secure other natural resources such as water, gas and oil exploration.
"I was disappointed," he told Sabahi. "The leaders in their party manifestos have ambitious economic and development plans for the country, but none was questioned on how they intend to grow the economy by double digits and create the jobs they have been promising."
Lumumba Odenda, the national co-ordinator for Kenya Land Alliance, a lobby group on land matters, faulted the moderators of the debate for failing to ask proper follow up questions that would have compelled the candidates to divulge more information on how to deal conclusively with land issues.
"The public never got a chance to get to know how many acres of land the candidates own, how they intend to deal with squatters and how their government will settle land disputes as well as how they want the public to use land," he said.
Kenyatta was put to task to declare how many in acres of land his family owns and if indeed "half of land" in the country belongs to him. He denied accusations of land grabbing, saying the land his family owns was purchased through legal means.
"We shall ensure that land is used as a factor of production [and that] the National Land Commission should be left to handle the emotive issue of land in this country," he said, refusing to divulge exactly how many acres he owns.
Odinga absolved his family from blame for the circumstances by which they acquired a Kisumu molasses plant that was initially public-owned, saying they acquired the plant through public auction.
Land has been an emotive issue in Kenya and often a source of conflicts. It is blamed to be one of the triggers of the post-election violence in 2007-2008.
Economy and minimum wage
The first question the candidates were confronted with was on the economy and whether the candidates support setting a minimum wage for Kenya's lowest earners.
Odinga said there was need to have a working relationship between trade unions, employers and the government to ascertain the prevailing cost of living and projections for the future before setting a minimum wage.
"We need to have a dialogue with unions, employers and government so that we know what the cost of living in the country is today and what it should be," he said. "That is what should determine what should be the living wage." He cautioned that wages should not be set too high because they would hinder Kenya's competitiveness.
Kenyatta said that if elected he would ensure the minimum wage enabled people to lead a decent life, arguing that reducing the cost of food prices and providing people with decent affordable housing was one way of addressing the skyrocketing cost of living in Kenya.
Muite called for bridging discrepancies in taxation and income inequality to allow for setting a sustainable minimum wage.
Karua advocated for strong labour movements to negotiate for better remuneration for their members, pledging that her government would work with the movements as partners.
She also pledged to ease the high cost of living burden by providing free education in primary and secondary schools and by providing universal health care.
Debate provokes mixed reaction from citizens
Another issue stemming from the first presidential debate, which was conducted mostly in English, was on the use of Kenya's other official language, Kiswahili.
Sophia Omar 30, a street vendor in Nairobi's Central Business District, told Sabahi she missed out on most of the issues discussed in both debates because she does not understand English.
"I really wished the whole debate was in Kiswahili, but they only used Kiswahili in the last bit," she said.
Mavuno church Senior Pastor Muriithi Wanjau, however, praised the overall debate, saying it gave Kenyans a chance to probe the candidates on what they will do for them once they ascend to office.
"This is like a job interview. The debate provided a platform for Kenyans to interview candidates," he told Sabahi. "It makes it easier to know who best fits to be the top executive officer in this country. It further makes the leaders themselves answerable to the people if elected."
Unlike the February 11th debate, he said, Monday's debate was more engaging and the candidates appeared composed.
Debate co-ordinators also said the event was a success and that it would help Kenyans choose their leaders, as well as set a precedent that makes political debates part of Kenya's election calendar.
Presidential debate committee chairman and Royal Media Services managing director Wachira Waruru said the debate provided a platform for the presidential candidates to exchange ideas and disagree, but without turning physical or abusing each other.
Putting the presidential candidates on one platform to explain their agendas created opportunity for tolerance, he told Sabahi, as it showed their supporters who may perceive each other as enemies that politics is just a competition.
"As you know, this was the first time we are conducting such debates and we had our fair share of teething problems," Waruru said, addressing citizens' concerns that some issues were not addressed thoroughly or at all during the debate.
"You will note that with having eight candidates in the same debate to discuss issues, sometimes there is insufficient time for them to exhaustively address issues," he said.