(Photo courtesy of CitizenTv)
By Hilda Kavai
The presidential running mates debate was held on Tuesday the 19th of July at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Nairobi. It consisted of Rigathi Gachagua, Martha Karua, Justina Wamae and Ruth Mutua from UDA, Azimio, Roots and Agano parties respectively
The first segment of the live event consisted of Justina Wamae and Ruth Mutua and it was dominated by the triple threat of unemployment, high living costs, and corruption. According to Justina Wamae, hanging the corrupt is part of their strategy to slay the graft dragon, and safeguarding the integrity of their government would be critical. She emphasized that they had already demonstrated leadership in the fight against corruption by refusing to accept campaign payments and refusing to have their campaigns sponsored, claiming that the practice produces ineffective leadership.
“Kenyans to shun politicians who bribe them to win their votes. Campaign bribery leads to corruption as those elected seek to return their campaign funds. We are here to give alternatives. No one owns any vote,” said Ms. Wamae.
Ruth Mutua, a rival from the Agano Party, argued that, although previous administrations had compromised the nation’s integrity, theirs would bring in a new era of openness and confidence among Kenyans. “Lack of will has impeded the fight against corruption. Integrity is paramount to us as Agano party,” said Ms. Mucheru.
Contrary to Ms. Wamae’s position, she asserted that their administration will instead force individuals accused of graft to answer to the law. “Our governance is not to hang anybody. Hanging is not even in the constitution. We shall follow the law to deal with the corrupt. Everyone will face the law,” she said.
Regarding the high cost of living, Ms. Wamae stated they hoped to turn around the failing economy and boost the tax base by putting more attention on local businesses and expanding the tax base. “We shall give a conducive environment for businesses. We will also reduce the cost of agricultural inputs and reduce import costs. We shall cut off the brokers who hurt farmers,” she said.
Ms. Mucheru, for her part, stated that the high cost of living is primarily due to leaders being corrupt, and if Kenyans can elect good leaders, then their plight will be addressed. She pleaded with Kenyans to give them a chance.
The legalization of marijuana and exporting of snake venom became a hot topic during the debate. Ms. Wamae claimed the idea was proposed for both industrial health and economic prosperity. “Let’s look at the future. Galana Kulalu project will be about cannabis and we shall pay teachers, and civil servants with the proceeds of bhang. Unemployment and high cost of living leads to depression yet marijuana is illegal,” she said.
Ms. Mucheru urged mothers to exercise caution regarding Roots’ marijuana aspirations, claiming that legalizing it in Kenya is not feasible.
The second segment of the event involved Gachagua and Martha who came in next and the two were involved in a clash of personalities. The former Justice Minister Karua described herself as an honest and hardworking Kenyan who does not believe in the primitive accumulation of money. Rigathi, whose Sh200 million assets were frozen by the court on suspicion of being graft proceeds, insisted he, too, was clean.
It was a grudge match and a battle of words from the start, with both Mr. Gachagua and Ms. Karua acutely aware that their debate performances may influence the fate of their respective principals who are Kenya Kwanza presidential candidate William Ruto and his Azimio la Umoja adversary Raila Odinga.
Both candidates had clearly prepared well, based on the proceedings. They had thoroughly researched the policy ideas in their respective party manifestos and were well-versed in their facts and data. The two had severe disagreements about how to handle a potential fallout with their bosses if their respective parties won the next month’s elections.
Whereas Martha mentioned the prospect of personal conflicts, Rigathi downplayed the possibility of any backlash, arguing that Kenya Kwanza cannot devolve into sideshows at the expense of solving the issues that concern Kenyans.
Rigathi Gachagua clearly stated that they will not engage in sideshows but will instead focus their efforts on serving Kenyans and recovering the country’s economy, which is now in disarray. “DP Ruto and I are strong-willed leaders who respect each other; none of us suffers from inferiority complex. We don’t have time to disagree. What has brought us together is stronger than what sideshows can come in between us,” he said.
It was not by coincidence that both candidates tried to swing the conversation to the subjects dear for Mt Kenya voters. Gachagua’s promotion of Dr. Ruto’s distinctive Bottom-Up economic philosophy, as well as the Hustler versus Dynasty narrative, which emphasizes issues important to the underprivileged, were also highlighted. Gachagua was eager to pit Ruto against Uhuru, as part of a campaign strategy to portray Mr. Odinga as a “project” who will be a puppet of the retiring President.
Azimio la umoja deputy presidential candidate emphasized her and Mr. Odinga’s record of reform dating back to the multi-party campaign, as opposed to the Ruto-Gachagua record of devotion to the one-party system. Another point of emphasis was Azimio’s commitment to combat corruption, which Mr. Rigathi quickly deflected with the statement that Mr. Odinga had become an apologist for the Kenyatta government, corruption, and a collapsing economy.
The pair took on the key issues for which their principals chose them right away: Ms. Karua on fighting corruption and promoting constitutionalism, and Mr. Gachagua on promoting an economic overhaul based on the bottom-up economic approach Kenya Kwanza says will help promote small and medium businesses.
They did, however, agree to keep the current constitutional arrangement in place, in which both the President and the Deputy President are chosen as a ticket rather than the DP being handpicked by the President.
The Presidential debate follows next and it will be held on the 26th of July.