NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 20 – Deputy President William Ruto has faulted organisers of the presidential debates for attempting to blackmail him and President Uhuru Kenyatta to attend.
In an exclusive interview with Capital FM on Thursday morning, the DP said the Jubilee Party had not been adequately engaged apart from receiving letters of invitation to attend the debates.
“Now we’re being told if you do not show up for the debate, we’re going to give your competitor one and a half hours of free airtime to hammer you,” he told Renee Ngamau, host of Capital in the Morning, at his Karen residence.
The DP said the debate had been mishandled due to failure to engage his team, and wondered why the organisers were turning the whole matter into a crisis, at the last minute.
“We must be able to engage without threats and blackmail,” he declared.
“I think there is value in Kenyans being given an opportunity to understand what politicians stand for and that is why we spend a lot of resources hiring choppers and organising campaign meetings. A television debate would have been a good opportunity for us.”
He, however, said it was interesting that organisers of the debate had other interests overriding the rights of viewers and listeners to an unbiased debate.
On Wednesday, State House Messaging Director Eric N’geno accused Debate Media Limited, the organisers of the presidential debates of colluding with the Opposition to distort the truth.
While reiterating that President Kenyatta will not take part in the debate, N’geno said the media houses organising it had failed to demonstrate accountability.
“For the media to bandy accountability against a politician who endure endless blistering media coverage, just for choosing to skip a private function, is vulgar and disturbing,” he stated.
According to Ng’eno, claiming of rights to presidential debates by the company was part of a grand scheme to transform presidential campaigns into cash cows meant to extract money to fund media houses whose bias towards the Jubilee Party “will grow even more monstrous as we approach the election.”
He further challenged the organisers to be sincere in their dealings and answer accountability questions raised by the players instead of cajoling them to attend the debate.
“In this scheme of things, presidential campaigns were a cash crop to line up the coffers of an oppressive cartel. This is why the cartel pleaded in court that they stood to earn Sh300 million from one debate. This is the only accountability question on the table,” Ng’eno pointed out.
“This is the text book definition of a cartel. Cartels in every sector have paralyzed the economy, denying Kenyans the benefits of economic growth by flexing the power of capital,” he added.
In order for the debate to be credible, Ng’eno said it needed to be open to churches, bipartisan political organizations, the civil society as well as members of the academia; none of which have a stake in the current arrangement.
According to him, President Kenyatta’s decision not to participate in the debate was primarily based on his administration’s commitment to “dismantling cartels, promote accountability and unlock inclusive growth potential.”
“This is why Jubilee will not participate in events run under the aegis of cartels. We know that NASA is largely cartel-friendly.”
Opposition candidate Raila Odinga too had indicated that he would boycott the Monday debate if its format is not agreed upon and President Kenyatta fails to commit his attendance.
Odinga had opted out of the debate following a similar decision by the Jubilee Party whose Vice Chairperson David Murathe said its candidate had not be consulted.
July 17, the running mates of the two leading contenders failed to show up for a televised debate, making good their threat not to participate.
“I am surprised no one has engaged me on the debate. Courtesy demands that date, time, rules of engagement would have been made available,” Deputy President Ruto who is running alongside President Kenyatta tweeted on the eve of the debate.
Later on Monday, Harambee Annex issued a statement launching an attack on the organizers of the event, blaming them for deliberately failing to engage participants.
“There have been no meetings to agree on ground rules such as date of debate, dos and don’ts what is expected of participants,” David Mugonyi, Ruto’s Communication Secretary said in the statement.
“We fear no debate. We have made ourselves available to the media before and we will continue to. We can debate all and sundry, including all the so-called NASA principals at one go,” he went on to declare.
The running mates debate was divided into two tiers; the first bringing six deputy presidential candidate while the second was meant to have Ruto and Odinga’s running mate – Kalonzo Musyoka – share a podium.
Only Japheth Kaluyu’s running mate, Eliud Kariara, turned up for the first tier as his peers boycotted it in protest demanding and inclusive debate for all the eight candidates.