At the close of Monday night’s presidential debate, there was only one winner, and it’s not the man seeking re-election.
Both candidates kept Kenyans and organizers of the debate guessing the whole day. In the morning, Raila had stated that he would only turn up if there was an opponent to debate with. President Uhuru’s communication team on the other hand chose silence, but there was genuine hope that he would show up because he had earlier cancelled all campaign engagements for the day.
A few hours before the due time, rumours started flying on social media that both candidates had agreed to show up. But with 40 minutes before the scheduled time, neither had arrived. It started to look like a repeat of the running mates’ debate between Ruto and Kalonzo that flopped.
And then at around 7:30, Machakos Senator Johnstone Muthama arrived. It was now clear that Raila was on his way, and this was confirmed about 15 minutes later by his arrival. Raila was accompanied by his wife, daughter and grand daughter.
At this point, there was still hope that Uhuru was on his way. Indeed, there were numerous mentions on Twitter that certain city roads had been closed to allow his motorcade free passage. 8pm reached, and doubt started creeping in. Still, organizers extended the starting time just to see if he would show up.
In the meantime, Larry Madowo and Miguna Miguna kept what was estimated to be 8.5 million Kenyans company.
With millions of Kenyans waiting for his arrival, the least Uhuru’s communication team should have done at this point was state whether he was coming or not. It appeared incredibly rude that not even a Tweet in this regard was sent.
But towards the end of this 30 minutes grace period, Itumbi retweeted an earlier tweet where he blamed the media for advertising the debate yet no candidate had confirmed.
Though not official Communiqué, it was definitely enough confirmation that Uhuru would be a no-show.
Raila grabbed the opportunity and by most measures did quite well. What was clear was that if any undecided voters tuned in, Raila won over most of them. Indeed we can’t rule out the possibility of him flipping a few Jubilee supporters.
Uhuru’s 30 minutes Facebook chats will not undo the damage, and neither will the 1 minute news reports on his campaign punchlines. If he really wants to make Kenyans forget about Monday, he might have to do that 3-hour Live Town Hall meeting we’ve been hearing about. Too bad it will cost him a lot of money and will be lucky to attract half the debate audience.