News and Views
Land, spark of bloody chaos in 2007, dominates Kenya presidential debate
Kenya’s eight presidential candidates were challenged on tough issues like land reform and corruption Monday in the final round of the country’s first ever face-to-face debate ahead of elections next week.
The poll comes five years after the last vote in 2007-8 ended in bloody violence that claimed at least 1,100 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
While two main candidates — Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga — dominate the race for the March 4 election, all the hopefuls have potential influence, especially if voting goes to a second round run-off.
Kenyatta, the deputy prime minister and son of Kenya’s founding president, faces trial with his running mate William Ruto at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their alleged roles in orchestrating murder, rape and violence after the 2007 poll.
On Monday, Kenyatta, Odinga and the remaining six candidates were grilled in a sometimes emotive debate on the economy, labour laws and land reform — key issues that affect the daily lives of Kenyans.
Land, a cause of bloody ethnic confrontations in the country’s volatile coastal region and the expansive Rift Valley, elicited the most reaction.
Kenyatta’s family is one of Kenya’s largest landowners — up to 500,000 acres (202,000 hectares) according to rights groups.
He insisted on Monday that all was acquired legally.
“Nobody has ever pointed out and said I have been involved in improperly acquiring land. What we as a family have, has been acquired on a willing buyer willing seller basis,” said Kenyatta.
He declined to divulge exactly how much land the family owned overall, but said it amounted to some 30,000 acres (12,000 hectares) in Kenya’s coastal region alone.
“You cannot allow a hyena to protect your goats,” challenger Odinga quipped in response.
The other contenders are Martha Karua, Peter Kenneth, James Ole Kiyapi, Paul Muite, Musalia Mudavadi and high school teacher Mohamed Abduba Dida.
All candidates were quizzed on past economic scams and said they had either never been charged or had been cleared by official investigations.
Kenyans head to the polls next Monday to elect their president and other senior representatives including a governor, a senator, county representatives and members of parliament.
The first round of the historic face-to-face debates were held two weeks ago.