The no-show by seven of the eight candidates for the deputy presidential debate in Nairobi on Monday was disrespectful of fellow Kenyans and showed the candidates’ lack of preparedness to shoulder the onerous responsibility of the top public office they are seeking.
Statements they have since issued, citing supposed lack of consultation, time or discrimination on the part of the debate organisers are mere excuses that should be treated with the contempt they deserve.
That two of the candidates absent are leading contenders, Deputy President William Ruto, and former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, is powerful evidence of why there is such a dearth of respect for democracy and its governance institutions in this country, and why some senior leaders continue to regard other Kenyans as statistical conveniences whose role is just to vote every five years.
The Presidential Debates Limited, which is organising this crucial event on behalf of the media fraternity, publicly signalled the intention to hold the presidential debates many weeks ago.
They have also formally engaged all the parties involved in this, and specifically wrote to the officials involved, advising them of the plans, the dates and the formats.
Indeed, they have invested heavily to give the debates the prestige and gravitas they deserve.
After robust internal discussions, it was decided that the debates could be in a two-tier format to provide ample opportunity for everyone involved in the electoral race to interact with the audiences and respond to the questions and other issues that might arise.
A reasonable threshold of at least five per cent public support in opinion polls was agreed on to determine the leading contenders. One candidate among those left out then went to court and lost the case, allowing the organisers to proceed with the plans for a two-tier debate.
For these candidates to now turn around and insist that they wanted the full panel of eight on the podium even after the court arbitration is, in the view of this newspaper, to exhibit a level of petulance unbecoming of a leader.
They should just have attended the event and made their case to the public, including criticising the format of the debate.
We do not wish to speculate about why the two leading contenders for the deputy presidency did not show up either for their session, but do dismiss as brazenly dishonest the assertion that they were unaware of the details of the event.
The organisers repeatedly reached out to them formally and informally – and even adjusted the date of the first debate that could have been held on July 10, to allow all the parties more time to consult.
To be clear, presidential debates are not planned for the convenience of the candidates.
Debates during elections have become important pillars of democracy in many other countries.
Away for the dancing and posturing that dominate the election campaign platforms and public rallies, debates provide a sober setting for candidates to coherently articulate their grasp of issues dear to the citizens and explain the solutions that they have to those problems.
No self-respecting politician gives up such a high-profile opportunity.
It is this democratic tradition that the media are keen to foster in this country and the region and it is terribly disheartening that leaders allegedly championing democracy can adopt such a cavalier attitude towards it.
On Monday next week, the presidential debates will be held and Kenyans are demanding some respect by those seeking their support to lead them.
Leading presidential candidates Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga should attend.