Kenya Elections: Candidates Clash In TV Debate

Sara Mojtehedzadeh in Nairobi, Kenya

In the last of their televised debates, Kenya's presidential candidates have urged voters not to repeat the violence of the bloody 2007-2008 elections.

That contest claimed over 1,100 lives when leaders from two rival tribes both laid claim to the Presidency, sparking ethnic conflict.

Candidates in last night's debate warned Kenyans that further outbreaks of tribal violence would scare away foreign investors, in addition to trading barbs over allegations over corruption and land grabbing.

But they were silent on the charges faced by the race's frontrunner Uhuru Kenyatta, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of crimes against humanity related to his alleged role in inciting violence during the 2007-2008 election.

Mr Kenyatta had previously threatened to withdraw from Monday's event after claiming that he was unfairly targeted in the first debate because of the charges laid against him.

But the candidacy of Mr Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto, who is also wanted by the ICC, has sparked concern that Kenya's international standing may also be compromised if the duo are elected.

Kenya plays a strategically important role in the region: it acts as the headquarters for the United Nations in Africa and plays host to over 500,000 refugees from neighbouring countries and is also a significant partner in the UK's regional counter terrorism efforts, particularly against the Somali militant group Al Shabaab.

But signatories of the ICC, including the UK, maintain an "essential contact only" policy with indictees of the court - raising questions about how Kenya's partnership with its international allies would evolve if Mr Kenyatta was declared President.

Despite his controversial campaign, Mr Kenyatta said last night that his country required a "new beginning that is not going to be built on hatred or disunity" and pledged to bring Kenya to its "rightful place in the world economy".

The debate also broadcast public service announcements by all eight presidential candidates urging their supporters to vote peacefully on March 4.

But despite those missives, human rights organisations are warning that unresolved tensions over land rights, economic inequality, and tribalism may spark conflict during the election period. 

The UN estimates that 400 people have already been killed and over 100,000 displaced from their homes as a result of ethnic violence and resource-based conflict in the run up to the election.