The Nation, 24 November 2002, New Agenda for Presidential Candidates

Nairobi - They stood out conspicuously outside County Hall with the dancing crowd during the presentation of the nomination papers by presidential candidate Simeon Nyachae.

The red banners screamed such messages as "Even People with Aids Vote" and "Aids/HIV: Silence=Death". The posters were so conspicuous they almost eclipsed the white and green colours of Ford People.

They followed Mr Nyachae to his rally at City Stadium, leading some to conclude the Ford People candidate was reaching out to what could be a potent but generally ignored voter pool - People with HIV/Aids.

At the average HIV-prevalence rate in Kenya of 10 per cent, about 1.5 million of the registered voters represent a very potent special interest group.

But it was not Mr Nyachae's campaign team reaching out to those voters. It was a case of ambush-marketing by the Kenya Coalition on Access to Essential Medicines, a HIV/Aids advocacy group that has decided to use the presidential elections to draw attention to its cause - the provision of affordable drugs.

The group was also present, though less visibly, at the Nyayo Stadium and Uhuru Park rallies the previous day for the NARC and Kanu presidential candidates Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta.

The Kenya Forests Working Group, a sub-committee of the East African Wildlife Society, lobbying for sound forest management and conservation practices, wrote to the three presidential candidates, Mr Nyachae, Mr Kibaki and Mr Kenyatta, inviting them to a media debate on forest conservation.

"[We] appreciate your strong views and vision for economic recovery of Kenya. As you are aware, forests are crucial to a country's health and development, yet their destruction in Kenya has continued unabated. [We are] therefore planning to conduct an interview with all presidential aspirants on their vision as appertains to forest conservation," reads a letter signed by project coordinator Michael Gachanja. "Kindly let us know of an appropriate time when the interview could be conducted."

The Aids lobbyists are on a similar track, and have invited the candidates for a joint debate on HIV-Aids set for November 27.

Mr James Kamau, a board member of the Women Fighting Aids in Kenya (Wofak), said that although President Moi in 1999 declared HIV/Aids a national disaster, no clear-cut policies had been forthcoming from the government.

Mr Kamau said that Aids "is not just a health issue ... it is the responsibility of the President as the head of state to articulate the coordination of all efforts to address the pandemic".

The one-hour debate would be filmed and televised on World Aids Day next Sunday.

Whether or not the candidates agree to participate, the initiative by such special-interest groups adds an interesting new dimension to political campaigns in Kenya.