Kenya’s fourth president, Uhuru Kenyatta, who was elected in March this year, in many ways completes the circle started by his father, Jomo, who led the country into independence in 1963 and remained its first, charismatic leader until his death in 1978. He was followed by Daniel arap Moi, Mwai Kibaki and now his son, Uhuru.
Uhuru Kenyatta says he wants to build on his father’s legacy and take the country to the next level of development. There is good reason why Kenyatta is confident he will succeed in turning around Kenya. His easy demeanour has endeared him to many who were previously opposed to his leadership. Some of the unacknowledged attributes of Uhuru’s leadership style can be traced back to his journey to become president. That way it is easier to understand why he has achieved so much in so short a time and also indicate the direction he is likely to take in shaping Kenya’s coming years.
Keeping neighbours happy
Hardly a year into office, Kenya’s fourth president has become the darling of the East African regional leaders. Since he was elected in March, Kenyatta has made life easier for the neighbouring countries by making deliberate decisions to unclog the bureaucratic bottlenecks that were stifling trade in the region.
On Kenyatta’s orders, police road blocks have been reduced from 200 to just two. The has meant that goods destined for Kenya’s neighbouring nations taking four days to reach their final destinations instead of the previous 14 days before he was president.
For a long time, Kenya’s landlocked neighbours of Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan and Burundi were frustrated by Kenya’s regulations and hard-to-explain non-tariff barriers on goods destined to these countries. By removing all blockades that stifled regional trade, Kenyatta has on several occasions been publicly praised by Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and Salva Kiir of South Sudan. He has not only made life easier for neighbours but he has now made Kenya quite competitive in terms of trade.
Interestingly, all the regional leaders had taken sides during Kenya’s presidential elections and were openly supporting Kenyatta against his main rival, former premier Raila Odinga.
At the time of the elections Kenyatta had projected himself as pro-business. In the nine months that he has been president, he has proved that he is indeed keen to spur economic growth and boost regional integration through trade. The testimonies and verdict of regional leaders attests to this achievement.
True to his word
Over the short period since the formation of the new government, many have lost sight of the fact that it is, in fact, a coalition government. The two major partners of this coalition are President Uhuru Kenyatta’s The National Alliance (TNA) party and United Republican Party (URP) led by Vice-President William Ruto. Also included are several fringe parties.
The reason why the coalition political lines are blurred is the friendly mien the two leaders exhibit. This has mellowed their opponents and encouraged their own supporters to forget party lines. This has been achieved because, unlike his predecessor President Mwai Kibaki, who is said to have failed to keep almost all the pre-election pledges he made with his partners, Kenyatta has fulfilled his. This way he is having an easier time politically and has more energy to concentrate on economic growth and welfare interventions.
Consensus builder and seeker
On the road to becoming Kenya’s leader, Kenyatta managed to win over Ruto, who was his greatest adversary. Prior to this partnership, the two leaders belonged to different parties other than the ones they currently lead.
Ruto was the deputy leader of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) led by former premier Raila Odinga and Uhuru belonged to President Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU). ODM and PNU were the main antagonists in the 2007 general elections.
Widespread irregularities marred these elections and Kenya almost collapsed as ODM and PNU supporters violently turned on each other; civil strife spilled over to early 2008 taking an ugly ethnic hue. More than 1,500 people were killed and Kenya’s economic growth, which had hit 7%, fell to zero.
The international community managedto convince President Kibaki and Odinga to share power and a coalition government came into office. In 2010 then prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Luis Moreno Ocampo named Uhuru, Ruto and four others as the ones bearing the “biggest responsibility” for the post-elections violence. Ruto is facing charges for organising members of Kalenjin community to attack members of Uhuru’s Kikuyu community. Uhuru faces charges for financing revenge attacks on Kalenjin communities.
But since the formation of the coalition government in March, the two leaders seem to have become the best of friends and it is difficult to imagine any animosity between either them or their ethnic groups.
It is sheer consensus-seeking artistry how they have transformed from opposing sides to become friends and finally Kenya’s leaders.
Turning adversity into advantage
As Kenya’s Commander in Chief, matters have not been easy for Kenyatta, especially in the wake of the Westgate mall terror attack but neither was his path to the presidency, which was infested by booby traps. Kenyatta has shown remarkable ability to adapt to circumstances and come out a better person.
Faced by the potential embarrassment of the ICC trial, he turned his predicament into triumph. He changed the despair and anger following the terrorist attack into a national galvanising platform. This ability to turn lemons into lemonade could be sheer good fortune or deep political savvy.
Learning from history
The one subject that Kenyatta excelled at in school was history. It is easy to understand why. Whenever he gives a speech, it is evident that he is a great orator who has learnt the art of public speaking from those who made history and were visionaries. His father, Jomo, Kenya’s first president, was a brilliant public speaker.
Kenyatta’s choice of technocrats to serve in his administration is a mix of professionals much younger than him, those of his own generation and those older than him – a blend representing the past, present and future. , Uhuru has had a profound relationship with all his three predecessors, who were much older than him. These are his own father, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, the founding icon of the Kenyan nation, Daniel Moi, who stage managed his entry into politics, and his godfather, Mwai Kibaki.
Uhuru, who is 52, was born just as independence was around the corner and this is why Kibaki suggested to his father to christen him “Uhuru” (Swahili for “freedom”). It is obvious his proximity to power gave him unfettered access to past ‘Games of Thrones’ and has adequately prepared him to usher Kenya into its next phase.