Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Uhuru's Long Walk to Top Leadership

Uhuru’s long walk to top leadership

Tuesday, 09 April 2013 00:00

On meeting Mr Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta for the first time, one is put at ease by his affability, communicated by a relaxed smile and a mighty handshake that can last the better part of a minute.

That was the case when this writer had a session with Mr Kenyatta in the mid-1990s. Then in his mid-30s, the son of Kenya’s first President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, was quick to dismiss any suggestion that he might enter politics sometime in the future.

Born on October 26, 1961 to Mama Ngina Kenyatta and the independence struggle hero then incarcerated by the colonial administration, he was given the befitting name Uhuru, which means “freedom” or “independence” in Kiswahili. Kenya obtained independent two years later. Uhuru was two months shy of his 17th birthday on August 22, 1978, when his father died. From childhood, his life was one of privilege. Between 1972 and 1977, he attended the prestigious St Mary’s School in Nairobi.

Uhuru’s Catholic-run alma mater was also attended by the scions of some of Kenya’s most prominent families. They included his brother Muhoho, then Vice President Moi’s son, Gideon, and then Finance minister Mwai Kibaki’s sons Jimmy, Tony and David.

Other famous alumni of the school who in later years came to be associated with Uhuru in politics and business were his college mate in the United States and Mr Kibaki’s former personal aide Alfred Getonga, and businessman Jimmy Wanjigi, son of former Cabinet minister Maina Wanjigi. Both came to play key roles in Uhuru’s second presidential campaign.

Known as Muna to his close friends from St Mary’s, Mr Kenyatta is remembered by many as an above average student who was quiet but diligent. Apart from the receiving the best history student award, he did not leave a special mark in the school.

Mr Kenyatta was married in 1989 at the Holy Family Basilica to the self-effacing Margaret Wanjiru Gakuo. Kenya’s first couple has two sons — Jomo and Jaba — and a daughter, Ngina.

From St Mary’s, Uhuru proceeded to Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, to read economics and political science. His uncle, Mr Ngengi Muigai, preceded him at the college and is said to be the one who influenced him to enrol there.

Having joined the college in 1982, Mr Kenyatta graduated in 1985 and returned to Kenya, where he entered the extensive family business. He also joined a close-knit circle of friends that included Mr Maina Gakuo, his future brother-in-law.

Also in the group were former school mates at St Mary’s, family members and acquaintances like Martin and Francis Michuki, the sons of the late John Michuki.

Soon after leaving St Mary’s, Mr Kenyatta did a stint as a teller at the Kenya Commercial Bank, the only time he was in salaried employment outside family enterprises and public office.

His first foray into politics was in 1992 at the age 30 as a campaigner for Ford Asili presidential candidate Kenneth Matiba.
In a lengthy interview that year, Mama Ngina Kenyatta said her son had a political role to play in Kenya and had come of age. Come 1997, and Mr Kenyatta changed his mind about entering politics and took the plunge. In that year’s General Election, he sought the Gatundu South parliamentary seat that had for years been held by his father.

While he has many social friends, among his key political advisers are his maternal uncle George Muhoho, his mother Mama Ngina and his sisters Kristina and Margaret.
Given his roots and the major role his expanded family has played in national and public life, it would have been surprising had Mr Kenyatta given politics a wide berth. As things turned out, his 1997 foray into parliamentary politics with encouragement from then President Daniel arap Moi was a baptism by fire. Running on a Kanu ticket that was anathema in central Kenya at the time, Mr Kenyatta was handily defeated in the Gatundu South parliamentary race.

That defeat took the young politician by surprise and reportedly left him bitter.
But being only in his mid-30s, he was still a greenhorn and had the world ahead of him. As the shock of defeat dissipated, a rapidly growing role in public life and politics seemed to await Mr Kenyatta. That early on, it appears that Mr Moi knew one thing many Kenyans did not; that he had chosen Mr Kenyatta as his heir apparent. A veteran of the Kenyan political scene who served as number two under Jomo Kenyatta, the increasingly unpopular Mr Moi had watched the young man develop into a mature family man.

As if to compensate him for his defeat in the parliamentary race, in 1999 Mr Moi appointed him chairman of the Kenya Tourism Board. Bigger things were still to come, and by 2001, Mr Kenyatta was nominated to Parliament with the icing on the cake being that he was also appointed minister for Local Government. Clearly, the increasingly beleaguered Mr Moi had plans for a greater role for the political debutant.

As Kenyans were to learn later, the self-professed professor of politics was even at that early stage making plans for his own succession. Not surprisingly, he saw Kanu playing a major role in the succession. Mr Moi’s view was that there was nobody better placed to succeed him than Mr Kenyatta. In fact, Mr Moi’s initial elevation of Mr Kenyatta to Parliament — and the Cabinet — seems to have been the genesis of the emergence of Mr Kenyatta as a Moi protégé and, later, the so-called “project”, a tag that was to haunt him.

Source: The Monitor

Editorial Comment- A victory for Kenya and Africa

Tuesday, 09 April 2013 00:00
Zimbabwe Herald

Today, Kenya swears into office its fourth president Uhuru Kenyatta, son of founding president, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta who together with the Mau Mau fought against British colonialism.

It is a day of pride for Kenyans, who against all odds held an election on March 4 that was lauded by the international community as free, fair and credible. The African leaders who are witnessing this historic moment, Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe included give the new leaders that assurance that they are not alone.

Uhuru takes the reins of power from president Mwai Kibaki and he does so exactly 50 years after his father became Kenya’s founding president in 1963. Thus in a way, this is a homecoming for Uhuru since he is entering familiar territory - the presidential palace where he spent his formative years while his father was in charge.

Although his rival, outgoing premier Raila Odinga challenged the poll results in the courts of law, Kenyatta still emerged victorious.

Kenyatta on his part extended an olive branch to Odinga and indicated that democracy and the people were winners of the March 4 election, and that no one was bigger than Kenya, and that Kenya had to move forward with development that is in sync with global trends.

This was a complete departure from the 2007 post-election incidents, which resulted in unprecedented violence that led to more than 1 000 deaths and saw many Kenyans displaced from their homes.

The new president realises the long and winding road he traversed before the culmination of this day.

Together with his running mate, now Vice President William Ruto, they are among a group of Kenyans indicted by the so-called International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity arising from the 2007 post-election violence, and they have maintained their innocence.

As his Swahili name Uhuru means, “freedom or independence”, president-elect Kenyatta now knows what it means to be independent and also hold sway against the enemy.

His election was a virtual referendum on Western interference in African affairs, and not only Kenyans, but Africa as a whole emerged victorious.

Kenyatta was not deterred by the ICC indictment.

The Kenyan electoral system should also be lauded for allowing the Jubilee coalition pair to run for the highest office, despite the ICC saga. They wanted the people to decide for themselves, instead of allowing The Hague-based organisation to be the kingmakers.

The people’s will prevailed over that of the ICC. Kenyatta now becomes the second sitting president to be indicted by the ICC after Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir.

Kenyans refused to prejudge Kenyatta and Ruto, and in a way gave the West signals that Africa is tired of being bullied; of being dictated to and of being policed.

Why should the ICC only find African leaders on the wrong side of law when Western leaders such as George W Bush, Tony Blair and others walk scot-free despite committing crimes against humanity?

When Kenyans made this sovereign decision to elect an accused who is innocent until proven guilty, it is only fair that the international community respects the wishes of the Kenyan people.

Apart from the ICC, there was also a lot of meddling in Kenya’s political affairs by Western countries in the run-up to the elections.

US assistant secretary of state for African Affairs Johnnie Carson warned Kenyans of “consequences’’ of voting for Kenyatta.

The Americans had to swallow their pride, when they had to accept that Kenyans had chosen Kenyatta and Ruto, and not Odinga.

The run-off they hoped for never materialised. Any wonder that Odinga and the top brass in his party have skipped today’s inauguration, preferring to regroup in South Africa? Does that sound familiar?

What does this day mean to Africa? Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo summed it up: “Indeed they (Kenyans) have reassured the world that African countries are capable of strengthening their political and democratic institutions regardless of past ugly incidents if the people are willing to commit themselves to the idea of democracy,” he said.

Notwithstanding, that ugly past should be a continuous reference point of how best we can avoid repeating the same mistakes, and it is a past that should make Africans vigilant.

This “ugly past” includes the Mau Mau Rebellion against the British settler colonialists, which we are deliberately being made to look at as anachronistic and irrelevant to the future.

However, if Mau Mau, Chama cha Mapinduzi in Tanzania, Frelimo in Mozambique, Zanla and Zipra in Zimbabwe, Swapo in Namibia, Umkhonto we Sizwe in South Africa and MPLA in Angola had not stood up to fight against the settler colonialists, the new crop of leadership rising up on the continent would not be there.

This should be the rallying point for Africans: the past, looking into the future, not as underdogs but as masters of their destiny.

How does president-elect Kenyatta connect with this history, since he is continuing a legacy from his father’s time?

President Kenyatta takes over the reins of power of the largest economy in East Africa with diverse investors and interests.

He has a tough task ahead of him to ensure that Kenyans and the whole region prosper. He was a deputy premier in the previous government.

We are confident that his vision of taking Kenya to a higher level will be realised.

The insurgency Somalia is a major problem for Kenya, so too the ethnic rivalries in Kenya.

Fifty years after Mzee Kenyatta, the new president should reassure Kenyans that these are problems of the past, and that the negotiating table is the solution to resolving any disputes.

By agreeing to attend his trial at The Hague, he has shown that he respects the rule of law no matter how flawed it is.

But the bottom-line is that 50 years on, Africa has realised that no nation can claim to be greater especially if that nation relies on natural resources from the African soil.

We hope that the addition of President Kenyatta to the African Union will make the continent richer. And we also hope Odinga and others of his ilk learn their lessons.

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