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How will history judge Uhuru Kenyatta?

How will history judge Uhuru Kenyatta?

The Kenyan political marathon enters the home stretch with the country, and the world, in Olympic-size suspense. Will the next president of Kenya be Raila Amolo Odinga or will it be William Samoei arap Ruto? Will the result reveal a decisive winner, or will there be a runoff, complete with an extended verbal fistfight that reminds one of politicians’ native instincts to set ill-mannered tongues loose against perceived “enemies?”


These questions induce a gratifying smile, for it is a very rare treat for an East African country to go to the polls without a predetermined winner.  Whoever takes the Kenyan presidency this year will have sweated for it. If he wins without the help of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), Kenyans will have advanced their walk towards democratization and, hopefully, exorcised some of the ghosts of their country’s blood-drenched efforts since their return to multi-party politics in 1992. 


Regardless of the outcome, there is much to celebrate about Kenya’s maturing politics. With fingers crossed, one feels very optimistic that that wonderful country is driving forward. Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, son of Jomo Kenyatta, is campaigning hard for Raila Odinga, son of Jaramoji Ajuma Oginga Odinga to succeed him at State House. Let me say that again: Mtoto wa Mzee Jomo Kenyatta anataka kukabidhi urais kwa mtoto wa Jaramoji Oginga Odinga. In my lifetime. Voluntarily. Joyfully. Enthusiastically.  Wake me up, please. 


Anyone from my generation who does not get goosebumps just thinking about this should share their secret. The senior Kenyatta-Odinga fallout in the 1960s was very dramatic. It was deep. It was wide. It was dangerous. Two old comrades turned mortal enemies. One in State House, the other in state prison, less than six years after independence.  The July 1969 assassination of Thomas Joseph Mboya, another prince from Nyanza, followed three months later by the Kisumu massacre of an unknown number of civilians after protests during Jomo Kenyatta’s visit to that lakeside town, transformed the discomfort between the Gikuyu and Joluo into group enmity that few pretended was curable. 


There were reports of oathing in the dark nights among the Gikuyu, complete with incantations and consumption of blood of freshly slaughtered lambs, a life-or-death commitment to prevent the leadership of Kenya from falling into the hands of Joluo. It all sounded very foreign, almost fictitious. But some of the sons and daughters of the oath-takers, whose acquaintance we made two decades later, in this distant land, confided to us their parents’ dark secrets. Some of their Joluo counterparts were equally unflattering towards the descendants of Gikuyu and Mumbi. 


Today, fifty-three years after the Joluo-Gikuyu rupture, the sons of their respective chief warriors have locked arms, in Azimio la Umoja, a coalition that seeks unity of Kenyans, with Raila Odinga within striking distance of the presidency of the Republic. A few months ago, Mama Ngina Kenyatta, the widow of Jomo Kenyatta, who had largely stayed out of the political limelight, gave a speech in which she left no doubt that she wanted Raila Odinga to succeed her son at State House. I pinched myself to confirm that it was not a dream. 


As though this was not enough, the ethnic nationalism that has been deeply entrenched in Kenya, is showing mild signs of possible yielding to a new era of social-economic interests as a major determinant of people’s votes. It is too early to be excited about it, of course, but the opinion polls, for what they are worth, have continued to show William Ruto, a Kalenjin, doing well in the Gikuyu heartland around Mount Kenya.  A nomad from the Rift Valley stands tall, facing Mount Kenya, his political party as popular there as was KANU in an earlier time. 


That Uhuru Kenyatta, the leader of the Gikuyu, is an ally of a Joluo, does not seem to have pulled most of his ethnic kinsmen in the direction of his preferred candidate. That Martha Karua, the Azimio candidate for Deputy President, is a formidable Gikuyu woman, does not seem to have had the desired effect of a stampede towards Raila. 


The cynic might say that the Gikuyu are divided over their feelings towards a Jaluo in Mzee Kenyatta’s chair. After all their elders’ oaths in 1969 may well remain powerful deterrents among the superstitious adherents to that powerful tradition. In any case, just five years ago, Kenyatta himself painted an image of Raila that would have scared anorexic kids into eating their Githere. But the bloody clashes between Gikuyu and Kalenjin in the post-election violence of 2007/2008 is fresh enough to count in the voters’ calculations.  A Gikuyu vote for Ruto is an endorsement of the leader of the community that wielded pangas against the Gikuyu in 2008. 


Furthermore, Ruto’s running mate, a man called Rigathi Gachagua, is a Gikuyu, which might be an advantage to the deputy president. However, Gachagua’s legal difficulties in the face of being found guilty of illegally pocketing KES 202 million (US$1.7 million) that belonged to Kenyans may have weakened the ethnic advantage to his ticket. Unless, of course, “corruption by one of our own is excusable.”  The voter’s mind is a complex thing. 


It seems to me, and to people on the ground, that Ruto’s apparent exploits in the Gikuyu heartland reflect a revolt against Uhuru Kenyatta by his ethnic kinsmen. Some say his policies have impoverished them, and they have bought Ruto’s promise to fund business and investment “bottom up.” This is a remarkable development that suggests that Kenya is moving in the right direction. If we can get people to stop thinking ethnicity, and value integrity, ability, and a clear pro-people agenda, our countries will begin to chart a hopeful journey. Perhaps we may soon witness a similar divided opinion among the other major ethnic nationalities that will see them prefer a candidate from another ethnic community to one of their own kinsmen. 


One problem is that Ruto and his running-mate do not do well in the integrity and ability sweepstakes. Then again, if one is to look for a righteous politician in our neighbourhood, one may have to postpone elections for a long while. 


The outcome of next week’s election in Kenya is none of my business. As a friend of Kenya, eternally grateful to that country for giving me refuge when my life was in danger, my business is to pray for peace and to wish Kenyans a successful conclusion to this political campaign. It will be delightful to wake up to post-election news that the streets and slums of Kenya are peaceful, with citizens carrying on with their lives, and with political opponents putting Kenya before their personal interests. Time will tell. We live with hope.


One thing is clear to me. Uhuru Kenyatta has earned the right to be honoured by his countrymen as a great leader. Unlike some African rulers, Uhuru was resolute about adhering to the presidential term limit. That alone would have been reason enough to honour him, in addition to his contribution to Kenya’s economic foundation, which has been very significant.  Interestingly, his opponents criticize him for borrowing heavily to build infrastructural projects. To which he should gladly plead guilty. So very refreshing to hear that a leader has been busy developing his country, not feeding his private appetite and the palettes of his hangers on. His country is moving forward, notwithstanding its entrenched problems. 


Uhuru deserves honour because of his midwifery of a process that has created a Gikuyu-Joluo alliance, and pushed for the election of an Odinga, a former rival, as president of Kenya. It is a landmark accomplishment that guarantees him very favourable judgement by history. The oathing of 1969, expunged from Kenya at last, would be enough legacy, for which Jomo Kenyatta’s son can expect a rousing reception in the land of the Joluo.

© Muniini K. Mulera

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