Kenya: Uhuru Kenyatta, inscrutable president with mixed results

Kenya: Uhuru Kenyatta, inscrutable president with mixed results

The youngest president in Kenya’s history, Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, is leaving power after nearly a decade at the helm of the country, which he ended as an inscrutable leader with mixed results.

Puppet or strategist, amateur or power-hungry heir? Despite a nearly 30-year political career, Uhuru Kenyatta remains an elusive figure.

One thing is certain: the “prince” of Kenyan politics is inextricably linked to his family, the richest in the country and the only one who has given him two presidents.

This 60-year-old man, with his massive silhouette and round face marked by heavy bags under his eyes, dedicated his second and final mandate to trying to consolidate his political legacy.

He will have tried to the last to influence the country’s future by supporting Raila Odinga in the August 9 presidential election – in which he had no right to run for a third term – against his Vice President William Ruto.

He lost that last bet, largely alienated by his alliance with his former rival from his stronghold of Mount Kenya.

– Debt and Corruption –

While the former American-educated golden boy has worked to boost Kenya’s international profile, which currently sits on the UN Security Council and prides itself on being East Africa’s economic powerhouse, his domestic record remains mixed.

In his closing speech on Monday, Kenyatta emphasized the country’s economic progress, which will “join the club of middle-income nations.”

“I have been guided by the dream of our ancestors: eradicating poverty, ignorance and disease, improving the quality of life for all Kenyans and creating the conditions for everyone to achieve their goal,” he said.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta awaits the arrival of Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa at the State House in Nairobi, Kenya, March 9, 2022 (AFP/Archives – Yasuyoshi CHIBA)

Their policy of major infrastructure projects was carried out notably at the expense of a debt explosion that reached more than 70 billion euros (67% of GDP).

His anti-corruption speeches were met with apathy, even irony, in a country where the Kenyattas are perceived as the embodiment of a corrupt political elite that cares little about the public interest.

Beyond a financial empire that stretches from agribusiness (Brookside) to banking (NCBA) to media (Mediamax), the Kenyatta family is the country’s largest landowner — a legacy with criticized origins.

Uhuru, a practicing Catholic and father of three, was worth $500 million alone by Forbes in 2011.

– Frequently –

Uhuru (“freedom” in Swahili) is the son of President Jomo Kenyatta (1964-1978), considered the father of independence, and his influential fourth wife “Mama” Ngina.

He entered politics in the mid-1990s, pushed by his father’s successor, the autocrat Daniel arap Moi (1978-2002).

Painted portraits of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (left), presidential candidate Raila Odinga (right) and his running mate Martha Karua during a campaign rally in Murang'a on July 23, 2022 (AFP - Yasuyoshi CHIBA)
Painted portraits of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (left), presidential candidate Raila Odinga (right) and his running mate Martha Karua during a campaign rally in Murang’a on July 23, 2022 (AFP – Yasuyoshi CHIBA)

Defeated in his first presidential campaign in 2002, he supported the outgoing Mwai Kibaki in 2007, whose narrow victory degenerated into politico-ethnic killings between the Kikuyu and Kalenjin, two of the country’s main ethnic groups.

Kenyatta immediately joined a national unity government and then won the 2013 presidential election.

The leader of the Kikuyu has allied himself with William Ruto, the leader of the Kalenjin, in this race. Both are then indicted by the International Criminal Court for their role in the 2007-2008 killings.

The charges against the leading duo are dropped after the court denounced “witness intimidation”.

Uhuru will then be visitable again, welcoming in turn Barack Obama, Pope Francis and a host of investors who can’t wait to reach this dynamic country.

In Nairobi, observers and diplomats are struggling to identify his personality. Some describe “a drunk party animal who didn’t want the job”, others describe a man who is “fairly charismatic”, “politically competent and who knows how to talk to people”.

But the capital buzzes with stories about his nocturnal excursions, incognito at the wheel of an ordinary car, guarded by only a few bodyguards.

– Alliance with Odinga –

On September 1, 2017, following the historic annulment of his re-election by the Supreme Court, he will call judges “crooks” in front of cameras.

After a few hours, however, he will accept the verdict and be finally re-elected two months later, in a fragmented country where opposition demonstrations – whose leader Raila Odinga boycotted the second ballot – were ruthlessly suppressed by the police. .

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta after the inauguration of the Kibra Level 3 hospital in Kibera slum in Nairobi, September 29, 2021 (AFP/Archives - Yasuyoshi CHIBA)
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta after the inauguration of the Kibra Level 3 hospital in Kibera slum in Nairobi, September 29, 2021 (AFP/Archives – Yasuyoshi CHIBA)

So much so that in early 2018 he surprised everyone by forging a truce with Odinga during what has become known as the “handshake”.

That pact has drawn Mr Odinga into the heart of power and kept out ambitious Vice President William Ruto – who Kenyatta originally pledged his support for in 2022.

Kenyatta and Odinga will jointly undertake a constitutional reform project called the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and specifically create a post of prime minister that many saw destined for the outgoing president. Denounced by Ruto, the BBI is finally challenged by the judiciary.

The President is now preparing to step down, at least in appearance, from the political arena.

When asked last year about his desire to remain in power, a smiling Uhuru told France 24, eyes lifted to the sky: “Oh please please! I would rather enjoy a holiday in France every summer.”

Reference: www.challenges.fr

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