By the time Uhuru Kenyatta was hitting 30 years in 1992, some of those who were close to his life had started regarding him as a natural leader who was pursuing a bad cause. Those were the days when his exploits in social life had become so novel, his circle of friends expanding by daybreak as power and rent seekers invaded his inner circle.
His first cousin, Mr Kung’u Muigai told the Daily Nation that “this is our son who broke off from the yokes of influence our family wielded and packaged himself as a common person anyone could approach and relate with without a worry of the trappings of power that his family enjoyed”.
He was in horticulture business then, selling French beans outside Blue Post Hotel in Thika, which is owned by his family.
Family insiders told this writer that the President’s mother, Mama Ngina Kenyatta, who is the founding First Lady of the nation, had lamented for long that her son was pursuing defeatist causes instead of engaging in what was naturally his—leadership.
“This was a young man whose father—Mzee Jomo Kenyatta—had brought up thoroughly coached to one day rule Kenya, but he appeared not interested, loving partying too much… until his mother intervened around 1995,” revealed a member of the Kenyatta family.
Mama Ngina is reported to have started seeking audience with the then president Daniel arap Moi to allow her son to sample the leadership vaults of the nation, a sort of persona rehabilitation programme for the young Kenyatta.
Moi did not disappoint. He started a panel-beating endeavour to prepare Uhuru, a political scientist and economist from the US’s Amherst College, for leadership. The young man had key advantages that worked for him well—his penchant to think fast, mix well, express himself perfectly, and what appeared to a power, through oratory, to hypnotise people.
In 1997 Moi influenced Uhuru’s elevation to the Gatundu chairmanship of the then ruling party, Kanu, that his father had once led, and thus made him a parliamentary seat candidate in his home constituency of Gatundu South.
Uhuru presented his nomination papers on December 8, 1997, then aged 36, ahead of the December 27 General Election. His main competitor was Moses Mwihia of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), who was being supported by the current Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, then aged only 26.
Uhuru lost the race by more than 12,000 votes after Mwihia “abducted himself”, staged-managed his murder and had his supporters blame it all on the greenhorn Uhuru, who is reported to have become so distraught by the experiences of that race that he vowed never to get involved in politics again and retreated back to his former social life, occasionally overseeing family businesses.
Away in Nairobi, Moi, the reputed political giraffe of his heyday, had noticed a leadership spark in Uhuru that he thought he could nurture, and so in 1999 he fished out the young man from political oblivion and made him the chairman of the Kenya Tourist Board. A year later, in 2000, the President appointed Uhuru chair of the Disaster Emergency Response Committee. And, again a year later, in 2001, Moi reached out to the political depths of his mentee and nominated him to Parliament—after prevailing upon Mark Too to resign so as to create space for him. Soon after, Moi appointed Uhuru to the Cabinet.
State House insiders
“It was very apparent that Moi was on a script. He was deliberately shoring up Uhuru to top leadership and it was not in doubt in the minds of State House insiders,” said former Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua, now Deputy President-elect, who was then picked by the new minister to be his Personal Assistant.
Mr Gachagua says “then, Uhuru was exhibiting all the signs of rising to greatness and the Mt Kenya region was embracing him as the custodian of the founding father’s (Mzee Jomo Kenyatta who had died in 1978) legacy and continuance of the region’s leadership”. Today Gachagua, who served in the PA position until 2006, sits across the political divide with the retiring Uhuru.
In 2002, President Moi made Uhuru one of the four Kanu party vice-chairs and proceeded—to the disbelief of seasoned mandarins surrounding Moi—to name him that year’s General Election presidential flag bearer.
Among his supporters then was Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi, who was appointed to deputise Uhuru for the race, and William Ruto, who acted as chief mobiliser.
It was a move that set the ruling party on a journey to oblivion since it was deserted by bigwigs, who included Vice-President George Saitoti and Secretary-General Joseph Kamotho. They teamed up with the National Rainbow Coalition’s presidential aspirant Mwai Kibaki and gave Uhuru a resounding defeat. While Kibaki garnered 62.2 per cent of the cast votes, Uhuru managed just 31.3 per cent, sending him to the role of the Official Opposition Leader and the national chairman of the former ruling party.
His campaigns were greatly affected by the presence of Mungiki adherents in his forays, an association that led to his poor performance in Central Kenya, where he garnered 27 per cent of the votes as Kibaki whitewashed him with a 72 per cent home-ground acceptance.
Come 2005 and Uhuru rubbed Mt Kenya the wrong way when he joined Raila Odinga in successfully campaigning against the referendum for a new constitution. When he emerged in Nairobi holding hands with Mr Odinga and Mr William ole Ntimama and chanting that “we have defeated the enemy’s constitution”, his tribesmen upturned their noses against him. As it were, it was only Mt Kenya-dominant communities that were supporting the ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum and the term ‘enemy’ was construed to mean Uhuru had irredeemably betrayed them.
Mr Gachagua deserted him as thousands poured in the streets of Gatundu town to condemn Mr Kenyatta for the grand betrayal. His effigy was burnt to mark the beginning of his end.
In the 2007 General Election, Uhuru withdrew his candidature months to polls day and supported the incumbent, Mwai Kibaki. And with that the ground he had lost among his tribesmen started creeping back “for saving one of our own the pressure of winning a second term”.
The 2007 vote was so acrimonious that it led to a post-election wave of violence that killed more than 1,500, maimed thousands others and displaced hundreds of thousands. In the chaotic first days of Kibaki’s second term, he appointed Uhuru Minister for Local Government and Deputy Prime Minister. Uhuru also served in the Ministry of Trade and later in that of Finance.
His rising star was, however, dimmed by the International Criminal Court, which accused him, William Ruto, Henry Kosgey, Francis Muthaura, Hussein Ali and Joshua Sang’ of planning or otherwise financing and fanning the post-election violence of 2007. In January 2012 the ICC announced that, apart from Mr Kosgey and Mr Ali, the rest, including Uhuru, would face trial.
They were charged with committing crimes against humanity, on claims that Uhuru had helped mobilise and fund Mungiki adherents to murder and displace Mr Odinga’s supporters.
After he was formally charged, Uhuru resigned as Minister of Finance but remained in his post as Deputy Prime Minister.
This ICC debacle served as the goose that laid Uhuru’s golden political egg since it made him emerge as a community warrior who had earlier been harshly judged, and who could now be trusted to lead Mt Kenya .
Thus, in 2013 Mt Kenya was resoundingly certain that its best bet for the presidency was Uhuru Kenyatta. The plan, the region reasoned, was that victory in the elections would help Uhuru defeat the ICC and its “foreign occupation” aggression.
Uhuru pulled another surprise when he introduced to Mt Kenya Mr William Ruto as his running mate. This was a daring gamble as Ruto had suffered so much negative public perception in Mt Kenya that by close of 2011, he could not hold a rally in the Gikuyu, Embu and Meru Association (Gema) strongholds.
But Uhuru introduced him as critical in ending the political turmoil of every elective season in the Rift Valley, and the region accepted that association. The two became inseparable on the campaign trail. And, later, unbeatable.
UhuRuto, as they branded themselves, worked hand in hand in the early days of the Jubilee government, posturing like Siamese twins whose, political destiny was shared, until Uhuru won the second term by vying twice after the Supreme Court annulled his first victory against Odinga.
Uhuru had been declared the first-round winner by the Independent and Electoral Boundaries Commission, with 50.07 per cent of the vote against Mr Odinga’s 43.31 per cent. Odinga boycotted the ordered repeat polls and went ahead to swear himself in as the People’s President before getting ensconced in the Handshake deal with Uhuru that birthed the President’s endorsement of his candidature in the August 9, 2022 General Election.
This Handshake, it turned out, marked the public exhibition of serious cracks between the President and his Deputy.
In Mt Kenya, where Ruto was making forays, it also marked the beginning of the end of the Kenyatta kingship. And so today, as the President retires in hours, he goes out to face a hostile region that has called him names, humiliated him, and branded him a sell-out. The President, like he did when he was branded a Moi project, or when he was accused of funding the Raila project, disagrees with that labelling. Very few believe him.
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