March 9, 2015 marks the first day in the third year of Uhuru Kenyatta’s Presidency, because he officially changed status on 9th March 2013. As we wish him well in his third year let us look at how he has affected Kenya’s politics, economy and national unity, in the last 24 months.
Politically, Uhuru has been riding a political rollercoaster. After the first close to nine months of relative calm as CORD recovered from having lost the elections, Uhuru has faced a well-oiled political resistance machine that has moved from calls for national dialogue; to threats for country-wide ‘Saba Saba’ demonstrations; to a referendum proposal to ‘Okoa Kenya’; to rowdy ultimatums of unstated repercussions for attempting to take Kenya back to authoritarianism and dictatorship, etc. He has also had to deal with political resistance to literally every policy his government has proposed, even where there was no need for such resistance.
The result has been a President who has had to navigate the thin line between political showmanship and political delivery as he struggled to ensure he was heard above the din of political noise from his detractors. This has led to a situation where Kenya’s versatile social media community has mischievously labeled him the ‘PR-resident’ based on what some have seen as obvious PR stunts; eg when he rode in a matatu to town from State House; or his numerous ‘selfies’.
However and to his credit he has been tremendously successfully in not only defusing or overturning literally every political attack thrown at him by CORD, he has left the Opposition gasping for breath and grasping at straws to beat him with, after he dismantled each seemingly insurmountable political obstacles they had earlier placed on his path; the Okoa Kenya referendum calls being one such example. He has been so good at this I am inclined to believe CORD has never understood how consummate a politician Uhuru actually is.
Economically there is no doubt that Uhuru has surpassed expectations. ‘Fortune’ magazine; a world leading business magazine, recently proposed Kenya as one of seven smart options for American companies to invest in. The World Bank has projected Kenya’s economy will grow by 6 per cent this year, and 6.6 per cent next year. The infrastructural projects Uhuru’s government has continued to invest in are the force behind such rave reviews and all things remaining constant Kenya’s economy can only get better.
However Uhuru’s government has been plagued by allegations of corruption nearly from their first day in office. This is quite surprising because the one thing even his enemies will attest to is that Uhuru detests corruption. This is something he must now deal with urgently because this corruption allegations threaten to tarnish his ‘mr-clean’ image beyond repair. He must also get a handle on insecurity because it that has substantially affected Kenya’s economy; and it is a major factor in how much foreign investments we can attract despite all these positive reviews we are getting.
On the issues of national cohesion I am not as impressed with Uhuru’s performance; which is pretty unfortunate because I believe the government Uhuru leads is most probably the most inclusive government Kenya has ever had since independence. My disappointment is therefore on ‘form’ than ‘substance’.
The problem with national cohesion is that it is about perceptions, not about facts. CORD has very successfully managed to label Uhuru as a President overseeing a government of two communities, and Jubilee, most probably because they know this is not true, have not been very effective at countering this propaganda. The result is that most people believe CORD’s position on the profile of Uhuru’s government.
This is quite unfortunate for a President who won elections on the underlying theme of national healing and reconciliation. Thankfully it is easy to turn around. All that Uhuru needs to do is ensure relevant context is provided whenever he makes senior appointments moving forward. He will also need to have his public service present the facts of where Kenya is coming from, what interventions he has introduced to right any imbalances, and what percentage each community occupies in government relative to its population size. Finally he needs to rein the tribal chauvinist in his political wagon from trumpeting their ignorance on this issue.
In summary, if I was to grade him under each issue I would give him a ‘B+’ in politics; an ‘A-’ in economy; and a ‘C-‘ in National Cohesion. Fortunately he has three more years to sort out the bad grade.
Meanwhile KANU is re-engineering. Many Kenyans are watching how she will do it. In my view KANU is a political party brimming with potential, the equivalent of a once-pretty girl who has since let herself go. If she watches her diet, goes back to the gym, rebrands her style; there is really no limit to how attractive she can be, again. Hope she will not disappoint.
(Wambugu is a Director at Change Associates, a political think-tank)