President Kenyatta’s chance to lay down his legacy


The French philosopher Frantz Fanon said: ‘Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it’. Mandela has shown that this statement applies not only to generations, but also to presidencies.

As I shared last week, Nelson Mandela’s life shows the power of a presidency that understands what their mission is. During his inaugural address on May 9, 1994 Mandela presented his mission; the creation of a ‘Rainbow Nation’. He said; ‘We enter into a covenant that we shall build a society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”

South Africa’s mourning and/or celebration of his life this past week that was across the entire spectrum of its people is evidence that his presidency’s message was understood by everyone. The ‘rainbow nation’ that was Mandela’s focus has become his presidency’s legacy.

In Kenya on December 30, 2012 President Mwai Kibaki presented his presidency’s mission during his inauguration speech. ‘The economy, which you all know has been under-performing since the last decade, is going to be my priority … My government will embark on policies geared to economic reconstruction … ‘ Despite the challenges of a coalition of the ‘unwilling’ during his second term he did not lose focus. As former Prime Minister Raila Odinga notes in ‘Flame of Freedom’ Kibaki was willing to literally plead, to keep the Finance Ministry, because this was the foundation of his presidency’s mission.

Kibaki’s economic legacy has been established to extent that even President Uhuru Kenyatta acknowledged it in his inauguration speech. On April 9, 2013 Uhuru recognized ‘a true statesman and a great leader who over the past 10 years has laid a firm foundation for the future prosperity of our country’.

In the same inauguration speech President Kenyatta presented his presidency’s mission; ‘I will lead all Kenyans – those who voted for me – and those who voted for our competitors – towards a national prosperity that is firmly rooted in a rich and abiding peace in which unity can ultimately be realized’. This statement indicates that Uhuru’s presidency is about uniting Kenyans especially across the vicious political and ethnic divide that split Kenya down the middle towards and since the last general elections.

Unfortunately though it is still early in his presidency, in the eight months since he got into office the social divide has continued and even increased due to the perception that the Jubilee government is only focused on the interests of two communities. The ICC cases also seem to have diverted this presidency’s attention from their mission.

However the Kenya@50 celebrations provide President Kenyatta with a golden opportunity to recover from this. A year-long national celebration is a god-send for a President who wants to unite Kenya across the socio-political divide. It creates a platform from which the President can reach out, especially to opposition strong-holds, with his message of unity and reconciliation. It also gives the government political apparatus an excuse to run a semi-political campaign across the entire country around the theme of unity and reconciliation.

Specifically, Kenya@50 provides President Kenyatta with a reason to involve Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi, Peter Kenneth, Martha Karua, Ole Kiyiapi and even Dida in various national and regional events and activities over the next 12 months. It also allows the Kenyatta government to directly engage each of the 47 governors outside partisan politics and devolution complications, and rope them into a common national conversation for the next 12 months.

Outside politics Kenya@50 provides opportunities for the Kenyatta government to rally the media, civil society, international community and trade unions around a national cause, which automatically reduces the fights they have been having with each of these sectors since they got into office. It also provides the opportunity to mobilize the private sector, religious groups, cooperatives, the youth movement as well as the general public, to a national cause for at least the next one year.

Kenya@50 also challenges the ICC narrative by developing a Kenyan nationalism (rather than the current ethnic chauvinism) that will directly resist attempts, especially from what is seen as a foreign processes, to undermine President Kenyatta’s capacity to deliver to Kenyans. It also creates an environment that will encourage restorative justice for victims including the ones the ICC seeks to represent, which will undermine the need for the retributive justice that the Court seeks to administer.

Finally, the beauty of Kenya@50 is that it’s the kind of national moment that no one can stand up against even where someone might be reluctant to support the current government. It’s the kind of opportunity the Presidency should consider directly managing because at the very least it will amplify its unity and reconciliation mission for at least 12 months.

(Wambugu is the Executive Director, Change Associates Trust)

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