In less than 10 years Uhuru Kenyatta has morphed from the unknown rich son of Kenya’s first president, to a world-renown Kenyan political leader. He has also shown his capacity to mobilise Kenya’s largest community into a single-thinking vote bloc willing to go wherever he will take them; something never seen even under his father, Jomo Kenyatta. Today Uhuru is the undisputed political ‘king’ of the Agikuyu community.
To get here has cost Uhuru great personal sacrifice. His background allowed him to stand aside and watch Kenya’s politics, maybe over some scotch on the rocks in some luxurious hide-away anywhere in the world. However at some point, especially during the 2007 post election violence Uhuru got out of this comfort zone and took up the role of community’s political defender of the Agikuyu. In the process he has invested his own time and resources to build a political platform that he can control, and through which he can negotiate on behalf of his community.
After being named one of the key suspects of the 2007/08 post election violence we saw Uhuru go to bed with William Ruto, the opposite number to him in this violence especially in Rift Valley. Team Uhuru argues that an alliance between him and this man will lead to peace in the Rift Valley between Kikuyus and the Kalenjins, which directly suggest that Ruto is more an enemy to his support base, than a friend. It also shows his capacity to work with an enemy to move his interests forward.
Today, if the rumours circulating prove to be true, Uhuru Kenyatta is poised to step down from his presidential ambitions this week, and give up a public platform he has gone through hell and high-water to develop as his vehicle to be Kenya’s fourth president, to Musalia Mudavadi. If this happens it will show the extent to which he is able to sacrifice his own ambitions when the situation calls for it.
In what Uhuru and his supporters will find terribly ironic, the road he is travelling has been travelled by none other than his great political nemesis today; Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
Like Uhuru, Raila Odinga comes from a prominent family with his father having being Kenya’s first Vice President. Raila’s upbringing therefore gave him the exposure and social connections that would have allowed him to watch Kenya’s politics over scotch and whiskey in some faraway country.
However Raila chose to fight against the political marginalisation of Luos as suffered under the Kenyatta and Moi governments. In a period similar to the 10 years, it has taken Uhuru to get where he is, and at great personal sacrifice Raila went from being known as the son of Kenya’s first Vice President, to being the political ‘king’ of the Luo. Again, like Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga’s influence over Luo politics got to the point where it was more than that of his father before him.
After the 1997 general elections Raila, like Uhuru did recently, proved that when it came to doing what is required to move his political interests forward he will work with his worst enemy. Against all odds Raila entered into Kenya’s first ever political coalition with President Daniel Moi and KANU. By 2002 Raila, again like Uhuru, had built up enough political momentum to take his second stab at the presidency.
However, again like we hear Uhuru might do by tomorrow, Raila decided to bow out of the presidential race and support someone else; a man he would have beaten hands down had they been asked to run against each other for the NARC Rainbow ticket. This week we might see history repeat itself.
So is Uhuru Kenyatta a younger version of Raila Odinga? I do not know. What I do know is that there are a lot of similarities in their political journey, including the fact Uhuru will always be associated with the ICC, the same way Raila’s past includes being associated with the attempted 1982 coup. I am also convinced that whereas Raila Odinga will be Kenya’s fourth president next year, all things remaining constant Uhuru Kenyatta will most probably be president within my lifetime.
However Uhuru Kenyatta has a few more rivers to cross before he gets where Raila is today.
One is related to 2002 when Raila stepped away from his presidential ambitions and chose to support Mwai Kibaki. One of the reasons must have been that whatever he thought of him personally, it was clear that of all those out to take over from Moi Kibaki was the best man for the job.
The fact that Raila is poised to take over from Kibaki has a lot to do with him saying ‘Kibaki Tosha’. As Uhuru Kenyatta shelves his own presidential ambition in 2013 he also must look around at all those after Kibaki’s job, pick out the best man for the job whatever he might think of him personally, and against all odds, say, ‘Raila Tosha’.
(Wambugu is the Executive Director of Change Associates Trust)