Uhuru Kenyatta: Re-elected, but at what cost?

2017-10-30 20:59
Kenya's new president Uhuru Kenyatta. (File, AFP)

Kenya's new president Uhuru Kenyatta. (File, AFP)

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Nairobi - Uhuru Kenyatta, who won a second and final term in Kenya's controversial election re-run, is the son of the country's founding president and a man who epitomises the country's elite.

The 56-year-old US-educated multi-millionaire, whose family owns an array of businesses, properties and land, followed in his father's footsteps when he defeated his rival Raila Odinga to become president in 2013.

Their rematch in August was again won by Kenyatta, with 54% of the vote, but the Supreme Court annulled the results due to "irregularities" and ordered a re-run.

Kenyatta accepted the judges' ruling but with anger, calling the judges "crooks" and threatening to "fix" the courts if he won Thursday's vote, which fell on his birthday.

Two weeks before the vote, Odinga announced he would not participate, claiming it would not be free and fair, urging his followers to observe a boycott, which they did en masse with mass protests blocking polling in four of Kenya's 47 counties.

His withdrawal handed Kenyatta a landslide victory, in which he took 98% of the vote.

But it was something of a Pyrrhic victory, with only 38.8% of registered voters casting their ballots. Observers warn the result is likely to face a host of new legal challenges - a fact acknowledged by Kenyatta himself.

In his victory speech, Kenyatta made a telling admission, saying that accepting the court's ruling overturning was "a very difficult and painful decision". And he said he would be prepared to do the same again.

"My victory today is just part of a process that is likely to once again be subjected to a constitutional test through our courts, and as I have demonstrated repeatedly, I will submit to this constitutional path, no matter its outcomes."

Privilege and wealth 

Kenyatta's first term has been defined by big spending on eye-catching infrastructure and impressive economic growth in a tough climate.

But this has gone hand-in-hand with spiralling debt and widening inequality.

Terrorism has also been a consistent threat, with Kenyatta forced to address the nation in doleful terms after bloody attacks in 2013 and 2015.

The former finance minister and deputy prime minister was born in 1961, shortly after his father Jomo Kenyatta was released from nearly a decade in British jails and before becoming Kenya's first president in 1964.

His first name means "freedom" in Kiswahili.

Educated at a private school in Nairobi and at Amherst College in the United States, Kenyatta is regarded as a leader of the Kikuyu people, the country's single largest ethnic group.

He is married with three children and regularly attends Catholic church.

In 2011 Forbes magazine estimated Kenyatta's wealth at $500m.

Despite his elite background Kenyatta has a common touch. He easily mixes it up with ordinary Kenyans, eagerly gets down on the dance floor and joshes in the local youth slang and, in his younger years, earned a persistent reputation for partying hard.

 Dynastic politics 

Kenyatta's political career is a case study in pragmatism.

In the 1990s, he joined with the sons of other independence heroes to call for democratic reforms but then became a close ally of autocratic former president Daniel arap Moi who had him nominated as the ruling party's candidate for the presidency in 2002.

Kenyatta lost to fellow Kikuyu politician Mwai Kibaki but then backed Kibaki's successful re-election bid in 2007, against Odinga who at the time was allied with William Ruto, now Kenyatta's deputy and running mate.

The violent fallout from the disputed result led to the deaths of over 1 100 people and, eventually, to a power-sharing government in which Kibaki was president, Odinga prime minister and Kenyatta one of his deputies.

Kenyatta and Ruto were indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their alleged roles in orchestrating the violence.

But in 2014 the court dropped charges against Kenyatta - and later Ruto - citing the disappearance of witnesses and lack of evidence.

Despite, or perhaps because of the ICC indictment, Kenyatta and Ruto won the 2013 election, campaigning on a platform of nationalism, sovereignty and confronting imperialism in the form of the foreign court.

Kenyatta beat Odinga in the first round with a wafer-thin margin of 50.03% - a result Odinga disputed, unsuccessfully, in court.

With Odinga withdrawing from the October re-run, August's vote was likely to be remembered as the final act in a multi-generational political rivalry stretching back half a century to when Jomo Kenyatta and Odinga's father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, vied for control of the nation.

Kenyatta must stand down after one more term and, at 72, Odinga is regarded as too old to make another bid for the presidency in five years time. Both men's children are, for now, inexperienced in politics.

Read more on:    uhuru kenyatta  |  daniel arap moi  |  raila odinga  |  mwai kibaki  |  kenya  |  kenya 2017 elections  |  east africa

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