Recent public outbursts, personal attacks and raw anger have come to characterise President Uhuru Kenyatta’s style.
Last week he called a governor a “foolish devil” and told striking doctors he would “sort them out.” Not without provocation, Uhuru
has called opposition leader Raila Odinga a “madman” and a “witch doctor”.
Generally easygoing and affable, the 55-year-old head of state appears to be losing his cool, lambasting and ridiculing rivals and critics.
Is this a deliberate get-tough strategy, or are these the spontaneous outbursts of a public figure under stress?
With the general election five months away, Uhuru is under pressure to end a 97-day-long doctors’ strike, a 52-day-long lecturers’ strike, months of death and destruction by
marauding herders and bandits – and to mitigate a devastating drought and famine.
And the electoral numbers aren’t as solid as in 2013.
Uhuru’s critics are naturally pleased at his excesses, but even some supporters are concerned about the intemperate, unstatesmanlike language.
Social media is awash with talk, it’s mixed.
Many people, of course, love a good show, hard-hitting, red-meat political talk. The President sounds tough and strong, which could be a plus. “This doesn’t augur well for a President to be throwing tantrums at every turn. It’s quite unpresidential,” said Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi,
ODM’s secretary for Political Affairs. Uhuru’s public displays of irritability have rekindled memories of the senior Kenyatta, known for fiery speeches that were at times vulgar and referred to violence.
When Jomo Kenyatta, for instance, visited Kisumu to open what now Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Hospital on October 25,1969, and the crowd became restive, the founding
President turned his wrath on his former VP.
He told Jaramogi, father of opposition chief Raila Odinga, that had they not been friends, he would “Nita wasiaga siaga kama unga (I will crush you like flour),” Kenyatta said, continuing in unprintable language.
Uhuru’s latest rant was in Turkana on Wednesday when he told residents they could keep their votes on August 8. He called an unnamed leader, obviously Governor Josephat Nanok,
a foolish devil. “Those who think I can be intimidated should look for someone else. We shall ask for your votes like the rest. If you choose to give or refuse, it’s fine. Do you think the world will
come to an end? It will not,” he said in Lodwar.
Speaking in Kiswahili, the President was responding to Nanok’s public complaints the state-county revenue-sharing formula for billions from oil is unfair.
Uhuru was furious over “propaganda” he has personal interests in Turkana oil.
“Mtu akisimama hapa aseme ati Uhuru ako na haja na mafuta ya wengine…ashindwe..shetani mshenzi…” he barked.
In other words, “If someone comes and says Uhuru has interests in others’ oil, he should be defeated…devil…fool…”
Asked about Uhuru’s outburst, State House spokesman Manoah Esipisu said his words might not be a show of anger “People have a right to express themselves whichever way best
expresses what they feel at the time,” Esipisu told Baraka FM in Mombasa. “But that is not necessarily anger, it might be an expression of disappointment, of exasperation, of surprise itself … You have to interrogate this better for the citizens,” he said.
Uhuru articulates Kenyans’ concerns, the spokesman said.
“You have to look at how the people the President is speaking to are reacting. In Turkana, for instance, he was being cheered. Why? Because people identify with what he was saying,” Esipisu said.
A day before the Turkana spat, Uhuru pledged to “sort doctors out” if negotiations between striking medics and religious leaders collapsed. Some analysts say Uhuru is under
pressure, with the country hurtling from crisis to crisis and elections fast approaching.
“When you look like you might be a one-term President, it’s bound to scare you a bit,” analyst Martin Andati told the Star. “There is pressure and the numbers are not looking good. There are serious problems in Meru and their backyards are not as warm as in 2013. The ICC that galvanised tribal support in 2013 is not there and those numbers are not 100 per cent guaranteed.”
Andati said Uhuru must remain calm, despite provocation – of which there is plenty – since the President is the “father of the nation and the symbol of national unity”.
“There would be provocations, there would be pressure …. So some things you try to keep them, as they say, in the chest,” Andati said.
The immoderate language didn’t start last week. On November 4 last year, at the Jubilee National Governing Council, Uhuru called Raila “backward and petty … a witch doctor”.
This stemmed from Raila’s claims the Sh6.8 billion Northern Water Collector Tunnel Project would turn six counties into desert and allegations of a Sh5.3 billion Health ministry scandal.
“Mganga hawezi kuona haya..yake ni vile ataincite wanainchi ili wakasirike, si kuwapea suluhu, kwa sababu hiyo ndio siasa yake. (The witch doctor is not ashamed…his is to
incite the public so that they get angry. Not giving them solutions because that is his brand of politics),” the President said.
Speaking in Nyeri on December 1, Uhuru switched to Kikuyu and called Raila “muguruki” — mad man. On September 15 last year, at the burial of ex-Minister William Ntimama, Uhuru lost his cool after Raila said the deceased Maasai kingpin had not defected to Jubilee.
He made the famously crude and much derided “meat and saliva” statement.
“Sisi kiti tumekalia, wewe ni kutafuta… kwahivo wenzetu endeleeni kumeeza mate lakini nyama tutakula.” Meaning we eat meat (enjoy power), while you who are out of power are salivating.
At a State House and good governance summit on October 19 last year, Uhuru on live television blasted Auditor General Edward Ouko for his probe of Eurobond proceeds. The state
says not a penny has been diverted.
“And this one [Ouko] says he wants to go and investigate the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Ngai!” Uhuru exclaimed.
But he admitted he was frustrated in the graft war and kept asking, “Sasa mnataka nifanye nini jameeni?”
1. Lodwar, Turkana, March 8
Rally, dispute with governor
“Mtu akisimama hapa aseme ati Uhuru ako na haja na mafuta ya wengine…ashindwe..shetani mshenzi…”
“Someone comes here and says Uhuru has an interest in others’ oil, he should be defeated … devil.. foolish.”
“So those who think I can be intimidated should look for someone else. We shall come to ask for your votes like the rest. You give us or you refuse, it’s fine. The world won’t come to an end. “Kwani munadhani dunia itaisha, dunia itaendelea.”
2. Naivasha, March 7
Kwani hii watu wanaona sisi ni wajinga namna gani?”
“…and only for working two hours in public hospitals and then they run to their private clinics. This is blackmail and we are not going to accept it.”
“If the negotiations they are now engaged in with our religious leaders fails, we will be in a bit of a problem with them…and it’s very clear. And we will sort them out. ”
3.Narok, September 14, 2016
William Ntimama burial
“Sisi kiti tumekalia, wewe ni kutafuta… kwa hivyo wenzetu endeleeni kumeeza mate lakini nyama tutakula.”
“We eat meat, while you [out of power] continue to salivate over meat.”
4. State House, Nairobi, October 19, 2016
Good governance summit
“And this one [Ouko] is saying he wants to go and investigate the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Ngai!”
“Sasa mnataka nifanye nini jameeni?”
5. Bomas of Kenya, November 4, 2016
Jubilee Governing Council
“You must understand a man [Raila] and his thinking of his backwardness and pettiness… pettiness… pettiness…”
“Mganga hawezi kuona haya… yake ni vile ataincite wanainchi ili wakasirike, si kuwapea suluhu, kwa sababu hiyo ndio siasa yake.”
6. Nyeri, December 1, 2016
In Kikuyu calls Raila “muguruki” (mad man)
7. Bomet May 11, 2015
“Gazeti ni ya kufunga nyama.”
“Newspapers are good for wrapping meat.”
8. Nairobi, December 18, 2012
Press conference on collapsed deal with Mudavadi
“Yes, I signed the agreement after being compelled to do so by dark forces who claimed that a Kikuyu can’t be elected and that foreigners will suspend aid to Kenya.”