Family heritage is asset and burden to Uhuru Kenyatta
KENYA: Uhuru Kenyatta’s most priced asset is also his main burden – the Kenyatta heritage.
The Kenyatta brand name has been under construction since 1929 when Johnstone Kamau, as Jomo Kenyatta was known then, accepted James Beauttah’s offer to take his place on the Kikuyu Central Association’s (KCA) team tasked with presenting land grievances to the Queen of England.
The older and more established James wanted to keep his post office job, and apparently thought younger Johnstone, then a water metre reader and a budding political activist, had less to lose by his absence.
Johnstone changed his name to Jomo Kenyatta in 1938 and in the fullness of time would become a revered personality among the Kikuyu as the political face of resistance and rebellion against the 70-year British colonial subjugation, dispossession of land and brutal oppression.
But the climax of Kenyatta’s establishment as an enduring legacy and symbol of adoration by the Kikuyu peasantry climaxed after independence through the one-million-acre settlement programme, which converted thousands from peasant squatters surviving on slave labour in the White Highlands and plantations, to proud land owners.
In the year that Kenya marks its 50th birthday, fate has placed another Kenyatta at the centre of a not-so-subtle rebellion against the perceived foreign intrusion in the Kenyan affairs via the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Uhuru and his presidential running mate and co-accused at the ICC William Ruto have become such awkward customers for the European diplomats in Nairobi, like Jomo Kenyatta was to British government 60 years ago: Today, the more European diplomats speak against Uhuru running for President, over his problems with the ICC in The Hague, even threatening sanctions, the more they fuel perceived foreign interference, and his popularity soars in his support base.
Regardless of the merits or demerits of the ICC affair, many agree it has benefitted Uhuru most, propelling him to the pedestal of a hero to the Kikuyu masses, who was “paying the price” for “standing up” for them during the post election violence, never mind that he has spent, and continues to spend, millions of shillings hiring pricey lawyers to deny and dispute this same narrative of “standing up” for his kinsmen in 2008.
And regardless of what anyone else thinks about the ICC matter, his staunch supporters seem to have made their position on the matter crystal clear by the manner in which they aggressively turned out to register as voters last year.
According to figures published by the IEBC after the closure of the registration period on December 18, 2012, counties which are predominantly perceived as Uhuru political strongholds posted the highest turn out of voter registration nationally, and that is likely to be repeated at the ballot box on March 4.
Though opinion is divided on whether the Kenyatta brand name belongs to the family, his community or Kenya as a whole, Uhuru has emerged as the undisputed heir of the political dividends accruing from it. And he exploits it with dexterity, maintaining a deceptive common man’s public persona and mannerisms.
These are marked by a simple hair style subtly combed backwards like his father’s, a scruffy goatee, frumpy trousers that barely cover his ankles, speaking his mother tongue in front of TV cameras to his audiences when touring Central Kenya, not shying from throwing occasional tantrums and choice epithets at perceived political rivals, all of which are intended to humanise his personality. Unlike many children born with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouths, Uhuru has his mother, former first lady Mama Ngina, to thank for ensuring he did not lose touch with his roots, and grew up speaking fluent Kikuyu, unlike many of his peers who can hardly pronounce their first names without affecting accents. This is in marked contrast with President Kibaki, who is never to be caught using his mother tongue since he decided he wanted to be President of Kenya in 1992, whether addressing funerals, church or political campaign meetings.
Uhuru has also worked hard, almost like one possessed, to dispel the notion of being anyone’s “project”, a tag he acquired when President Moi fished him from his family businesses and dragged him into public life and politics in 1997.
Indeed, his aides have been hard at work to dump the perception that there was little to the man beyond the celebrated Kenyatta brand.
That explains his bailing out of both Kanu and PNU to found his own political outfit, The National Alliance (TNA), away from retired President Moi’s KANU and President Kibaki’s PNU.
It remains to be seen if TNA popularity translates into victory on March 4.
Away from politics, Uhuru acquitted himself well as Finance Minister emerging as one of the few Finance ministers to have left Treasury without a whiff of scandal. He is also credited with resisting the old Nairobi cabals of influential wheeler dealers always out to cut corners in tax evasion and dubious deals, insisting they pay up, in the process earning their wrath when they shifted their loyalty to his political rivals.
The writer is CEO of Africa Media Solutions & Communications Ltd
Family heritage is asset and burden to Uhuru Kenyatta