The New Unpredictable Uhuru Leaves Many Guessing
President Uhuru Kenyatta has ditched the soft, chummy mien of the first term and metamorphosed into a secretive, scrupulous and tough-skinned crusader against entrenched impunity in his final four years.
Even close aides and insiders are baffled by the transformation.
Uhuru began by shuffling officers in his inner circle before kicking-off a ruthless war against sleaze and impunity that peaked with this week’s demolition of structures built on riparian land.
Many Kenyans had long resigned themselves to the fate of the buildings whose owners affected an aura of invincibility.
Few believed the multi-billion South End Mall along Langata Road and Ukay Centre in Westlands owned by influential proprietors would come tumbling down.
Analysts say the handshake with Opposition chief Raila Odinga was the game-changer. It strengthened the President’s hand and determination to run entrenched cartels out of town.
“The backbone of Uhuru’s legacy as President is basically the handshake with Raila Odinga,” said governance expert Javas Bigambo.
But no so for some who say Uhuru’s true character is now coming out.
According to National Assembly Majority Whip Benjamin Washiali, the crackdown is just but the beginning.
“Previously, many Kenyans did not know who Uhuru Kenyatta is. I was close to him in the 9th and 10th Parliament. When he was the Finance minister, he firmly directed his colleagues in Parliament to pay taxes,” the MP said, recalling Uhur’s directive ousting fuel guzzlers for low consumption Volkswagen vehicles.
Nairobi University don Herman Manyora said Raila has given Uhuru some sort of political insurance that the President badly needed.
“He [Uhuru] can afford to do something and offend a few people because of the insurance he has been given by Raila. But more importantly, things have become so bad in this country that if we don’t do something about it, there will be no country tomorrow,” Manyora said.
Out goes the usual political patronage.
But even behind the scenes, Uhuru continues to confound his closest allies and senior government officials.
On Tuesday, July 31, for instance, he summoned Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia and Chief of Defence Forces Samson Mwathethe to Mombasa.
Their presence at Uhuru’s Nyali home on Wednesday morning astonished a handful of Uhuru’s aides who were not aware of any meetings scheduled for the day.
The aides were waiting around like they had done all week to see if the President had anything to brief them on.
Shortly, the three were off to the airport where three military choppers were waiting but still very few knew the destination.
While boarding, it was eventually revealed to all that Uhuru wanted to make an impromptu tour of the ongoing construction of the Lapsset project.
Uhuru also inspected the 135-kilometre Lamu-Garsen road which is being constructed by the H-Young company and raised concern over the pace.
Even the governor and other area leaders were caught unawares by the President’s visit just like his staff, other than those who had been dispatched to Lamu with the small motorcade.
This was not the first time and does not seem to be the last of such stealthy operations by a President determined to leave a legacy of performance.
Uhuru is lately disinterested in politics and knows he has little to lose even if it means sacrificing friends. Instead, Uhuru has developed new interest in playing golf and detests large motorcades and hangers-on unlike in the past.
His departure from Nairobi on July 22 was so abrupt that some of his aides only realised he was gone and, later, that he had travelled to Mombasa the following day. There, they remained idle and on standby mode most of the time as Uhuru did not have any public activities to attend to either.
Despite being in Mombasa, Uhuru’s aides missed his meetings with Mombasa governor Hassan Joho, Raila Odinga and another with Cabinet secretaries Najib Balala and Keriako Tobiko.
They were only called in to prepare Uhuru’s media release asking the National Land Commission to revoke allocation of the decommissioned Kibarani dumpsite to private developers.
Uhuru met Joho and Raila at a residential home in Vipingo Ridge, Kilifi, on July 26 and then again the following day at Nyali Golf Club.
They also met again at Uhuru’s home on Monday, July 30, and yet again only a few people were aware of what the President was up to.
Multiple interviews with sources in the Presidency have revealed a different man since the August 8, 2017, election.
Speaking in confidence to avoid jeopardising their positions, our sources intimated that Uhuru has become “unpredictable and is too focused on work.”
It is said that those the President keeps in the know mostly are Gen Mwathethe who liaises with the Escort Commander in case of movement and State House Comptroller Kinuthia Mbugua.
The other few people said to be privy to or regularly in the know of Uhuru’s plans are Chief of Staff Nzioka Waita and National Intelligence Service boss Philip Kameru.
The President is said to be consulting his deputy William Ruto but “not as regularly as happened in his first term.”
Unlike the past when he had unfettered access to State House, nowadays the DP is not a frequent visitor and is said to appear only on request.
That follows the exit of some of the staff in the Presidency perceived to have been close to Ruto such as former State House Comptroller Lawrence Lenayapa.
The president has also changed his communication team and moved their operations to a new building near the gate.
“Only a few and trusted people operate with him in the main building. Anyone who was suspected to be leaking information, including support staff, has been changed,” said a source at State House.
Uhuru and Ruto’s styles are complete opposites. While the DP likes to hold meetings and call different people days before visiting an area, the President consults with civil servants before moving, consistent with official protocol. And while the DP is all over the country, the President’s movement has reduced drastically, with some planned activities sometimes being abandoned.
“So closely guarded is the President’s diary that most of his aides and security only know of what’s next just hours to meetings, events or movement,” one source said.
While in Mombasa, the President kept politicians from the region at bay and only met Mombasa governor Hassan Joho three times and Msambweni MP Suleiman Dori.
The President also made appearances on the beach, visiting Yuls restaurant with minimal security and without the company of politicians.
“The President wants to keep politics off his agenda to avoid being drawn into distractions that are likely to negatively affect his legacy plans,” a source within the Presidency said.
So guarded was his two-week stay in Mombasa that Uhuru had to declare he was getting back to Nairobi to kill speculation about his activities in the Coastal town.
“I would have loved to stay longer and listen to a few presentations, but I have to go back to Nairobi. I have been in Mombasa for two weeks and there has been too much speculation on why I am here, so wacha nirudi Nairobi ndio wawache mambo ya speculation,” Uhuru said.
He was addressing the 10th African Confederation of Principals Conference at Pride Inn Hotel Mombasa on August 7, one of the few public events he graced.
When Uhuru visited former President Daniel arap Moi in Kabarak, many people around the Presidency learnt about it through the media like ordinary Kenyans.
The President was scheduled to attend the burial of Sarah Jerop Kasaon, wife of former Vice Chief of Kenya Defence Forces Lt. Gen (Rtd) Joseph Kasaon in Kabarak, Nakuru.
But only a few people aware of the schedule knew that he was going to pass by Moi’s home until photos emerged of him with Gideon and Moi.
The same veil of secrecy at State House attended the changes that included the nomination of his former spokesman Manoah Esipisu as an envoy.
Uhuru is said to have discussed the changes only with Waita and Mbugua before acting spokesperson Kanze Dena was called in to be briefed on what to announce.
In fact, the Star learnt that there was no prior typed statement. Dena addressed the media off cuff to announce changes that also saw two Cabinet secretaries swapped without their knowledge.
Trade CS Adan Mohammed, who was at the storm of the contaminated sugar saga swapped places with East Africa Affairs CS Peter Munya.
The two were informed of the changes just as Dena was reading the statement to the media, according to insiders in the Presidency.
The Star has also learnt that the President has also changed tack in how he is dealing with his Jubilee Party legislators who he is yet to meet since the last meeting in January.
Instead, the President deals with Speakers Justin Muturi and Kenneth Lusaka and also regularly directs Majority leader Aden Duale.
Senate Majority leader Kipchumba Murkomen, a close ally of Ruto, is not consulted as much as the other three House leaders any more.
In addition, the President has been organising meetings with Parliamentary committees to push his Big Four agenda instead of relying only on Jubilee MPs.
On July 5, Uhuru met MPs and labour leaders to discuss the roadmap towards the realisation of affordable housing in his new engagement plan.
While in Mombasa, he met members of the Environment Committee alongside officials of the National Environmental Management Authority and Tobiko’s ministry.
It was at this meeting that the CS was instructed to meet Joho and discuss the replication of the Nairobi regeneration framework in Mombasa.
So unpredictable has the President become that when a dispatch from his office last Monday about a press conference went out, panic spread across government.
The two-hour delay did not help, with speculation rife of a Cabinet reshuffle.
When acting spokesperson Kanze Dena eventia, she left incredulous faces on many Kenyans who felt they had been shortchanged.