By Kenyatta Otieno
In this second instalment of the “Hearts of our Leaders’ run, I look at the two principals in Jubilee Alliance, President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta and his deputy William Samoei Ruto. I use “heart” here only as a euphemism for what a leader is passionate about, to symbolise what is close to his heart. Combined with one’s abilities and past experiences, it can determine the delivery and output of a leader.
Jubilee Alliance is a marriage of convenience between Uhuru and Ruto more than it is about Kenya as a country or The National Alliance (TNA) and United Republican Party (URP). The two were facing crimes against humanity charges at the International Criminal Court as a result of their perceived role in 2007/8 post-election violence. Their chances of escaping the wrath of ICC were pegged on their ascension to power; so far Uhuru has managed to clear his name – the trappings of State power having given him, particularly, leverage in fighting off the charges diplomatically or otherwise.
The build-up to 2013 General Election saw the UhuRuto duo blame Raila Odinga for their predicament. To Uhuru, the West, which controls the ICC, backed Raila, and so the case was meant to keep him out of presidential race. To Ruto, his support for the ODM leader had led to the ICC crisis so his supporters were urged to shun Raila Odinga like a plague. The Jubilee Alliance was thus formed with the sole purpose of gaining power as a panacea against ICC and not as a vehicle for transforming Kenya.
This has made deciphering what the two principals are passionate about in their leadership role quite a challenge. Looking back at their political paths, there is little one can gather beyond the political rallies they hold.
Uhuru ‘The People’ Kenyatta
I get this twisted eye glance whenever I introduce myself. Recently someone asked me how “State House is” and requested for a plot of land. I took out my phone and responded that nowadays land had become scarce at the house on the hill, that we just take selfies. Everybody burst out laughing. Uhuru Kenyatta has taken more selfies than his entire cabinet since becoming president.
Uhuru has proactively demystified the presidency further after former president Mwai Kibaki demystified it by default. State House has been quite accessible to the unlikeliest of people. He has hosted students who he even allowed to sit on his hallowed seat of power. Gor Mahia Fan Number One Jaro Soja now brags about having the president on speed dial after visiting State House. That is Uhuru for you: a man of the people.
When former president Daniel Arap Moi announced Uhuru Kenyatta as his preferred successor in 2001, everybody was surprised. I can bet that even Uhuru himself did not believe it. He had been in active politics for less than five years; in fact, it was Moi who had prevailed upon his sidekick Mark Too to resign from Parliament as a nominated MP to pave way for Uhuru’s entry into the House.
Before this happened, little was known of Uhuru (someone once described as the red-eyed young man) who was busy managing his family’s chain of hotels. In the 1997 elections, Moses Muhia floored him in the Gatundu South parliamentary elections. He was appointed Chairman of Disaster Relief Committee before Moi, in 1999, appointed him to chair Kenya Tourism Board. He was later nominated to Parliament when Too resigned and appointed to the influential ministry of Local Government.
Uhuru Kenyatta had always shied away from politics. His strength is in his inner need of wanting to be seen as an ordinary person. As a child born to the rich and powerful family of Kenya’s first president, unlike his younger brother Muhoho, he maintained a string of acquaintances from all walks of life. Stories are told of how he enjoyed his drink in Nairobi West pubs.
Despite attending St Mary’s Schools in Nairobi then attending Amherst College in the US for his undergraduate in Political Science and Economics, his Kikuyu is good and he is always been at ease with the ordinary man. This has earned him the name “Kamwana” – young man – in comparison to his father who is commonly referred to as “Mzee” – old man – to date.
Those who know Uhuru well will tell you that in his warm and easygoing demeanour, he is cagey and will not let one into details about himself. He is humorous in discussions but opts to live at the moment without much commitment to people. He always appears to marvel at crowds, with his warm smile, but then moves on to other matters quickly.
In my enquiries, everybody agrees that Uhuru Kenyatta is a man of the people. I had an opportunity to visit Brookside Dairies, owned by the Kenyatta family. Though Muhoho is credited with the vision to set up and the day-to-day running of the dairy giant, it is Uhuru who went out to build the milk supplies and distribution networks. The few people I talked to had kind words for Uhuru, unlike the younger Muhoho, who is obsessed with results. When Uhuru was minister, he would take time to share a meal with anyone around him when he visited the company.
As Finance Minister in Mwai Kibaki’s Grand Coalition government after disputed 2007 elections, Uhuru began to define himself politically. He directed that top civil servants return their official Mercedes Benz cars in exchange for the smaller-capacity Volkswagen Passats, which are economical. This is when Uhuru began to shake off the “Moi Project” and don the fresh “Kibaki’s Preferred” tag.
When the president gave his state of the nation address earlier this year and released “the list of shame” a few days later, people were surprised. Fighting corruption was not in the Jubilee Alliance agenda as the political cost is huge. What followed was a spirited fight from the accused and politicians from their backyards. People soon realised the purge on corrupt technocrats had set off on a hard start when Parliament went for commissioners at the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission.
Word on the street has it that after his re-election for second term, Uhuru plans to go full throttle on corruption. The President does not need to shove his hand into the government coffers as he comes from an economically endowed family. Now that the US government has assured the government of support after Kenya successfully hosted President Barrack Obama, this may just be what Uhuru wants to be remembered for. So far he has friend and foes confused in his “good man with clean heart” charm.
William ‘The Hustler’ Ruto
When it comes to the other half of Jubilee Alliance, everybody agrees that Ruto has worked hard to get the chance to sit on the table with the son of Kenya’s first president. The son of a peasant farmer in Eldoret, William Ruto has hustled his way to the top. He coined his “hustler” nickname during the 2013 General Election campaigns to identify with the struggles of the youth. Known for his hard hitting political statements, little is known beyond his political adventures and business ventures.
He sold peanuts by the roadside in Eldoret as a child; the hustler spirit began early for the Rift Valley kingpin. William Ruto is remembered by his fellow students at Chiromo Campus as a “God-fearing, Holy Spirit-filled Christian”, until the Youth for Kanu ’92 happened. Ever since he joined politics, there has been no association of Ruto and the “born again” fellowship except his disdain for alcohol, compared to people like Kalonzo Musyoka, who proudly wear the salvation badge.
During his time in Kanu, he came across as an impatient young man, flirting with a rebel group in Kanu led by Kipruto arap Kirwa but detouring back to Kanu when Kirwa and Jirongo formed United Democratic Movement. When it comes to real politik, Ruto is good at his game. Apart from that, all you will hear about him are his business ventures. Ruto is not social person, reserving his energies for building his economic empire through his political connections.
Looking at the two leaders above, one gets the polarity in terms of background, personality and ambition at the top of the government. There is little in terms of achievement beyond the confines of personal advancement in the two which defines why the Jubilee Government appears to be managing what the grand coalition initiated. Ironically their wives are doing good jobs on the social front – Mrs Kenyatta in maternal health and Mrs Ruto in women economic empowerment.
As the two display a good working relationship for now, the day the government sets out for real work the differences deep in the “heart” of the coalition will float above their friendship. This writer predicts that the fight against corruption will break the coalition as one arm seeks to cement a legacy against the ambitions of the other.