What is the fate of Uhuru’s ‘boot strategy’ after August?

What is the fate of Uhuru’s ‘boot strategy’ after August?

By Ouma Ojango

What happens to the trend that has become synonymous with President Uhuru Kenyatta of relying on military personnel in the running of key government functions when he leaves the seat of power in early September or thereabout?

But, probably, the first question should be, what, in the first place, pushed President Kenyatta to go fishing in the military barracks? Why did the military generals become his most trusted stewards of key government agenda as is evident in every crucial sector of his government including Construction, Immigration, Trade, and the Criminal Justice System, just to mention a few?

Political Science pins this trait on the phenomena of leadership styles. There are four major types of leadership styles. In an autocracy, also known as authoritarian, the leader imposes expectations and defines outcomes. 

It is a one-man show with the leader taking all decisions without consulting his subordinates. It can be successful in situations where a leader is the most knowledgeable in the team and even though it is an efficient strategy in time-constrained periods, it sacrifices creativity as team input is limited.  In a democratic or participative scenario, the leader involves his subordinates in decision making processes and is characterized more by decentralization of authority. It also places a premium on two-way communication, where the head leads by consent and not authority.

In Laissez faire or free rein type of leadership style, the leader allows his subordinates to decide and control themselves in belief that they are competent and motivated. This type of leadership is successful where the subordinates are highly qualified and fully dedicated to the course and the leader abdicates authority and acts only as an umpire. The fourth style is bureaucratic leadership which relies on a clear chain of command, strict regulations and conformation by the followers. 

“Through the many outlets, since the commission’s revival, it now collects about Sh30 million every month. This was not possible before,” President Uhuru Kenyatta.

There is no one style of the four that is best. Every leader has his or her own dominant leadership style depending on his traits and value system. A successful leader is one who reaches out to one or a combination of two or all of the other three methodologies to supplement his dominant style according to the emerging scenarios.

The dominant leadership style of Kenya’s independence president, Jomo Kenyatta, historians and governance experts aver, was authoritarian. So was his predecessor’s, Daniel Moi. 

The two, besides the coercive power, also exercised reward and referent powers to preserve and sustain their reigns. For reward power, they both dished out public land and other high value properties to their stooges. They could, for instance, offer title deeds to communities in which they sought hegemony especially during political campaigns and in the suppression of multiparty democracy. They dangled the carrot of appointment to plum government jobs and promotions in the same to influential individuals and communities. On referent power, they were both powerful orators, tall, with well-built physiques and people easily
identified with them.

Senior Kenyatta also exercised legitimate power where his entire civil service and the political class believed he occupied the position of leadership rightfully having been in the forefront in the struggle for independence.

Presidents Mwai Kibaki and his predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta are lumped together as having laissez faire as their dominant leadership style. However, while President Kibaki’s free rein style was largely successful, Kenyatta’s failed spectacularly.

Why Kibaki’s was successful

President Kibaki ascended to power on his third attempt in 2002 at the age of 70. Prior to that, Kibaki had served as an Opposition Member of Parliament for ten years from 1992 to 2020 and President Moi’s Vice-President for ten years from 1978 to 1988. He had been Permanent Secretary for Treasury in 1963, a year within which he was also appointed Assistant Minister of Finance and chairman of the Economic Planning Commission. He served as minister for Commerce and Industry from 1966 to 1969 when he was appointed minister for Finance where he served until 1981.  He also served as minister for Home Affairs from 1982 to 1988 and minister for Health from 1988 to 1991. 

An alumnus of Makerere University and London School of Economics, Kibaki left the academia in 1960 when he gave up his job at Makerere and returned to Kenya to become Kenya African National Union (KANU)’s executive officer where he was eventually elected MP for Donholm, now Makadara in 1963. He moved his political base to his rural home in Othaya in 1974 where served uninterrupted to 2007 when the Constitution was amended to separate the Executive from the Legislature and barred members of the Executive including the President from doubling up as legislators. 

Kibaki was therefore a highly experienced old hand at leadership and governance. Besides, he had a circle of highly competent and devoted technocrats with whom he had trudged both the academic and political corridors, including those that he had mentored along the way, to whom he could easily abdicate authority. This favoured his laissez faire style of leadership particularly given that he was himself highly qualified from formal education and life experience, traits that firmly anchored his umpire role in the free rein leadership style.

Conscious of serving yet limited by his dominant style of leadership, the President had to come up with a way to deliver: the military, which is famed with quality and competence in various fields including legal, medicine, civil and mechanical engineering.

When need arose, however, Kibaki could swiftly switch gear to whichever of the leadership styles that could effectively deal with the situation at hand as evidenced in how he was sworn back to office for his second term in 2007. In a purely autocratic style, Kibaki was sworn in at sunset at State House in an event that was witnessed by a few confidants after a highly disputed Presidential election.  

Uhuru Kenyatta, on the contrary, won the reins of power in 2013 at the age of 52 with hardly 10 years in active politics. President Moi nominated him to Parliament in 2001 and hurriedly appointed him minister for Local Government. Earlier, even as chair of KANU Gatundu South, he had failed to secure the parliamentary seat in the 1997 General Election. Intent on grooming the young Kenyatta, Moi appointed him chair of the Kenya Tourism Board in 1999, and in 2000 he was added the task of chairing the Disaster Emergency Response Committee.

In 2002, the Political Science and Economics graduate from Amherst College, Massachusetts was elected as one of the four vice-chairs of KANU and named, controversially, the party’s candidate for presidency in the same year. Moi had been rendered ineligible to vie for another term by the amended Constitution and was keen on his choice to succeed him. These machinations backfired, however, and most KANU’s big wigs including Kalonzo Musyoka, Simeon Nyachae, Moody Awori, Prof. George Saitoti and the Paty’s new Secretary General, Raila Odinga decamped and joined Mwai Kibaki in the Opposition to deliver the independence party its first lose. The defeated Kenyatta assumed the position of Leader of Opposition in Parliament.

Kenyatta was elected chairman of KANU in 2005. He again threw his hat in the ring for the 2007 presidential election but withdrew his candidacy a few months to the election and instead opted to support Kibaki.

Following the grand coalition government that was formed pursuant to the disputed 2007 presidential election, Kibaki appointed Kenyatta deputy prime minister and minister of trade. In 2009, he was moved to head the ministry of finance.

Fast forward and Kenyatta parted ways with KANU in 2012 in the wake of International Criminal Court (ICC) charges of crimes against humanity. He formed The National Alliance party in the same year, teamed up with other parties to form the Jubilee coalition that included one of the other ICC inductees, William Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP) with whom he campaigned together for the posts of president and vice-president respectively. The duo went on to win the presidential election of March 4, 2013 with 50.07 per cent of the vote. The Supreme Court dismissed his challenger, Raila Odinga’s petition and he was sworn into office on April 9 the same year.

Unlike Kibaki, President Kenyatta clearly lacked the requisite experience and governance expertise for his dominant leadership style to succeed at the level of his new role in the polity. Crucially, he also lacked a pool of friends, colleagues and confidants that he could abdicate authority to and succeed in his free rein leadership style. His St. Mary’s School buddies that he largely relied on, were equally unskilled, if not more. They let him down big time.

Conscious of serving yet limited by his dominant style of leadership, the President had to come up with a way to deliver. The military, which is famed with quality and competence in various fields including legal, medicine, civil and mechanical engineering, architecture, and administration came in handy. With time racing toward the sunset of his regime, they came through for him not only where rapid results were desired, but also in the revival of dead capital-intensive projects.

“Kenya Meat Commission (KMC) was turned around in months. Previously, it took four years to pay farmers, now it is done in hours. The Commission now collects about one million daily against Sh8,000 they used to collect before KDF took over its revival,” he said during his eighth State of the Nation address in Parliament in November last year, adding that he preferred working with the military for their unity of command, efficiency and reasonable pricing. He also hailed working with the military for cost cuts

“Through the many outlets, since the commission’s revival, it now collects about Sh30 million every month. This was not possible before. Now ask yourself where the rest of the money used to go.”

In what commentators have christened as overt boot strategy, the President has brought on board military officers in many government programmes that they would otherwise never have touched on. He, for instance, tasked Major General Mohamed Badi with running of the Nairobi Metropolitan Services when the County Government of Nairobi led by his party member, Mike Mbuvi Sonko failed to deliver.

Besides transferring the Kenya Meat Commission (KMC) to the Defence ministry from the State Department of Agriculture, the President also roped in the military together with the National Youth Service (NYS) and the Kenya Railways (KR) to rebuild the Thika-Nanyuki meter-gauge railway by restoring its embankment. He also placed all state-owned planes under Kenya Air Force. It is the military that built the Uhuru gardens along Lang’ata Rd, the now state of the art memorial park of history and heroes after decades of lying idle and neglected. It is also the NMS under Major General Badi that is in charge of the renovation of Uhuru Park in Nairobi. 

President Kenyatta has also plucked army generals, from service and retirement and entrusted them with strategic functions in his government. Maj. Gen (Rtd) Gordon Kihalangwa, for instance, was appointed into civil service from retirement in 2014 as Principal Secretary, State Department of Immigration, Ministry of Interior Coordination. He has had stints in other state departments and is now the PS Ministry of Energy. Others include Maj (Rtd) Twalib Mbarak, CEO Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and Noordin Haji, Director ODPP who was picked from National Intelligence Service. Other State Departments and Agencies that have had military generals at their helm during President Kenyatta’s rein include Kenya Ports Authority, Kenya Airports Authority, Kenya Railways, Kenya Wildlife Service, National Social Security Fund just to mention a few.

And for their delivery, the President has always invoked his reward power by, for instance, upgrading the military’s health facilities. In April, for instance, he opened a newly-constructed Level 5 in Kahawa Garrison and promised to build them a Level 6 Hospital on Waiyaki Way, Nairobi. He also put up 3500 houses
for soldiers. ( 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign Up