History will judge Uhuru Kenyatta well

Author: Muniini K. Mulera. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

Uhuru Kenyatta has earned the right to be honoured by his countrymen as a great leader

Dear Tingasiga:

The Kenyan political marathon enters the home stretch with the country, and the world, in Olympic-size suspense. Will the next president of Kenya be Raila Amolo Odinga or William Samoei arap Ruto? Will the result reveal a decisive winner, or will there be a runoff, complete with an extended verbal fistfight that reminds one of politicians’ native instincts to set their tongues loose against perceived “enemies?”

 These questions induce a gratifying smile, for it is a very rare treat for an East African country to go to the polls without a predetermined winner.  Whoever takes the Kenyan presidency this year will have sweated for it. If he wins without the help of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), Kenyans will have advanced their walk towards democratization and, hopefully, exorcised some of the ghosts of their country’s blood-drenched efforts since their return to multi-party politics in 1992.

 Regardless of the outcome, there is much to celebrate about Kenya’s maturing politics and, with fingers crossed, to feel very optimistic that that wonderful country is driving forward. Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, son of Jomo Kenyatta, is campaigning hard for Raila Odinga, son of Jaramoji Ajuma Oginga Odinga to succeed him at State House. Let me say that again: Mtoto wa Mzee Kenyatta anataka kukabidhi urais kwa mtoto wa Odinga. In my lifetime. Voluntarily. Joyfully. Enthusiastically. 

 Anyone from my generation who does not get goosebumps just thinking about this should share their secret. The senior Kenyatta-Odinga fallout in the 1960s was very dramatic. It was deep. It was wide. It was dangerous. Two old comrades turned mortal enemies. One in the State House, the other a political prisoner, less than six years after independence.  The July 1969 assassination of Thomas Joseph Mboya, another prince from Nyanza, followed three months later by the Kisumu massacre of an unknown number of civilians after protests during Jomo Kenyatta’s visit to that lakeside town, transformed the discomfort between the Gikuyu and Joluo into group enmity that few pretended was curable.

 There were reports of oaths in the dark nights among the Gikuyu, complete with incantations and consumption of blood of freshly slaughtered lambs, a life-or-death commitment to prevent the leadership of Kenya from falling into the hands of Joluo. Some of the sons and daughters of the oath-takers, whose acquaintance we made two decades later, in this distant land, confided to us their parents’ dark secrets. Some of their Joluo counterparts were equally unflattering towards the descendants of Gikuyu and Mumbi.

 Fifty-three years later after the Joluo-Gikuyu rupture, the sons of their respective chief warriors have locked arms, in Azimio la Umoja, a coalition that seeks unity of Kenyans, with Raila Odinga within striking distance of the presidency of the Republic. A few months ago, Mama Ngina Kenyatta, the widow of Jomo Kenyatta, who has largely stayed out of the political limelight, gave a speech in which she left no doubt that she wanted Raila Odinga to succeed her son at State House. I pinched myself to confirm that it was not a dream.

 As though this was not enough, the ethnic nationalism that has been deeply entrenched in Kenya, is showing mild signs of possible yielding to a new era of social-economic interests as a major determinant of people’s votes. It is too early to be excited about it, of course, but the opinion polls, for what they are worth, have continued to show William Ruto, a Kalenjin, doing well in the Gikuyu heartland in Central Kenya.  That Kenyatta, a Gikuyu, is an ally of a Joluo candidate, does not seem to have pulled most of his ethnic kinsmen in the direction of his preferred candidate. That Martha Karua, the Azimio candidate for Deputy President, is a Gikuyu, does not seem to have had the desired effect of a stampede towards Raila.

 The cynic might say that the Gikuyu are divided over their feelings towards a Jaluo in the Mzee Kenyatta chair. After all, their elders’ oaths in 1969 may well remain powerful deterrents among the superstitious adherents to that powerful tradition. But their bloody clashes with the Kalenjin in the post-election violence of 2007/2008 is fresh enough to count in their calculations too.  A Gikuyu vote for Ruto is an endorsement of the leader of the community that wielded pangas against the Gikuyu in 2008. Of course, Ruto’s running mate, a man called Rigathi Gachagua, is a Gikuyu, which might be an advantage to the deputy president. However, Gachagua’s legal difficulties in the face of being found guilty of illegally pocketing KE202 million (US$1.7 million) may have weakened the ethnic advantage to his ticket.

 It seems to me that Ruto’s apparent exploits in the Gikuyu heartland reflect a revolt against Uhuru Kenyatta by his ethnic kinsmen. This is a remarkable development that suggests that Kenya is moving in the right direction. If we can get people to stop thinking about ethnicity, and value integrity, ability, and a clear pro-people agenda, our countries will begin to chart a hopeful journey. Perhaps we may soon witness a similar divided opinion among the other major ethnic nationalities that will see them prefer a candidate from another ethnic community to one of their own kinsmen.

 The outcome of next week’s election in Kenya is none of my business. As a friend of Kenya, eternally grateful to that country for giving me refuge when my life was in danger, my business is to pray for peace and to wish Kenyans a successful conclusion to this political campaign. It will be delightful to wake up to post-election news that the streets and slums of Kenya are peaceful, with citizens carrying on with their lives, and with political opponents putting Kenya before their personal interests. Time will tell.

 One thing is clear to me. Uhuru Kenyatta has earned the right to be honoured by his countrymen as a great leader. Unlike some African rulers, Uhuru was resolute about adhering to the presidential term limit. That alone would have been reason enough to honour him, in addition to his contribution to Kenya’s economic foundation. Interestingly, his opponents criticize him for borrowing heavily to build infrastructure projects. To which he should gladly plead guilty. His country is moving forward, notwithstanding its entrenched problems.

 He deserves honour because of his midwifery of a process that has created a Gikuyu-Joluo alliance, and pushed for the election of an Odinga, a former rival, as president of Kenya. It is a landmark accomplishment that guarantees him very favourable judgement by history.

Mulera is a medical doctor.              

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