I know it is a bit premature, but it looks like President Uhuru Kenyatta is finding his groove as president of a perilously divided Kenya. The meeting held at the State House on April 13, 2013 between the president, his deputy William Ruto and CORD leaders Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka gave this Kenyan a reason to be optimistic about the tone of leadership and types of leaders the country of his birth elected into office. The picture on the front page of the Daily Nation dated April 13, 2013 of the four men sharing a hearty laugh is, to use a cliché, priceless! That picture is one of intense political rivals who appear able to put aside their deep oftentimes acrimonious political rivalry for the greater good (of a country divided). Indeed this is one picture that is worth more than a thousand words. Hopefully the increasingly rabid supporters of the two sides can take their cue from said picture and cool down the tension, especially online.
Add to the State House meeting between the two top candidates of the just-concluded presidential contest and their deputies the fact that on Friday, April 19, the two men – Uhuru and Raila – both attended the burial of the late Secretary-General of the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) David Okuta Osiany in Nyando, near Kisumu. Reports of the two principals walking hand-in-hand towards the grave of the late leader of the teachers’ union is a powerful image that will go a long way in endearing Mr. Kenyatta towards a Luo community that overwhelmingly voted for Raila Odinga. The visuals of the president and his erstwhile challenger reportedly walking hand-in-hand towards the grave of Mr. Osiany is one that should be played and re-played over and over again until it is seared in the collective minds of all Kenyans, especially the two communities represented by the president and his “older brother.”
I will argue that President Uhuru Kenyatta’s overtures towards Mr. Okuta, and by extension the Luo community from which the dearly-departed hailed, has been the polar opposite of his father’s behavior towards said community. Kenyatta Pere’s conduct towards his chief political rival Oginga Odinga, indeed towards the Luo community during his presidency, came across as condescending, disrespectful and full of disdain. One can make a compelling argument that his government’s policies towards the region (Nyanza) were consistent with the fore-going characterization. Additionally, the July 1969 murder of Tom Mboya, supposedly on the orders of the “Big Man” (rumored to be Jomo Kenyatta or someone very close to him) started the alienation of the Luo community from the country’s leaders. Add to the anguish and fury over Mboya’s death, the war of words that erupted between Kenyatta Pere and Odinga Pere during the opening of the New Nyanza General Hospital in Kisumu in October 1969. The acerbic verbal exchange between the two doyens of Kenya’s post-independence politics and the ensuing violent and disproportionate response by Kenyatta’s security towards the predominantly Luo crowd in that charged atmosphere that resulted in the death of hundreds (of Luos) only firmed alienation of the community from a government they all believed was unfair and responsible for the death of one of their own (Tom Mboya)!
Granted the president and his deputy were inaugurated less than two weeks ago on April 9, 2013 for a two hundred and sixty week-term in office i.e. 5yrs x 52weeks/year. Additionally, Mr. Kenyatta is yet to name his cabinet which he claims will “reflect the true face of Kenya.” Finally, it is important to note that the parliament and the public has yet to begin the vetting process on the selected members of Kenyatta’s cabinet; a process that can be very messy and has been described stateside as “making sausage.” The latter – making sausage – is an expression that alludes to the ugliness of the sausage-making process that includes blending animal parts that most people do not normally eat by themselves with spices and other additives to produce sausage, a product most people gladly devour without hesitation! It will be interesting to see how Mr. Kenyatta deals with the process previously seen by his predecessors including his father Jomo Kenyatta and those around them as their opportunity to “eat matundu ya uhuru.” In a clear illustration of the adage “elections have consequences,” the deal-making and backroom power-sharing agreements between the winners collectively have the potential to further widen the gulf between the various communities represented by Uhuru’s Jubilee Coalition and Raila’s CORD.
It is my hope that Mr. Kenyatta’s actions since the Supreme Court ruled in his favor are beyond symbolic and definitely not photo-ops – photo opportunities i.e. carefully planned and recorded events often masked as news(worthy) and intended to present those in the photograph, in this case Mr. Kenyatta, in a positive light. I hope Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto make decisions that support the positive start and statements they have made and have been making early in their administration. I will take it a step further and opine that the president and his deputy should worry more about the advise offered by those around them than about what Raila and Kalonza will do next. Kenya’s history is littered with presidential aides and others with access to the corridors of power who acted selfishly by lining their pockets and fattening their bank accounts while claiming to act on “behalf of Bwana Mkubwa” or “The Big Man.” It is the actions of these selfish individuals that tend to erect a bubble/filter around the president thereby alienating him from the plight of everyday citizens.
Uhuru can put an end to this cycle by ensuring that his administration does not join the pantheon of corrupt and tribalistic administrations of yesteryears nor reflect the tyranny of the majority as embodied by the jingoism and hubris reflected in the comments made in cyberspace by his supporters.