From mil­lion­aire play­boy to Kenyan pres­i­dent

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS - By Tris­tan Mc­Connell

Uhuru Keny­atta, who hopes to win a sec­ond and fi­nal term in yes­ter­day’s elec­tions, is the son of Kenya’s found­ing pres­i­dent and a man who epit­o­mizes the coun­try’s elite.

The 55-year-old US-ed­u­cated multi-mil­lion­aire, whose fam­ily owns an ar­ray of busi­nesses, prop­er­ties and land, fol­lowed in his fa­ther’s foot­steps when he de­feated his ri­val Raila Odinga to be­come pres­i­dent in 2013.

Keny­atta won that poll de­spite be­ing in­dicted by the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court (ICC) along with his run­ning mate, Wil­liam Ruto, for al­leged roles in or­ches­trat­ing vi­o­lence that left over 1,100 peo­ple dead af­ter the pre­vi­ous elec­tion in 2007. For­eign pow­ers, in­clud­ing Bri­tain and the US, warned at the time that Kenya un­der an ICC-in­dicted pres­i­dent would be a pariah, but the threats proved empty.

In 2014 the ICC dropped charges against Keny­atta-and later Ruto-cit­ing the dis­ap­pear­ance of wit­nesses and lack of ev­i­dence. Since then Kenya has wel­comed then US pres­i­dent Barack Obama, Bri­tish For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris Johnson and Pope Fran­cis and hosted a string of in­ter­na­tional gath­er­ings.

Priv­i­lege and wealth

Keny­atta’s first term has been de­fined by big spend­ing on eye-catch­ing in­fra­struc­ture and im­pres­sive eco­nomic growth in a tough cli­mate. But this has gone hand-in-hand with spi­ralling debt and widen­ing in­equal­ity. Ter­ror­ism has also been a con­sis­tent threat, with Keny­atta be­ing forced to ad­dress the na­tion in dole­ful terms on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions, notably af­ter the deadly 2013 West­gate mall siege and the 2015 Garissa univer­sity at­tack.

The for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter and deputy prime min­is­ter was born in 1961, shortly af­ter his fa­ther Jomo Keny­atta was re­leased from nearly a decade in Bri­tish jails and be­fore be­com­ing Kenya’s first pres­i­dent in 1964. His first name means “free­dom” in Kiswahili. Ed­u­cated at a pri­vate school in Nairobi and at Amherst Col­lege in the United State, Keny­atta is re­garded as a leader of the Kikuyu peo­ple, the coun­try’s sin­gle largest eth­nic group.

He is mar­ried with three chil­dren and reg­u­larly at­tends Catholic church. In 2011 Forbes mag­a­zine es­ti­mated Keny­atta’s wealth at $500 mil­lion (423 mil­lion euros). De­spite his elite back­ground Keny­atta has a com­mon touch. He eas­ily mixes it up with or­di­nary Kenyans, ea­gerly gets down on the dance floor and joshes in the lo­cal youth slang and, in his younger years, earned a per­sis­tent rep­u­ta­tion for par­ty­ing hard.

A leaked 2009 US di­plo­matic ca­ble de­scribed him as “bright and charming, even charis­matic” but warned that “Keny­atta’s li­a­bil­i­ties are at least as im­por­tant as his strengths. He drinks too much and is not a hard worker.”

Dy­nas­tic pol­i­tics

Keny­atta’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer is a case study in prag­ma­tism. In the 1990s, he joined with the sons of other in­de­pen­dence heroes to call for demo­cratic re­forms but then be­came a close ally of au­to­cratic for­mer pres­i­dent Daniel arap Moi who had him nom­i­nated as the rul­ing party’s can­di­date for the pres­i­dency in 2002.

Keny­atta lost to fel­low Kikuyu politi­cian Mwai Kibaki but then backed Kibaki’s suc­cess­ful re-elec­tion bid in 2007, against Odinga who at the time was al­lied with Ruto. The vi­o­lent fall­out from the dis­puted re­sult led to a power-shar­ing gov­ern­ment in which Kibaki was pres­i­dent, Odinga prime min­is­ter and Keny­atta one of his deputies.

In 2013 the two ICC in­dictees, Keny­atta and Ruto, joined forces to de­feat Odinga in a close and con­tro­ver­sial elec­tion. Keny­atta won in the first round with a wafer-thin mar­gin of 50.03 per­cent-a re­sult Odinga dis­puted, un­suc­cess­fully but peace­fully this time, in court.

Yes­ter­day’s vote is a re-run of 2013 ex­cept that this time the op­po­si­tion has united be­hind Odinga pos­ing a se­ri­ous chal­lenge to Keny­atta’s rul­ing Ju­bilee Party.

Opin­ion polls put the two neck and neck. The elec­tion will most likely be the fi­nal act in a multi-gen­er­a­tional po­lit­i­cal ri­valry stretch­ing back half a cen­tury to when Jomo Keny­atta and Odinga’s fa­ther, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, vied for con­trol of the na­tion.

If he wins, Keny­atta must stand down af­ter one more term and, at 72, Odinga is re­garded as too old to make an­other bid for the pres­i­dency in five years’ time. Both men’s chil­dren are still in­ex­pe­ri­enced in pol­i­tics. — AFP

NAIROBI: Kenya’s Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta casts his vote, ac­com­pa­nied by his wife Mar­garet (cen­ter-left) in Gatundu, north of Nairobi yes­ter­day.—AP

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