POP­U­LAR, BUT TAINTED

Uhuru Keny­atta, scion of Kenya’s post-colo­nial po­lit­i­cal dy­nasty, con­tin­ues to en­joy pop­u­lar sup­port for his pro­mo­tion of de­vel­op­ment — but there are per­sis­tent al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion

Financial Mail - - FEATURE / KENYA - John Paul Wa­fula

In pub­lic, Kenya’s fourth pres­i­dent comes across as warm and car­ing. If you don’t take to Uhuru Keny­atta for his per­son­al­ity, you’ll be drawn by his en­ergy, his youth­ful­ness (he is 55) or his abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate his gov­ern­ment’s de­vel­op­ment agenda.

Keny­atta’s fre­quent acts of kind­ness have earned him ad­mi­ra­tion at home and helped shape his im­age as one of the con­ti­nent’s most char­i­ta­ble and ac­ces­si­ble pres­i­dents.

When he stops to buy ground­nuts from a hawker, uses pub­lic trans­port or hosts chil­dren at his of­fi­cial res­i­dence, a pho­tog­ra­pher is al­ways on hand to cap­ture the mo­ment. The pic­ture or video clip will be cir­cu­lated to his mil­lions of fol­low­ers on so­cial me­dia.

To keep this pub­lic im­age neat, he pays an army of blog­gers who retweet and “like” his posts. His dig­i­tal team em­ploys so­cial me­dia in­flu­encers to en­dorse his mes­sages. It is no sur­prise that he is ranked the most pop­u­lar leader in sub-sa­ha­ran Africa on Face­book, ac­cord­ing to a 2016 Bur­son-marsteller study.

At home, ev­ery opinion poll con­ducted in the past year has shown him a clear favourite for the pres­i­dency in next month’s gen­eral elec­tion.

A re­cent poll by Ip­sos Syno­vate said most Kenyans who sup­port his Ju­bilee Party do so be­cause of its pro­mo­tion of de­vel­op­ment. About 55% of re­spon­dents be­lieved the party was pro-de­vel­op­ment, while only 22% thought the same of the op­po­si­tion.

For ex­am­ple, the first phase of a

Us$3.8bn rail­way be­tween Mom­basa and Nairobi is ready in time for the elec­tion. And more than 2m peo­ple have been con­nected to the na­tional elec­tric­ity grid. Keny­atta has also made strides in the health sec­tor, by pro­vid­ing free ma­ter­nity cover.

How­ever, none of th­ese projects has been without con­tro­versy. Gov­ern­ment has been ac­cused of in­flat­ing the costs of the rail­way. And the health min­istry has been dogged by a scan­dal that cul­mi­nated in the sus­pen­sion of $21m in US gov­ern­ment fund­ing in May.

In 2015, the Na­tional Youth Ser­vice was hit by a scan­dal when it emerged that more than $7.8m had been stolen from its ac­count. A project aim­ing to de­liver a lap­top for ev­ery school pupil has been de­layed af­ter the con­tracts were can­celled fol­low­ing al­le­ga­tions of fraud. Gov­ern­ment has also been un­able to ex­plain which projects were funded us­ing a $3.8bn eu­robond.

Most an­a­lysts say Keny­atta’s per­for­mance has been dis­ap­point­ing when mea­sured against his party’s man­i­festo. Robert Shaw, a pol­icy and eco­nomic an­a­lyst based in Nairobi, gives Keny­atta’s ad­min­is­tra­tion a low score on its han­dling of pol­icy mat­ters and man­age­ment of the econ­omy.

“I would say gov­ern­ment’s eco­nomic record falls be­tween medi­ocre and rea­son­able,” he says. “I would give it six out of 10. Gover­nance and cor­rup­tion are the weak­est links. [Gov­ern­ment has] also been poor at im­ple­men­ta­tion.”

Her­man Many­ora, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and lec­turer at the Univer­sity of Nairobi, says Keny­atta has not im­pressed as a pres­i­dent who seemed de­ter­mined to “shake things up and make a dif­fer­ence”. His big projects have looked good on pa­per but suf­fered from cor­rup­tion dur­ing im­ple­men­ta­tion, he says. He blames mid­dle­men and bro­kers, but also the pres­i­dent him­self.

“I do not un­der­stand why a man like him, who comes from a wealthy fam­ily, would al­low wheeler-deal­ers to tar­nish his legacy projects through cor­rup­tion,” he says. “There is al­most no big project started by his ad­min­is­tra­tion that has been free from al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion.”

Many­ora says Keny­atta’s main fail­ure stems from his in­abil­ity to ap­point an in­clu­sive gov­ern­ment.

Many se­nior state employees are ei­ther from his tribe, the Kikuyu, or that of his deputy Wil­liam Ruto, the Kalen­jin. The lack of in­clu­siv­ity in Keny­atta’s gov­ern­ment is likely to be a ma­jor cam­paign is­sue for the op­po­si­tion in the run-up to the gen­eral elec­tion, and could reignite tribal ten­sions.

Ac­cord­ing to a poll by In­fo­trak Re­search & Con­sult­ing in De­cem­ber 2016, 60.6% of Kenyans were con­cerned that elec­tion-re­lated vi­o­lence would rear its head again.

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