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
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.