How Uhuru Kenyatta is trapped in Raila, Ruto deadlock

Uhuru Kenyatta
Photo credit: John Nyaga | Nation Media Group

He ascended to power in 2013 with five counts of crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the 2007/8 post-election mayhem hanging over his head, and now his exit from power 10 years later is similarly tottering on the brink of chaos and bloodshed.

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta is understandably a disturbed soul over the latest turn of events. Only last Monday, the bedlam of the ongoing mass action was brought to his doorstep when armed intruders entered the Northlands farm owned by his family in broad daylight and wreaked havoc, destroying property and making away with hundreds of sheep and goats.

As the country’s immediate former Commander-in-Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces, and with the advantage of connections built in the security sector over the last decade, Kenyatta was undoubtedly privy to intelligence reports on the impending invasion of his farm in Kiambu County. But the former President reportedly opted to avert a bloody confrontation by not beefing up security at his farm or militarily fighting off the invasion.  

The mood, emotions and reactions of the larger Kenyatta family following the latest development can be discerned from the disposition of Uhuru’s first cousin, Ngengi Muigai.

The former Gatundu MP is evidently low spirited and although the family has consulted over the Monday raid, he is tight-lipped on the details.

Heavy heart

“We are touched, and I personally have a heavy heart about this development, but I am sorry that is as far as I can go. The (former) President would not like to have this matter discussed and I cannot indulge you further on this,” he told this writer.

Be that as it may, a number of questions still linger, especially how a former Head of State could be targeted – so viciously and crudely – for attack in his home county by individuals believed to be from the same locality.

What is even more intriguing is the fact that, despite having teamed up with many throughout his political journey spanning two decades, few have publicly come up to his defence. 

Despite Muigai’s muted response regarding the situation, he is clearly shocked. The attack has been a major eye-opener for the Kenyattas, who might initially have underestimated the amount of bad blood between them and the William Ruto administration. The police force, which was conspicuously absent during the six-hour-plus daytime operation at the Northlands farm, has since undertaken to “carry out investigations”.

Having had a brush with the International Criminal Court at The Hague, Netherlands, and been cleared of culpability in the 2007/8 post-election violence, which was triggered by highly disputed and discredited presidential elections, Kenyatta has reportedly strived to stay away from activities that could inflame violent conflict.  This partly explains why, at the heat of the moment on January 30, 2018, he directed security forces to withdraw from Uhuru Park in Nairobi, where his main rival in the 2017 polls, Raila Odinga, was sworn in as “the People’s President”.

Kenyatta’s former Cabinet Secretary and Secretary-General of his Jubilee Party, Raphael Tuju, would concede during a live televised interview last year that the President opted to climb down to avoid an ugly confrontation with opposition leaders and supporters, “which had the potential of resulting in a bloodbath in the country”.  

Known for embracing a contradictory political trajectory or doing exactly the opposite of what is anticipated, the notion of Uhuru supporting Raila’s candidature seems to have backfired badly; either that, or Kenyatta did not manage this political project smartly.

Ahead of the 2007 General Election, for instance, he registered political history when, as Kanu party leader and Leader of the Official Opposition in the ninth Parliament, he dropped his presidential bid and supported Mwai Kibaki’s re-election instead. Later, he entered into an unforeseen political marriage with Ruto in 2013 to form a government. Members of Kenyatta’s and Ruto’s Kikuyu and Kalenjin communities had been consumed in a bloody ethnic war in the Rift Valley region five years earlier.

But it was the symbolic handshake with Raila on March 9, 2018, that took most people by surprise. Naturally, it was anticipated that Kenyatta would front Ruto, his deputy of two terms, as his successor, or another senior politician from within the ruling Jubilee party in the event his differences with Ruto were irretrievable.

While David Murathe, a strong ally of the former President attributes his political contradictions to astuteness, Dr Henry Wabwire opines that some of Uhuru’s moves border on political recklessness: “His tendency to ignore the rather obvious options and instead walk paths less travelled by counterparts is bravery that is laudable. However, some are high-risk experiments that have stalled mid-way,” observes the political analyst.

Now, for his public support and financial backing of Odinga, Kenyatta, who served as chairman of the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya Council, has been targeted for attack by Ruto and his allies.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua tore into the outgoing President for supporting Raila barely seconds after being sworn in on September 13 last year, and in front of invited guests from foreign countries.

Members of the Kenya Kwanza Alliance, including National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah, believe that Kenyatta is financing the protest rallies and mass action organised by Azimio. Kenyatta, therefore, is targeted for what government believes is a deliberate move to undermine its leadership and operations.   

The Jubilee party leader may not have been on the ballot in the August 9 presidential election, but the poll partly revolved around him. And this precisely explains why he is trapped in the current political friction. 

For teaming up with Odinga and supporting his presidential campaign, Kenyatta has paid a heavy political price. His erstwhile deputy, whose presidential bid he disparaged, has coloured Kenyatta’s Mt Kenya backyard yellow (UDA colours), including in his own rural constituency of Gatundu South, where he served as a member of Parliament between 2002 and 2013. He has been left with a string of political orphans, including former CSs Peter Munya (Agriculture), Joe Mucheru (Information), Dr Fred Matiang’i (Interior), James Macharia (Transport), Sicily Kariuki (formerly, Water) and Tuju (CS without portfolio); former National Assembly Majority Leader Amos Kimunya and Jubilee party Secretary-General Jeremiah Kioni.

Although out of government, the former President has financial muscle and enjoys international connections as well goodwill from relatively influential partners – which explains the jitters in government and claims that Kenyatta is funding the ongoing opposition rallies, dubbed “The People’s Public Barazas”. Nonetheless, except for his appearance in an open truck beside Odinga in Kisumu, where he addressed residents after attending the burial of former Education CS George Magoha in Gem, Siaya County, the former President has not been seen in any political forum or event since last year’s elections.

Elective seats

With Kenyatta now out of power and his cousins, Muigai and Beth Mugo (who served as Dagoretti South MP and later nominated senator), now out of elective seats, the larger Kenyatta family has slowly eased itself out of the ‘dirty game’.

And courtesy of internal political rifts, especially involving Kenyatta's elder cousin, Kung’u Muigai, at play, it will take a bit of hard work for the Kenyattas to reassert themselves politically . Kung’u, who is allied to Ruto, was recently given a job in the government as chairman the Kenya Cultural Centre Council Board.

Ngengi Muigai, who took over the Gatundu parliamentary seat after the death of Founding President Jomo Kenyatta in 1978, is tight-lipped on the political fortunes of the Kenyattas going forward. He is personally no longer interested in politics, stating that he is keen on confining himself to business.

The senior Kenyatta served as President and MP for Gatundu alongside his first-born son, Peter Muigai Kenyatta, who was MP for Juja, and daughter Margaret, Nairobi City’s first female mayor. 

Separately, as President, Uhuru Kenyatta belonged to a small, elite group of Africans who ruled the same countries that their fathers presided over. The four other pairs are Omar Bongo and his son, Ali Bongo of Gabon, Laurent Kabila and Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Seretse Khama and Ian Khama of Botswana and Gnassingbé Eyadéma and son Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé of Togo. 

Persuaded by the fact that members of his Kikuyu community are very enterprising, residing and working in all the corners of the country, Kenyatta has always held that his kinsmen and women are the most vulnerable in the event of a nationwide conflict.

The former president accordingly considers it an achievement that, by the time of his exit from office, he had created a friendly and enabling environment for members of his community to comfortably do business across the country, including in the heart of Kisumu City amongst the Luo community, who were previously hostile towards them.