Welcome to Africanews

Please select your experience

Watch Live



Kenya: Uhuru Kenyatta, unfathomable president with a mixed record

Kenya: Uhuru Kenyatta, unfathomable president with a mixed record
Outgoing Kenya president Uhuru Kenyatta is seen at the Moi International Sports...   -  
Copyright © africanews
SIMON MAINA/AFP or licensors


The youngest president in Kenya's history, Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta is leaving office after almost a decade at the helm of the country, which he is ending as an unfathomable head of state with a mixed record.

Is he a puppet or a strategist, a dilettante, or a power-hungry heir? Despite a political career spanning nearly 30 years, Uhuru Kenyatta remains a difficult character to pin down.

One thing is certain: the "prince" of Kenyan politics is inseparable from his family, the richest in the country and the only one that has given him two presidents.

With a massive figure and a round face marked by heavy bags under his eyes, this 60-year-old man has devoted his second and last term of office to trying to consolidate his political legacy.

He tried until the end to influence the country's future, supporting Raila Odinga in the August 9 presidential election - in which he was not allowed to run for a third term - against his vice-president William Ruto.

He lost this last bet, as his alliance with his former rival alienated him from his fiefdom in Mount Kenya.

- Debt and corruption -

While the former US-educated golden boy has worked to boost Kenya's international stature, currently sitting on the UN Security Council and proudly calling itself the economic powerhouse of East Africa, his domestic record remains mixed.

In his final speech on Monday, Kenyatta highlighted the country's economic progress as it prepares to "join the club of middle-income nations."

"I have been guided by the dream of our forefathers: to eliminate poverty, ignorance, and disease, to improve the quality of life of all Kenyans, and to create the conditions for everyone to achieve their goals," he said.

His policy of major infrastructure projects was carried out at the cost of an explosion of debt, which reached more than 70 billion euros (67% of GDP).

His speeches against corruption have been received with apathy, even irony, in a country where the Kenyatta family is perceived as the incarnation of a corrupt political elite with little concern for the general interest.

In addition to a financial empire that extends from agribusiness (Brookside) to banking (NCBA) to media (Mediamax), the Kenyatta family is the country's largest landowner - an asset whose origin has been criticized.

The fortune of Uhuru alone, a practicing Catholic and father of three, was estimated at $500 million by Forbes in 2011.

- Frequent -

Uhuru ("freedom" in Swahili) is the son of President Jomo Kenyatta (1964-1978), considered the father of independence, and his influential fourth wife "Mama" Ngina.

He entered politics in the mid-1990s under pressure from his father's successor, the autocrat Daniel arap Moi (1978-2002).

Defeated in his first presidential attempt in 2002, he supported the incumbent Mwai Kibaki in 2007, whose short victory degenerated into political and ethnic killings between Kikuyu and Kalenjin, two of the country's main ethnic groups.

Kenyatta subsequently formed a government of national unity and won the presidential election in 2013.

The Kikuyu leader joined forces with Kalenjin leader William Ruto in the race. Both are being prosecuted by the International Criminal Court for their role in the 2007-2008 killings.

The charges against the executive duo were dropped after what the court denounced as "witness intimidation.

Uhuru then became popular again and welcomed Barack Obama, Pope Francis, and a host of investors eager to gain access to this dynamic country.

In Nairobi, observers and diplomats are struggling to define his personality. Some describe him as "a party boy with a drinking problem who didn't want the job," while others describe him as "quite charismatic," "politically capable and able to talk to people.

But the capital is buzzing with stories of his nightly trips, incognito at the wheel of an ordinary car, protected by only a few bodyguards.

- Alliance with Odinga -

On September 1, 2017, after the historic annulment of his re-election by the Supreme Court, he will call the judges "crooks" before the cameras.

After a few hours, however, he will accept the verdict and will be definitively re-elected two months later, in a fractured country, where the protests of the opposition - whose leader Raila Odinga boycotted the second election - were ruthlessly repressed by the police.

So much so that in early 2018, he surprised everyone by concluding a truce with Odinga in a handshake that has remained famous as the "Handshake".

The pact drew Mr. Odinga into the heart of power, keeping out ambitious Vice President William Ruto - who Kenyatta had initially pledged his support for 2022.

Kenyatta and Odinga will jointly carry out a constitutional reform project, dubbed the "Building Bridges Initiative" (BBI), which will create a prime ministerial post that many saw as destined for the incumbent president. Denounced by Ruto, the BBI was eventually rejected by the courts.

The president is now preparing to leave the political scene - at least in appearance.

When asked last year about his desire to stay in power, a smiling Uhuru told France 24, eyes to the sky: "Oh, please, please! I'd rather enjoy a vacation in France every summer."

View more