By Linda Apollo
Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the founding president of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, is now at the tail of his second and final term as President of the Republic of Kenya. He was first elected in 2013 in a hotly contested presidential election in which he eked out a narrow victory that saw him escape a run-off between him and his closest competitor, Raila Odinga.
A critical look at Uhuru’s presidency and the manner in which he ascended to the top seat reveals some uncanny echoes from the experience of his father Jomo, which constitute three important dialectical lessons in our understanding of the essence of social change and development.
First, before assuming the presidency, Jomo along with five others; Achieng Oneko, Paul Ngei, Fred Kubai, Bildad Kaggia and Kung’u Karumba were imprisoned in Kapenguria by the colonialists for seven years for allegedly masterminding and leading the Mau Mau war of independence. The group has since come to be known in the annals of Kenya’s politics as “ Kapenguria six”
On his part, prior to assuming the presidency, Uhuru Kenyatta along with five others; William Ruto, Francis Muthaura, Ali Hassan, Henry Kosgey and Joshua Sang were vindicated by the International Criminal Court (ICC), then headed by the Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, for allegedly masterminding and funding the 2007/2008 post-election violence in Kenya. The group was known as “Ocampo six“
Secondly, Jomo and his Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga found common ground in advancing the cause of decolonization. Indeed, Jaramogi was the first to politically rehabilitate Jomo by refusing to form a government while the latter was still in prison after KANU won the internal self-governing elections of 1961. He argued for “Uhuru na Kenyatta” (freedom with Kenyatta). The two had a fallout over issues of ideology and national policy within the first few years of independence.
On their part, Uhuru and his deputy Ruto began with falling out. They were on opposite sides when the 2008 post-election violence erupted. They found common ground once they were indicted by the ICC, and partnered to save themselves by acquiring political mileage. Furthermore, whereas Jomo and Jaramogi were self-made icons of the nationalist struggle for independence. Uhuru and Ruto were protégés of former president Daniel Moi, created, perhaps, in the latter’s image and likeness.
Third, Jomo also demonstrated a disregard for the rule of law. Jomo had parliament pass an act to allow him to pardon election offenders. This was for purposes of pardoning his friend, Paul Ngei, who was found to have committed election offences in the 1974 elections, which rendered him ineligible to contest in the subsequent by-election. The new law ensured that Ngei contested and won his seat back. Uhuru has more than once treated the law as mere suggestions, to be followed only when convenient.
In the face of the Supreme Court decision to nullify the August 2017 presidential election. Uhuru referred to the judges as thugs who had no powers to change the “will of the people” and vowed to “revisit” their case after the repeat elections. The drastic slashing of the judiciary budget and the arraignment of Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu on corruption charges in August 2018 may be interpreted as an actualization of the “revisit” threat.
Fourth, Mzee Jomo had a penchant for using obscene language against the opposition and those he did not see eye to eye with. Similarly, Uhuru has taken to using obscene and abusive language against his opponents and those he does not agree with. This was particularly evident on his triumphant return from The Hague after his case was dropped when he was addressing community members in Turkana in early 2017 where he lashed out against the local County Governor, Josphat Nanok.
Fifth, at the end of Mzee Jomo’s tenure, critics noted the disintegration of the nationalist coalition that fought for independence and the inauguration of an imperial presidency. Similarly, at the end of this first term in office, critics noted Uhuru’s tendency toward authoritarianism. Civil society was being referred to as “evil society”. There were attacks on the offices of the African Centre for Open Governance of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, ostensibly on account of their perceived support for the political opposition following the contested results of the August 2017 presidential elections.
Finally, when he eternally left the political scene through death in August 1978, Jomo left a vibrant and growing economy, albeit one characterized by one of the highest income inequalities in the world, perhaps only exceeded by Brazil and South Africa. It was an economy described by Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere as a “man-eat-man” society. At the end of his first term in office, on the other hand. Uhuru’s legacy is one of an economy literally mortgaged to China because of his government’s penchant for borrowing from the latter to finance overpriced grand projects whose single-sourcing is tied to Chinese suppliers and Chinese labour.
From the above similarities and differences between the old Jomo and his younger son Uhuru, we can learn three lessons based on the three laws of the dialectical method. The first dialectical is the law of the unity and conflict of opposites. This states that the world, both social and physical, is a paradoxical terrain characterized by a unity of contradictions, a unity of opposites.
In the social world, we have the haves and have nots, the ruler and the ruled, buying and selling; in war. There is advance and retreat, victory and defeat. Even the Bible says in Galatians 6 that the human being is a bundle of contradictions. The soul is always warring against the flesh and the other way round. The contradictions in the Uhuru vs. Ruto saga: sworn enemies on opposite sides in the post-election violence in 2007/2008 and bosom friends in the aftermath of their ICC indictment. The opposite in the Jomo vs. Jaramogi saga: intimate comrades in the nationalist struggle and sworn enemies a couple of years after independence, which resulted in the house arrest of Jaramogi in 1969.
Loss of hair does not make one bald, but continuous loss of hair culminates in a qualitative change called baldness. At the social level, change, development, or progress is not unidirectional and unilinear, nor does it occur gradually in a smooth straight line. Sometimes one step forward is followed by two steps backwards and vice versa. The convoluted and messy decades-long process of democratization in Kenya eventually led to the promulgation of a new constitution in 2010.
When nothing seems to be happening, small quantitative changes are usually taking place that add up eventually to a major qualitative change. The ruling of the Supreme court of Kenya nullified the August 2017 presidential election. This was preceded by periodic changes in the personnel of the Supreme Court; the retirement of Chief Justice Willy Mutunga brought in Chief Justice David Maraga; the dismissal of Deputy Chief Justice Nancy Barasa brought in Kalpana Rawal whose retirement brought in Philomena Mwilu; the retirement of Philip Tunoi brought in Isaac Lenaola. It is hardly to be expected that without these little quantitative changes, the celebrated landmark ruling nullifying the presidential election, the first in Africa, would have occurred.
As noted at the beginning, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga facilitated Jomo Kenyatta’s ascendancy to the presidency by refusing to form a government while Jomo remained in prison. Although Jomo made Jaramogi his vice president, they soon fell out and Jaramogi never succeeded Jomo. Similarly, William Ruto facilitated Uhuru Kenyatta’s ascendancy to the presidency by teaming up with him and mobilizing the Rift Valley electorate to vote for Uhuru.
In so doing, Ruto became deputy president. Will he, unlike Jaramogi, succeed the man he helped propel to power? Political developments following the celebrated “handshake” between Raila and Uhuru indicate that it is highly unlikely that Ruto will succeed Uhuru to the presidency come 2022. The mantra to the effect that kingmakers never become kings themselves seems to be well and alive in the Kenyan political dispensation.
Cover image courtesy of State House Kenya/ PSCU