- In-Country Power
- International Power
- Military Strength
- Special Skill: African Aristocrat
- Official Title: President
- Government: Newly-established democracy
- Years Left in Office: 2017; re-election possible
- Political Classification:
- Education: BA in Political Science
- Age: 56 (born October 26, 1961)
Uhuru Kenyatta Facts and Information
- Son of first Kenyan president Jomo Kenyatta
- One of the richest men in the country, net worth possibly exceeding $500 million
- Kenya is currently an ethnically and politically divided nation
- Indicted by ICC on charges of crimes against humanity in connection with 2007 post-election violence - which he denies
- Landlessness is a major issue within the Kenyan state which he will need to deal with although he comes from a wealthy family with vast amounts of land
- Choosing to position himself as a “digital” leader utilizing social media
With a name like Kenyatta, isn’t it inevitable that you would have to lead the country named Kenya at some point? Elected as the top-tiger of safari-central in March 2013, Uhuru Kenyatta is the son of the founding president of Kenya Jomo Kenyatta—who was the leader of Kenya from independence in 1963 to his death in 1978, serving first as Prime Minister (1963-64) and President (1964-78). Daddy Jomo is basically considered the “founding father” of the Kenyan nation. So Uhuru is a legacy President!!! As such, he was born into the one of the richest and most powerful family in Kenya….but how bizarre, right? I mean, where else does a rich kid become President, whose rich father was also President…oh, wait; I forgot about the Bushies in the USA. Nevermind.
But why would we even care about Kenya? Well, although most Americnas know little to nothing about this African state, Kenya is a pretty solid US ally, and a fighter of the ‘war on terror’: remember, Kenya was the scene of a major attack by al-Qaeda back in 1998, long before anyone in the US had even heard of that group. And although Kenya is still a ‘developing’ country with a low HDI (human development index), it has the biggest and most advanced economy of East and central Africa, with tremendous potential. Unveiled in 2007 by Mwai Kibaki, Vision 2030 is Kenya’s development program over the next 20 years whose objective is to help transform Kenya into a newly industrializing, middle-income country providing a high quality of life to all its citizens by 2030 in a clean and secure environment. This vision shall hopefully propel Kenya to be a competitor on the world stage. So Kenya is a major African playa of note, and the leader of this state is a significant figure. And on that note, let’s get back to the Kenyan Kenyatta story…
Kenyatta was born a year before Kenya got its independence, and was named Uhuru (Freedom), in anticipation for the upcoming independence…wow, now that is an awesome résumé line for a future President to have…and his local countrymen/supporters love to call him “njamba”—meaning “hero.” Apparently he has a name for even occasion. Anyway, he then went to one of the best schools in Nairobi, and was a winger for the rugby team (whatever the hell a ‘winger’ is), before attending Amherst College in the US where he studied Political Science and Economics. Sweet! Another US-educated world leader! And there are many! After schooling, he returned to Kenya and started a very successful horticultural business…of which daddy’s money assuredly was a part. How do I know about Daddy’s money? Well….
In early 2013, Kenyatta was one of Kenya’s richest people estimated at a net worth of $500 million….and while I do not doubt his business savvy, most of that money is family money. Some of the businesses owned by the family are areas of the media, banking, tourism, insurance and dairy. The Kenyatta family has also owned more than 500,000 acres of land in Kenya, which was mostly acquired by his father during a postcolonial land-transfer program. This makes them one of the largest landowners in the country…more on that later….
When Kenyatta entered into politics in the 1990s he was already being groomed by then-President Daniel arap Moi (President from 1978-2002) to be the chosen successor to the throne. He was basically Moi’s right hand man, and was appointed by Moi to chair the Kenya Tourist Board in 1999, then in October 2001 was nominated to parliament and subsequently to the cabinet as Minister for Local Government. In March of this year Uhuru Kenyatta made it big on the national political scene when he was elected as one of the four national vice-chairmen of the Kenya African National Union (KANU), the major political party that his father had founded. His star was continuing to rise fast…
And indeed it looked like the stage was set for him to take over the country! The same year, 2001, he was named the KANU candidate for the presidential elections—a controversial move made by outgoing President Moi, who was ineligible for another term and wanted a chosen successor to carry on his legacy. In fact, the fear was that Moi would continue to rule through Kenyatta, if Kenyatta won the elections. And that may have been his undoing! The opposition leader, Mwai Kibaki, wiped out Kenyatta in the 2002 election by a wide margin; Kenyatta then took the position of leader of the opposition in parliament.
Enter MAJOR controversy: the 2007 presidential election. During the 2007 elections Kenyatta supported then-President Kibaki’s bid for a second term against an arch-poitical rival named Raila Odinga (as Uhuru knew his own chances of winning were very slim.) The election was strongly marked by tribalism, with Kibaki supported by the dominant Kikuyu ethnic group, and Odinga supported by the Luo ethnic group. When the election outcome showed that President Kibaki had narrowly defeated Odinga, it was rejected by many of Odinga’s supporters…and subsequently the international community agreed the elections were at least partially manipulated. This sparked weeks of widespread violence among ethnic groups, with the Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest ethnic group, being both initiators and targets of violence.
So what’s that got to do with Kenyatta? Shortly after all this happened, the International Criminal Court (ICC) started an investigation into the incident….and in 2010, Kenyatta was was named as a suspect of crimes against humanity by the ICC, and cited as one of the six suspects most responsible for prompting the post-election violence; he immediately disputed the allegations and stated that he was innocent. Later in January 2012 the ICC announced that Kenyatta would face trial. He was charged with committing crimes against humanity; the charges included allegations that Kenyatta had helped mobilize and fund the Mungiki (a Kikuyu criminal gang), and the group’s attacks on Odinga’s supporters in the outcome of the disputed election. This is an on-going situation, the ICC charges are still pending, and it is the first time any person has become the leader of a sovereign state with a warrant on his head.
But we have jumped way ahead of the story, so let’s step back and catch up with how Kenyatta got to the top slot….
The controversy and violence following the 2007 elections forced Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga to form a coalition government. Kenyatta became one of the two deputy prime ministers and also minister of trade, and was later appointed to the treasury as minister for finance. Soon after the ICC charges were posted in 2010, Kenyatta resigned from his post as minister of finance, but remained as deputy prime minister. And now we are back on track for our story, as it everyone knew the guy was going to run for President in 2012, with a few complicating components:
The ICC charges did not discourage Kenyatta from following his ambitions for the presidency. Kenyatta parted from KANU in April 2012, and launched a new party named The National Alliance (TNA). Later he and TNA merged with United Republican Party and became part of a multiparty alliance known as the Jubilee Coalition, which also included one of the other ICC suspects, William Ruto.
Kenyatta and Ruto campaigned together for the posts of president and vice president, respectively. With the ICC proceedings, their eligibility to stand in the election was called into question, but in February 2013 the High Court of Kenya dismissed a case that wanted to bar them from running for the posts. Kenyatta won the presidential election in the first round of voting, held on March 4. However, Odinga did not at first accept the defeat. Quoting what he deemed irregularities with the election, and went on to challenge the results by filing a petition in the Kenyan Supreme Court. The Supreme Court upheld the election results after a week of investigations and proceedings, and Odinga gracefully accepted defeat. So now we have the man in place as the head of east Africa’s biggest economies and significant regional power.
So this Kenyatta guy has lived a lifetime in the highest circles of power in this state, has a lot of experience within politics and government in Kenya, and even a fair share of controversy to boot. Kenyatta has been keen to demonstrate that he is his own man as well…and he def wants it to be known that he is no longer Moi’s “project” and does not need political patronage from former President Kibaki either. So what is he likely to do now that he has the reigns of power in Kenya?
Well, an issue that Kenyatta will for sure deal with in his presidency will be landlessness. For the state of Kenya, this has been a huge issue throughout its history and one that is a problem for many other African nations as well. Kenyatta is ranked by Forbes Magazine as the 23rd richest person in Africa with an estimated fortune of £330m ($500m). The Kenyatta family owns huge parcels of land in the Rift Valley, central and coastal regions of Kenya. It is the land question that haunts Kenyatta and the rest of his family wherever they go in Kenya. In an interview with BBC’s HardTalk programme in 2008, he was asked how much land his family owned. He replied: “I don’t need to answer that question because that’s not the issue. Land reform is not about a person; land reform is about a nation. It’s not that I won’t tell you. It’s that I don’t need to tell you.”
Land is the source of nearly all ethnic clashes that bedevil the Rift Valley. It is so divisive that the inspector general of police warned political candidates not to make it a campaign issue. In his election manifesto, Kenyatta acknowledges that “Kenya’s future prosperity is dependent upon the transformation into a property owning and land-user rights democracy. Our ambition is a massive expansion of land user and ownership rights, so that all Kenyans who want to own their own homes are able to do so.” Kenyans will watch keenly how his government will address historical injustices regarding land that have left thousands displaced and forced Kenyans to jump on each other’s throats disrupting lives and livelihoods. So Uhuru has taken the helm of a ethnically and politically divided country, and bridging that divide and bringing ethnic harmony to his state will have to be a major focus if he hopes for a successful and stable presidency.
President Kenyatta is also eager to show that he is modern, in tune with the country’s youth and techno-savvy. While preparing the 2011/12 budget he used Twitter to invite public contributions. During this presidential campaign, Mr Kenyatta has been presenting himself and his political allies as the “digital team” that is ready to get down to the business of developing Kenya. Twitter was ablaze with running commentary on the campaign, the polling, the results and the waiting. By choosing to position himself as a “digital” leader he will have to deal with some of the burdens as well of having more variety and flexibility. Although, the advantages of having more connectivity to the people of the country may pay off more than the burdens.
Possibly the greatest issue president Kenyatta, his running mate Mr Ruto and two other Kenyans will face are the still-pending charges by the ICC (International Criminal Court) with crimes against humanity. They are BOTH accused of bearing the greatest responsibility for the 2008 post-election violence that left more than 1,000 people dead and forced some 600,000 from their homes. The ICC links him to the outlawed militia group, Mungiki, which is accused of carrying out revenge attacks during the violence. The trial is ongoing still and the determination of the court will have major influence on his power of presidency although he denies the claims.
As Uhuru Kenyatta takes the presidency of Kenya in his father’s footsteps, the people of the state will have their eyes on him to be a strong leader. Many issues are facing his presidency such as landlessness and his personal ICC charges which may hinder his influence but he plans to combat these issues with his political background in trade and finance and the utilization of social media to connect with the Kenyan people. With Kenya’s economy slowly on the rise and holding the spot of the biggest economy in east and central Africa, Kenyatta will also hope to continue this trend within the state and propel itself onto the world stage. It seems as if Kenyatta will own his presidency as he connects with the people and become a figure of influence within Kenya as his charges of the ICC fade into the background.
So that’s your Kenyan Kenyatta run-down, and why it is important to keep an eye on this critical East African nation….it is a large and growing economy, an oft-cited example of the rare ‘successful democracy’ in Africa, and a US ally in the war on terror, in an era where all major powers are investing a lot more in African countries economically, politically, and militarily. Kenyatta may become a serious power player of the Rift Valley region!
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