President Uhuru Kenyatta’s “Road to Damascus” Conversion: Too Little, Too Late


By Washington Osiro,

Shortly after the Supreme Court of Kenya confirmed the first term for Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto as the country’s president and deputy president in 2013, I penned a series of articles on my personal blog in response to the decision.

One article was titled The Loyal Opposition and The Fruit. I argued that given the impending reality of the vote tallies that showed the Uhuru Kenyatta/William Ruto ticket besting the Raila Odinga/Kalonzo Musyoka ticket, it was my hope that the losing ticket would accept the court’s verdict and become “…..the political opposition, albeit a loyal and constructive one, to Uhuru’s government.” I hoped that the CORD Coalition would offer an effective counterweight to the incoming Jubilee Government.

For their part, I hoped that the incoming president and his deputy, both crimes-against-humanity suspects at the time, would extend an olive branch to their vanquished opponents and begin the Herculean task of (i) uniting the dangerously fractured country, (ii) tackling the endemic corruption, and (iii) restoring the public’s tattered confidence in the various bureaucracies.

It was thus a much-needed salve when Mr. Kenyatta verbalized the optimistic-sounding proclamation during his inauguration speech: That his government would “…..strive to work with all actors to ensure that the issue of land will never again be a contentious or a divisive subject but rather that land will be seen as what it truly is, a factor of production.”

In another article titled Opening Pandora’s Box, I quoted GG Kariuki, the powerful former Minister for Lands and Settlement and a Moi favorite, to make a point. A Daily Nation article titled Senators urge Uhuru to solve land problem quotes GG making an argument I hoped the in-coming president would take to heart and use as a jump-off point to cement his legacy as the most consequential president in Kenya’s history. Kariuki said that Uhuru Kenyatta had the opportunity and wherewithal to “change Kenya forever” because the scion of the country’s first president had the money and power – thus needed neither. The context of Mr. Kariuki’s comment was the history of Kenya’s presidents of self-dealing and using their office and power to accumulate wealth – sometimes through nefarious means.

Unfortunately, President Uhuru Kenyatta did not “work with all actors” to improve the lives of all Kenyans, as he promised during his inauguration speech. He did not take up GG Kariuki’s counsel – to “change Kenya forever” by addressing its culture of corruption, impunity, and toxic politics. In fact, Mr. Kenyatta would go on to use his office to increase his family’s wealth.

For his part, Raila Odinga would lose yet another election, this one in 2017. However, the erstwhile opposition leader would also surprise some of his supporters, including this writer, by “shaking hands” with his political nemesis in the politically tectonic gesture dubbed “The Handshake.” In so doing, Mr. Odinga abandoned a role he had played to perfection: being the public’s watchdog against an incumbency with zero qualms about over-reaching its mandate and worse.

The preceding narration sets the stage for the recent utterances by the lame-duck Mr. Kenyatta. In a speech during the funeral of Musalia Mudavadi’s mother, the president offered the following about-turn – loosely translated from the speech he delivered in Swahili:

There were people…..talking daily that they are tired of dynasty families leading the country….. That it is now their turn to lead the nation……I can stand here and speak my opinion. There are only two communities (Kalenjin and Kikuyu) that have ruled Kenya. I say now is the time for other communities to lead the country…..

At first glance, one would be inspired to hail the president’s Saul of Tarsus moment – two years before he leaves office. Unfortunately, such a reaction would be one rooted in anything but Uhuru’s public record. President Kenyatta’s 2021 “Road to Damascus” conversion leaves in its wake years of corruption, ineptitude, hubris, and displays of the very “hate, anger, and division” he railed against during his eulogizing(?) of Mama Hannah Mudavadi.

At every turn during his first term (2013-2017), frankly, throughout a political career that spans an almost one-quarter century, Uhuru has had the opportunity to expend some of his immense personal and familial capital – social and financial – towards building a Kenya that rejects the wayward ways of his three fathers – Jomo (biological), Moi (political), and Kibaki (godfather) – and at every turn, the man has failed – either wittingly or unwittingly – to do that. Mr. Kenyatta’s past is littered with actions that contradict key aspects of his recent proclamations of the magnanimity he extended while eulogizing the late matriarch of the former Deputy Prime Minister’s family. Importantly, together with his latest “brother” Raila Odinga, Uhuru’s behavior towards his deputy and current bogeyman William S. Ruto portend a Uhuru Kenyatta whose real person is directly at odds with his spoken words.

In short, I cannot reconcile Kenyatta’s demonization of his deputy with his calls for Kenyans to avoid the “hate, anger, and division” that has been the hallmark of his time in public office. I would point those questioning my suspicions to this reality: The same “brother” whose mother’s funeral spurred Mr. Kenyatta’s “Saul of Tarsus” conversion was once on the double-barrel end of the same vitriolic and demeaning characterization the now converted Son of Jomo would have us believe he decries.

And as Kenya burnt in late 2007 after its first of many disputed/rigged elections, former SecGen of the UN, Ghanaian Kofi Annan, lamented about the “lack of urgency and childish nature of obstacles” embodied by Mr. Kenyatta’s insistence that the “special presidential chair” be placed in the middle of the dealings between the “two protagonists” Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga. (Interventions: A Life in War and Peace)

Other examples illustrate Mr. Kenyatta’s double-speak: Graciousness and benevolence that quickly degenerate into treachery and vindictive selfishness and gloating that should be a four-alarm warning to all Kenyans.

Anyone who blindly embraces this latest incarnation of Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta is doing so at their own risk. After all, this is the same Uhuru Kenyatta who has, over the years, referred to William Ruto, Raila Odinga, and now Musalia Mudavadi, respectively, as his “brother.”

Then in a head-spinning turnaround, the same Uhuru Kenyatta proceeded to excoriate each one of his “brothers” – including the comical claim that his latest “brother,” Musalia was among the “demons” (“madimoni”) that misled the then-dithering presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta to pull out of the 2013 General Elections.