Luck or charm; which one will win it for Uhuru?
Today, when he officially kicks off his journey for a second-term as President, Uhuru Kenyatta will be banking on three key things – the performance of his government, or lack of it, over the last four years, the Kenyatta legacy, the advantages of the incumbency and lady luck.
While he has given it all over the last four years, observers also point to the fact that Mr Kenyatta is an extremely lucky and easy going individual.
His first attempt into elective politics was in 1997 when he unsuccessfully vied for the Gatundu South parliamentary seat. He took the loss casually and moved on, taking up a job from President Daniel arap Moi as chairman of Kenya Tourist Board and later as nominated MP in 2001.
In barely six months’ time, he was a presidential candidate, courtesy of Mr Moi’s manoeuvres. And when he lost to Mr Mwai Kibaki in December 2002, he quickly conceded defeat at a news conference at Serena Hotel.
But it is the drama of 2013 that best brings to the fore Mr Kenyatta’s easygoing approach to issues and streak of luck. Under pressure from State House operatives, Nairobi Senator Mike Sonko says Mr Kenyatta had willingly opted out of the presidential race under the belief that Kenyans were not ready to elect another politician from Central Kenya as President.
“He actually stepped down and invited his friend (Musalia) Mudavadi to be the Jubilee coalition presidential candidate. He actually only changed his mind to vie after some people threatened to walk out on him,” says Mr Sonko, Jubilee’s Nairobi Governor aspirant.
Separately, except for his occasional verbal charges at political rivals and public display of rage, Mr Kenyatta is said to be a down-to-earth individual who, in the common Kenyan parlance, passes for mtu wa watu (a man of the people).
His cousin, Ngengi Muigai, describes the President simply as “a friendly and easy going young man”. While growing up, Mr Kenyatta was your typical “palace rebel” who was uncomfortable staying indoors and embracing decorum and the courtesies that come with power.
He was the type who, at the slightest opportunity, would be out there at a shopping centre mingling and chatting up with villagers. Mr Muigai says it never bothered him that he was son of the President.
Mr Muigai, who inherited Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s Gatundu parliamentary seat, has been very close to the younger Kenyatta and has watched him grow politically.
The son to Mzee Kenyatta’s brother discloses that he is the one who noticed his cousin’s political rising star in the 1990s and invited him to replace him as Gatundu MP in 1997.
However, Mr Kenyatta’s initial attempt at elective politics flopped owing to what Mr Muigai claims was a propaganda ploy by eventual winner Moses Muhia “who claimed to have been kidnapped by the Kenyattas on the eve of the polls”.
Mr Kenyatta’s personal interest in politics aside, Mr Muigai discloses the quiet hand of former First Lady Mama Ngina in the decision.
Mr Muigai reveals that the President’s mother has always been at the centre of political decisions of the Kenyatta family.
Mr Muigai confesses that, indeed, it is Mama Ngina who encouraged him to replace his uncle, Mzee Kenyatta, as Gatundu MP upon his death in 1978.
The former First Lady is thought to continue playing that role to date. More recently, Jubilee party insiders point to her publicised visits to retired President Daniel arap Moi early this year as the Opposition outfit, Nasa, gained ground across the country.
Not long after the trip, Baringo Senator and Kanu party leader Gideon Moi dissociated himself from Nasa and, in a subsequent meeting in Nakuru, led party members into endorsing their support for President Kenyatta in the August polls.
It remains unclear whether Mama Ngina’s visit had anything to do with this chain of events.
Indeed, there is no denying that the Kenyatta legacy continues to boost the President’s campaign. For instance, during the funeral of independence hero Paul Ngei in August 2004, Mr Achieng’ Oneko – the only surviving member of the famous Kapenguria Six at the time – told President Kibaki to his face that he did not vote for him in the 2002 poll but instead cast his vote in favour of Kanu’s Uhuru Kenyatta.
“I voted for Uhuru because he is a son of a fellow freedom fighter – my friend Jomo Kenyatta,” explained Oneko.
Considering the family ties, the President has never been an outsider. He and his biggest challenger, Mr Odinga, belong to this “elite” club, adored by fellow liberation heroes, yet disregarded by some powerful operatives in Kenya’s successive governments.
Mr Koigi wa Wamwere, one of the second liberation heroes, concedes they are in a dilemma, courtesy of the two presidential front runners.
He explains that one of the candidates has acquired honours courtesy of his father while the other personally sacrificed his youth fighting for democratic space and was detained as a result.
“Nonetheless, I think Raila (Mr Odinga) deserves our vote more than Uhuru (Mr Kenyata) for two reasons – that he is a direct warrior of Kenya’s political emancipation struggle and at least the Kenyattas have twice had their share of the presidency already,” says Mr Wamwere.
While appreciating the President’s hard work and smart political moves that are behind his steady rise to the top, Mr Wamwere believes that Mr Kenyatta is also a product of good tidings.
“Not everyone who works hard and schemes smartly succeeds in their endeavours. And to rise to the position of President of Kenya in today’s highly competitive environment is no mean achievement,” says the former fiery MP for Subukia.
Besides the Kenyatta name, Mr Wamwere cites the indictment of Mr Kenyatta by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over alleged crimes committed against humanity during 2007/2008 post-election violence.
“His lowest moment must have been that day (former ICC prosecutor Moreno Ocampo named him a key suspect in the Kenyan case at the Hague. But this eventually turned out to be a blessing as the development enabled him to rally support and win sympathy votes,” says Mr Wamwere.