The 2013 national elections are shaping up as a tale of two politically privileged sons. But where Raila Odinga has created his own political identity by distancing himself from his father’s socialist ideology, Uhuru Kenyatta remains a captive to his father’s ethnic constituency. After transcending the perceptions based on his paternity during his Presidential run in 2002, unlike Raila, he has been slipping backwards ever since.
One of the unintended consequences of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) intervention in Kenya is it has catapulted Uhuru Kenyatta to the collective conscious of the Kikuyu community who in 2012, overwhelmingly voted against him. Nationally, Kibaki obtained 61.3% of the votes while Uhuru obtained 30.2 %. However, in the upcoming election, within the Kikuyu community- the largest ethnic group in Kenya, you’re either for or against Uhuru. And support for the ICC is automatically interpreted as a de facto anti Uhuru. Combined with the retirement of president Kibaki after serving his two constitutional terms, Uhuru has emerged as the next Kikuyu leader.
In a feverish bid to not only crown him as the leader of the Kikuyu community, but also the next president of Kenya, Uhuru’s handlers have resorted to historical revision. Such revisionism is easy and neat. It cuts out complexities, nuances, and uncomfortable truths in order to paint a simplistic bumper sticker image. In this regard, they have clearly cultivated a narrative that Uhuru is not only a chip of old Jomo, but in fact, he’s reincarnation Jomo himself, which for emotional and imaginative value is very powerful and extremely useful, because in the collective national conscious Kenyatta was a benevolent father of the nation. The narrative goes, Jomo was detained by imperialist British, and, and now the young Kenyatta is being pursued by the ICC, another imperialistic institution.
First of all, Kenyatta was a nationalist, at least rhetorically; Uhuru doesn’t even attempt to shed his ethnic baron tag or to boost his nationalist credentials. If on the eve of independence Kenyatta extolled the virtues of national unity, and made eradication of disease, ignorance and poverty as his clarion call, Uhuru on the other hand, has been riding on the crest of ethnic chauvinism. This is partly because, until recently, he never ever dreamt of being an MP, let alone a president. He was, after all, Moi’s succession project, seemingly picked from political obscurity to run for the nation’s highest elective office in 2002.
Kenyatta was detained for seven years in a maximum security prison by the British colonialist because he was part of the group agitating for independence for all Kenyans. The ICC charges against Uhuru, in contrast, emanates from the 2007- 2008 post-election violence, which pitted Kenyans against Kenyans, and If found guilty at The Hague, he could be detained. While Kenyatta was willing to spill Kenyans and the British blood in order to attain independence from Britain, Uhuru was willing to spill the blood of non-Kikuyus if it serves his ethnic interest, if the charges against him were anything to go by.
Few years after independence Kenyatta clashed with Oginga Odinga, Raila Odinga’s father, which set in motion a bitter political rivalry which threatened to divide the young country, whose contours continues to define tenor of Kenya’s politics. While Kenya was unabashedly pro-state capitalism, Odinga was an avowed socialist who was diametrically opposed to the direction the country was taking under Kenyatta. The same rivalry has been passed on to the latter generation; Uhuru has serious differences with Raila Odinga. While Kenyatta- Odinga rivalry was fairly ideological, the Uhuru- Raila’s difference couldn’t be characterised as ideological but petty hatred, which is distinguishable by the tone of the disagreement.
In the heady days of the independence struggle Kenyatta penned “facing Mount Kenya”, a work that thrust him into the political limelight, Uhuru on the other hand hasn’t written anything demonstrating the seriousness of his ideas. Instead his stock -in -trade has been regurgitated ethnically charged chorus, “Raila Odinga is not fit to lead.” While such campaign rhetoric could resonate and feed off the animosity between the Kikuyus and the Luo’s, it underscores the lack of political acumen separating him from the elder Kenyatta.
While many will be quick to argue that Raila is like his dad, unlike Uhuru, Raila seem to have learnt from his father mistakes; for all his brilliance, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was inflexible. However, over time Raila has learnt to place his ambition on hold in order to build bridges. Something if Oginga did in 1992, would have delivered opposition victory just like when Raila did in 2002
Like father like son?
When engaged in revisionism one conveniently may cherry pick what to emphasise and what issues to underplay. But the real world seldom works that way. If team Uhuru is willing to exploit the comparison with his father, they better be prepared to accept Jomo’s maleficence as well, even though Uhuru said he shouldn’t be judged by his father’s sins. But he cannot have it both ways. Uhuru could create a legacy that could tower above his dad’s—if he’s willing to put substance over the rhetoric. He can begin by putting his money where his mouth is, and give out some of the vast tract of land that his father acquired to Kenya’s poor and landless people, and especially the IDPs created by the2007-8 poll’s PEV. This would be a sure way of delinking himself from his father’s shadow while creating a positive legacy of his own.
These two sons from Kenya’s political royal family will face off with Odinga’s party supporting the ICC process, and Kenyatta fighting to save himself, and his political career from the ICC charges.
While Kenyatta comes from the largest ethnic group, he will have to address an overwhelming anti-Kikuyu third term presidency narrative- If he wins, it will be the third time someone from his ethnic group would have been a president.
Odinga on the hand, while a shoo-in candidate, has lost some of the stalwarts that gave him a near victory at the polls in 2007 election, William Ruto who delivered a huge swath of the Kalenjin, one of the largest ethnic group, fail out with him, and has since turned into a bitterest foes, and will use every chance to spoil his presidency.
Additionally, Musalia Mudavadi who until recently was his second in command, has bolted out and he is running for the presidency as well. This two has turned the once household name party, ODM into another run of the mill party. Furthermore, much of Odinga’s political career was built on being an outside fighting the status quo, however, in this election, he’s no longer and insider, as such, in part the election will be a referendum on his record as the prime minister.
A victory for either of them would herald a new dawn for the family that has been the fabric of Kenya’s body politics.
In part II, I will explore the impact of Kenyatta –Ruto Union in 2013 election