Former President Daniel arap Moi (Right) congratulates Uhuru Kenyatta on 14 October 2002 in Nairobi after he was nominated by the then ruling party Kenya Africa National Union (KANU) party as it's candidate for the December presidential elections. FILE| AFP/ PHOTO SIMON MAINA NATION MEDIA GROUP
By CIUGU MWAGIRU firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted Sunday, March 10 2013 at 00:30
On meeting Mr Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta for the first time, one is put at ease by his affability, communicated by a relaxed smile and a mighty handshake that can last the better part of a minute.
That was the case when this writer had a session with Mr Kenyatta in the mid-1990s. Then in his mid-30s, the son of Kenya’s first President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, was quick to dismiss any suggestion that he might enter politics some time in the future.
Born on October 26, 1961 to Mama Ngina Kenyatta and the independence struggle hero then incarcerated by the colonial administration, he was given the befitting name Uhuru, which means “freedom” or “independence” in Kiswahili. Kenya obtained independence two years later.
Uhuru was two months shy of his 17th birthday on August 22, 1978, when his father died.
From childhood, his life was one of privilege. Between 1972 and 1977, he attended the prestigious St Mary’s School in Nairobi.
Uhuru’s Catholic-run alma mater was also attended by the scions of some of Kenya’s most prominent families. They included his brother Muhoho, then Vice President Moi’s son, Gideon, and then Finance minister Mwai Kibaki’s sons Jimmy, Tony and David.
Other famous alumni of the school who in later years came to be associated with Uhuru in politics and business were his college mate in the United States and Mr Kibaki’s former personal aide Alfred Getonga, and businessman Jimmy Wanjigi, son of former Cabinet minister Maina Wanjigi. Both came to play key roles in Uhuru’s second presidential campaign.
Known as Muna to his close friends from St Mary’s, Mr Kenyatta is remembered by many as an above average student who was quiet but diligent. Apart from the receiving the best history student award, he did not leave a special mark in the school.
He was a winger on the rugby team, but he was not as good at the game as his younger brother Muhoho.
Mr Kenyatta was married in 1989 at the Holy Family Basilica to the self-effacing Margaret Wanjiru Gakuo, daughter of former Kenya Railways Managing Director Dr E.N. Gakuo and his German wife. The first couple has two sons — Jomo and Jaba — and a daughter, Ngina.
From St Mary’s, Uhuru proceeded to Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, to study economics and political science. His uncle, Mr Ngengi Muigai, preceded him at the college and is said to be the one who influenced him to enrol there.
Among the alumni of the college are heads of state like Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States, Prince Albert II of Monaco and Francisco G. Flores, the former president of El Salvador.
Having joined the college in 1982, Mr Kenyatta graduated in 1985 and returned to Kenya, where he entered the extensive family business. He also joined a close-knit circle of friends that included Mr Maina Gakuo, his future brother-in-law.
Also in the group were former school mates at St Mary’s, family members and acquaintances like Martin and Francis Michuki, the sons of the late John Michuki.
Soon after leaving St Mary’s, Mr Kenyatta did a stint as a teller at the Kenya Commercial Bank, Kipande House branch, the only time he was in salaried employment outside family enterprises and public office.
His first foray into politics was in 1992 at the age 30 as a campaigner for Ford Asili presidential candidate Kenneth Matiba.
In a lengthy interview that year, Mama Ngina Kenyatta said her son had a political role to play in Kenya and had come of age.
Come 1997, and Mr Kenyatta changed his mind about entering politics and took the plunge. In that year’s General Election, he sought the Gatundu South parliamentary seat that had for years been held by his father.
While he has many social friends, among his key political advisers are his maternal uncle George Muhoho, his mother Mama Ngina and his sisters Kristina and Margaret.
Mr Muhoho, a former Catholic priest, also served as MP for Juja and as a close ally of President Kibaki managed the Democratic Party secretariat before being appointed managing director of the Kenya Airports Authority in the first Kibaki government.
Given his roots and the major role his expanded family has played in national and public life, it would have been surprising had Mr Kenyatta given politics a wide berth. As things turned out, his 1997 foray into parliamentary politics with encouragement from then President Daniel arap Moi was a baptism by fire.
Running on a Kanu ticket that was anathema in central Kenya at the time, Mr Kenyatta was handily defeated by a little-known Nairobi quantity surveyor Moses Mwihia in the Gatundu South parliamentary race.
That defeat took the young politician by surprise and reportedly left him bitter. But being only in his mid-30s, he was still a greenhorn and had the world ahead of him.
As the shock of defeat dissipated, a rapidly growing role in public life and politics seemed to await Mr Kenyatta.
That early on, it appears that Mr Moi knew one thing many Kenyans did not; that he had chosen Mr Kenyatta as his heir apparent.
A veteran of the Kenyan political scene who served as number two under Jomo Kenyatta, the increasingly unpopular Mr Moi had watched the young man develop into a mature family man.
As if to compensate him for his defeat in the parliamentary race, in 1999 Mr Moi appointed him chairman of the Kenya Tourism Board, a position that raised his public profile.
Bigger things were still to come, and by 2001, Mr Kenyatta was nominated to Parliament with the icing on the cake being that he was also appointed minister for Local Government, one of the most influential postings.
Clearly, the increasingly beleaguered Mr Moi had plans for a greater role for the political debutant.
As Kenyans were to learn later, the self-professed professor of politics was even at that early stage making plans for his own succession. Not surprisingly, he saw Kanu playing a major role in the succession.
Mr Moi’s view was that there was nobody better placed to succeed him than Mr Kenyatta. It was not surprising then when he publicly warned others eyeing high posts in Kanu that the party had its owners. Although he did not elaborate who those owners were, an inkling of what he meant could be gleaned from the role later played in the party by his own son, Gideon, in plotting Mr Kenyatta’s rise.
In fact, Mr Moi’s initial elevation of Mr Kenyatta to Parliament – and the Cabinet – seems to have been the genesis of the emergence of Mr Kenyatta as a Moi protégé and, later, the so-called “project”, a tag that was to haunt him.
But as it turned out, Mr Moi’s rapidly plummeting popularity and growing image as a dictator were to become Mr Kenyatta’s Achilles’ heel as he found out when he ran for the presidency in 2002.
Earlier that year, he had been elevated to the post of Kanu national vice-chairman, sharing the position with four others deemed to be emerging front-runners in the quest for the presidency. When Mr Moi unilaterally nominated Mr Kenyatta as his political heir, the tables were turned on him, and he lost the election.
As Kenya’s political history has evolved in recent times, Mr Kenyatta has surprised both friend and foe by overseeing a campaign machine that this week saw him defeat Mr Raila Odinga in the race for State House.
Mr Kenyatta has managed to overcome many obstacles, including a court challenge on whether he can run for president while facing charges of crimes against humanity at The Hague.
Together with his running mate and now Deputy President-elect William Ruto, former public service head Francis Muthaura and radio presenter Joshua arap Sang, he has been indicted in connection with the 2007-2008 post-election violence.
Some 1,133 Kenyans were killed and 650,000 displaced in the violence sparked by the disputed presidential election results.
For many, the ICC indictment was meant to end Mr Kenyatta’s career in politics, at least until the case is determined. Ironically, it is mostly because of the ICC that his political stature today is so different from 2002 when he was viewed as a Moi project.
Pitted against a powerful anti-Moi coalition, Mr Kenyatta was trounced in a landslide by Mr Kibaki, the Narc presidential candidate.
The latter was himself a veteran of the Kenyan political scene since the pre-independence days and for years a Kanu leader and Cabinet minister.
That Mr Kenyatta was politically coming of age would, however, become clear in the years after 2002.
Rather than turn his back on politics, Mr Kenyatta gradually emerged as even more determined to play a role in Kenya’s national politics. For starters, he was elected MP for Gatundu South.
He was comfortably re-elected in 2007 when, as leader of the official opposition, he surprised many by supporting Mr Kibaki, the incumbent, for the presidency in elections whose outcome would threaten to end his political career.
After the violence ended, Mr Kenyatta was appointed minister for Local Government in 2008 and also in the same year Deputy Prime Minister and minister for Trade and Industry.
The following year he was DPM and minister for Finance. He was still serving as the DPM in 2012 when the Hague trials bombshell was dropped.
Given his meteoric rise in politics, it was just a matter of time before Mr Kenyatta set his sights on greater things.
He quit Kanu last year and founded a political party, The National Alliance (TNA).
With his almost bottomless resources and organisational capability he turned TNA, which together with Ruto’s United Republican Party, form the Jubilee Alliance, into a veritable juggernaut on which he has ridden to State House with Mr Ruto has his Deputy President.
Additional reporting by Tim Wanyonyi