Here is a Sunday riddle for you. What do Kensington Palace and State House Nairobi have in common? Easy. They are both the current official residences of Royal Princes. To usearthlings, Uhuru Kenyatta’s early life may as well have been a version of the 1988 film Coming to America. For all we know, he was woken up every morning by the soft tunes of a 20 piece philharmonic orchestra.
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He had his teeth polished by one of his servants before he went off to play on the lush State House lawns with his pet peacock and Bengali tiger. Who knows!
It is said that what is learnt in the cradle lasts to the tomb. Kenyatta is therefore naturally applying Princely ways to a presidential job. And as a result, ‘His Excellency the Presidential Royal Highness’, is a contradiction of a man whose fluid identity oscillates between a civil servant and a monarch to be served. And this presents three royal problems.
Royal problem number one is his ‘master-servant mentality’.
Like wealthy heirs and princes world over, Kenyatta grew up being adored and fawned over. Underneath his amiable disposition is a natural expectation for adulation.
In short, his natural habitat is amidst servantile people: a bunch of housegirls and houseboys in the name of a cabinet, advisors, lawmakers and party members.
But because Kenya is a Republic, and not the ‘Kingdom of Zamunda’, the ‘Prince in Presidential Clothing’ faces two traps as a result.
One, he drives looking through the rearview mirror. That is, he is all about history.
Because he is used to servants, he treats even his best ministers as ‘royal servants’. And typical of the way we treat housegirls, he believes that these ‘cabinet housegirls’ want to steal from him or are just interested in money.
The result of this is paralysis in govern-ment. Two, most of these ‘royal servants’ become bootlickers to survive. But Uhuru should remember that bootlickers also habour their own ambitions.
Consider the fable of the sycophant fox and the gullible crow. The crow sat upon a tree branch with a big piece of ‘nyama’ in his beak. A fox passing by looked up and saw him. The fox began to flatter the crow endlessly, complimenting his shiny feathers and sharp wit. Eventually, he praised him as the best singer in the land, and begged him to sing him a few notes. The crow obliged, and the chunk of meat fell straight from his beak to the fox’s open mouth below. Need I explain further?
Royal problem number two: a Prince considers the art of ruling a birthright that he can execute only with the meaningful input of his family. That is why, unlike President Kibaki, Prime Minister Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto, Kenyatta has never bothered to constitute a government-in-waiting. His family is the government-in-waiting. This should be a team of highly trusted, highly competent ‘clever commoners’ experienced in state-craft. Instead of retaining political sharks like Chris Murungaru and Matere Keriri who kept the wheels of government turning when Kibaki was incoherent or indisposed,
Uhuru has a band of corporate pageboys who look good on paper, but are struggling to swim in the leviathan that is government.
Royal problem number three: Kenyatta is the least experienced president in the history of this country. His engagement in national politics only stretches back to 2002. And this inexperience is beginning to show. As ‘Commander in Chief’ he is The General. He is therefore expected to be like the mythical Hercules in battle; ferocious until the last enemy is slain.
However, he gives up before going into the battlefield. On the war on corruption, we see no blood on his spear – except the blood of his most trusted and best performing colleagues. In typical princely fashion, cleaning up a mess is someone else’s problem. It is the problem of his butlers or other domestic servants: the Director of Public Prosecution, the Judiciary and the anti-corruption commission. Anyone but the Prince himself! He is like the cat who wants fish, but doesn’t want to get his feet wet. His inexperience has caused him to display, instead of conceal this fact.
Uhuru should ditch his princely ways and hone his presidential persona or, like the deposed Louis the 16th of France, he won’t know what hit him on his royal head.
The writer is a Ph.D candidate in Political Economy at SMC University, Switzerland and also a Research Fellow at the Fort Hall School of Government