Are we beginning to see a new President Uhuru Kenyatta in tandem with the promise of his stalwarts on the man in his final term? That is the burning question both within and without Jubilee, popping up in small ‘siasa’ talk shops. Speaking to a Jubilee political diehard this week after this week's session between the President and Jubilee MPs, he was clear that their leader was breathing fire and brimstone. He admonished the over 100 who did not attend and even vowed punishment, arguing that these party meetings are mandatory, not obligatory. He also asked them to extend their generosity to the party by giving money. Then he asked them where they think he gets money yet he survives on salary just like them.
The question whether we are beginning to see a new Uhuru is important for our political discourse in many ways. At the outset it rides on the revelation by one of his aides in an interview with KTN News that Uhuru will be a different man in his last term. Which really is the nature of leaders at the sunset of their presidency; free of limitations of pleasing and vote-seeking strategies. We saw this in Barack Obama in his last term as US president.
The question however is, what exactly is that last-mile change or newness in the man of the presidency and what does it portend for us? There are generally two sides to the 'newness' of a leader in the last term. Because they are not bothered with seeking re-election, they may adopt a don't-care attitude, and become either too lax or draconian.
There are two leaders whom we can look up to and discern this. One is Nelson Mandela who made it clear on assumption of office that he would be a one-term president of South Africa. He was both appreciating his advanced age, following 27 years of detention, and also following the African dance heroes' anecdotes that it is more honorable to quit the floor while still the star than risk overdoing it, suffering burn-out, and boring the audience to the extent that cheers turn into jeers. The disarming and impressive nature of this approach is an open book for us to read by way of his intact outstanding legacy not only as anti-Apartheid hero, but also as the continent's moral icon.
Then there is the bigot Yahya Jammeh, hounded out of office last year in Gambia like a wild cat in the dark alley. He stole, he killed, he pretended to be a Gambian god with power to heal HIV/Aids with weekly consultations. He amassed money and cars, land and property. Power went to his head, he never saw the end coming, and when he lost elections, like Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, he chose to hold on by the gun and skin of his teeth.
Now coming back to Uhuru, it is important to contextualize the 'newness' in reference. Looking at Uhuru's actions in the last few weeks and in relation to former President Moi's metamorphosis after the failed 1982 coup, one can draw a parallel. Before then, Moi had freed detainees, embraced his critics, vowed to reassuringly walk in Jomo Kenyatta's footsteps. But the abortive coup turned him into something else. For Uhuru, the Supreme Court's annulment of the August 8 election win; the boycott by Raila Odinga in the repeat race, and the impatience with Tinga's act of needling his heart, could have changed the man.
That could explain the sledgehammer he has placed on the neck of the Judiciary, the Opposition, media and even 'rebels' within Jubilee. There are those who look at his recent changes in government and see a man out to fight graft and veer into into the territory he kept off in first term. Others see in this bare-fanged approach vengeance against perceived enemies, betrayers and millstones around the neck.
Unfortunately, if it is motivated by the second, then there is risk of his legacy going up in smoke and creating a wedge between himself and his deputy who, because he is running in 2022, would see this as antagonizing the vote baskets he is seeking to court. Second, if he takes the reprisal mode, there might be no knowing when he should apply the brakes and so could be driven by his own appetite for revenge and the urging by his friends.
And in the end you know how this plays out and who the ultimate loser is. Like the Lion King, we know too well when the end approaches, the tables turn as the former male cubs begin playing in his space, and eventually ostracize him from the pride. For now, I am seeing my president walking on a knife-edge with a deputy buoyed on by completely different aspirations and inspirations. Luckily history is the best teacher on which path to take.