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How Uhuru Kenyatta's fortunes have changed

Politics

 

 When former President Uhuru Kenyatta attended a Sunday service at Msongari grounds in Nairobi. [File, Standard]

Two years after his retirement, former President Uhuru Kenyatta finds himself at the mercy of his successor’s whims, a position he placed many a foe when he called the shots.

The former President has been fighting endless wars with the Kenya Kwanza administration, although he has kept quiet most of the time.  

Fed up with alleged maltreatment by the government, Uhuru has spent the last few weeks protesting delays in the remittance of his retirement perks to the tune of Sh1 billion.

One of the benefits, as stated by his spokesperson Kanze Dena, is the refusal to facilitate his retirement office, as prescribed by the Presidential Retirement Benefits Act.

“The statement that the former President enjoys a fully furnished and maintained office of his choice provided by the government is incorrect,” Dena said last week in response to the government’s spokesperson Isaac Mwaura, who said the State had provided Uhuru with an office.

Dena also lamented that the former Head of State was paying staff out-of-pocket, as the government had allegedly denied them funding, and that Uhuru was not provided with the fleet of vehicles required by the law.

After weeks of public spats, which also roped in State House spokesperson Hussein Mohamed, President William Ruto reportedly held a telephone conversation with his predecessor on Tuesday and formed a team led by Head of Public Service Felix Koskei to address Uhuru’s grievances.

The fourth President’s funding challenges are not unique to him. In 2014, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka lamented that Uhuru’s government had refused to pay their retirement dues.

“They have refused... to give me my dues for the time I served as prime minister. I have not gotten a single penny, when my counterpart, who was my co-principal, has all the privileges,” Raila said then, pointing at attempts to frustrate his rights through Parliament.

Back then, Uhuru said Raila’s and Kalonzo’s continued engagement in active politics justified the government’s position.

Lawyer Ahmednasir Abdullahi noted that Uhuru’s past did him no favours, accusing him of weakening constitutional structures and aiding the decay of institutions.

“Of course, retired President Uhuru Kenyatta is entitled to ALL the benefits of his office. I’m sure no one is foolish enough to stand in the way of Uhuru’s constitutional entitlements, rights, and privileges. But, he needs to be patient, for his relentless destruction and crude undermining of constitutional offices and the rule of law during his 10 years’ rein had left the constitutional structure and institutions of the state weak,” Ahmednasir posted on X. 

Uhuru’s troubles do not end with funding. As President, he never had to worry about security. He enjoyed round-the-clock protection from the nation’s elite officers.

These benefits trickled to the First Family. Barely months into Ruto’s presidency, Uhuru would complain about the withdrawal of his security and that of his mother, former First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta.

“I have had to share my security with my mother after they withdrew,” the former President told editors in an interview last July after a scaling down of his and the former First Lady’s security. 

Days earlier, he had responded to a distress call by his firstborn son, Jomo, after police raided his house over, what they said, was a firearms issue. 

“The fact that I have been silent does not mean I am scared. Come for me. What do my mother and children have to do with anything?” Uhuru posed outside his son’s Karen home.

Months earlier, Uhuru’s family had experienced a more direct attack. At the height of the opposition’s anti-government protests in March last year, goons invaded the Kenyattas’ Northland’s farm, stealing livestock and destroying property.

The absence of police officers throughout the attack gave the impression that it was sponsored or sanctioned by the State. 

“Uhuru made the bed. As President, he withdrew the security of his rivals. He should have known that he would be out of power eventually,” says university professor of leadership and management Gitile Naituli.

Although he continues to shine on the international stage, Uhuru’s light in local politics has dimmed significantly.

As Ruto and Rigathi Gachagua hammered him during the 2022 campaigns, Uhuru kept off, often making seemingly half-hearted appearances, through which he would fight back.

The result saw him lose most of his influence in the Mt Kenya region where he had been the undisputed kingpin for over a decade. Uhuru was expected to whip the region to vote for former Prime Minister Raila Odinga. The results of the presidential election show that he was far from succeeding.

Jubilee woes

His dethroning as Mt Kenya’s supremo was the culmination of years of a smear campaign by his then deputy, assisted by leaders from the region. Signs that Uhuru would struggle to sell Azimio la Umoja in Mt Kenya were clear as soon as his Jubilee party, a former behemoth, was deflated by defections to Ruto’s UDA.

The crippling of the former ruling party has continued, with President Ruto being accused of sponsoring a power struggle that has reduced Jubilee into a shadow of its former self.

But the growing cracks in the ruling UDA, pitting Ruto and his allies one side and the Gachagua and his supporters on the other, could help propel the former President back to the helm of Mt Kenya’s politics.

Facing searing criticism from young politicians from Mt Kenya and the Rift Valley region, Gachagua has been appealing to Uhuru to forget the past and work with him.

Similarly, an online campaign dubbed  “We told you so” by Uhuru’s supporters is keeping him in circulation.

Naituli believes the former President remains a political force.

“Uhuru is very popular in Mt Kenya but can make himself vulnerable if he chooses to,” says Prof Naituli.

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