Drinking from traditional wisdom has become one of my preoccupations.
It may be an indirect admission that I am growing old. I am amazed at how our traditional proverbs mimic the laws of economics.
I wish one student can write his PhD thesis on that.
One proverb from central Kenya says, “Gutirî irumaga imera igîrî.”
The proverb refers to a hero or a 'njamba' who reigns only once and then gives way to others. The same pattern applies to the wild. Seen lonely lions and buffaloes once they age?
We seem to have started treating our leaders the same way. Once they leave the political stage, we quickly forget them. The pomp and publicity simply fade away.
Some suggest with a pension and security and other basic needs taken care of, they have no reason to worry. But I disagree. Emotional loneliness can be devastating.
In most countries, such past heads are given some responsibility to keep them busy as they transition to ordinary life. Uhuru Kenyatta is a peace envoy.
Beyond pension, such heads of State ought to have developed some hobbies or interests that keep them busy. To preempt forgetting Uhuru, let’s ask what his legacy will be.
Should he rest easy that he played his role as the president of our republic? It’s hard not to compare him with other presidents including his father.
Let’s look at Uhuru’s legacy before it’s buried by history, our reduced attention span and competition from other attention seekers.
It is very clear that he was determined to build a legacy, particularly during his last three years in power.
Some of his legacies were built on concrete and were an extension of his predecessor, Mwai Kibaki. He was too far away from his father chronologically to build on his legacy.
Here is a list of Uhuru Kenyatta’s legacies without any order of preference. I shall try and be objective like the Supreme Court judges but with less flowery language, which I must confess is admirable. Don’t we teach poetry in schools?
Is such flowery language not bringing justice closer to the masses - all can read judgments? Who has time for Shakespearian English in the age of Twitter? Back to legacies.
One, he let freedom ring.
Few can deny that Uhuru let us enjoy our freedom enshrined in the constitution. It was under his term that the Supreme Court decided on who was to become the president after the petition, two times, and even when he was leaving the office.
These petitions tested and strengthened our institutions. We can now handle any crisis. Some fear this freedom could be rolled back, seen as too much. Some statements like a gun is not a pen are scary.
Uhuru often showed frustration over the constitutional limits of presidential powers, more so in judicial decisions. He left a more confident judiciary.
What of the parliament and devolved governments? They seem to have swayed with the political wind during his term.
Two, he invested in infrastructure such as roads, dams, highways and standard gauge railway (SGR).
His other signature legacy is the Nairobi Expressway despite the feeling it’s out of reach of most motorists. He extended the frontiers of national possibilities by building this elevated road. What will rival it?
Three is humility. Despite his power, the only structure named after him is a building at Friend’s University in Vihiga. His human touch is unequalled. Given an opportunity, Uhuru would have loved to intermingle with ordinary Kenyans.
His mastery of his native language, which he used with ease like his dad, is another legacy. I have borrowed his native language to talk to his heart.
Four is diplomacy. When I visit other countries, I am always surprised how Uhuru is admired. He improved the Kenyan image, culminating in our seat at the UN Security Council. Like Kibaki, he faced both East and West, while reaching out to other countries.
Five, he valued his friends and relied on them to work for him. He also seemed to admire 'big men' if Dr Fred Matiang’i and Prof George Magoha are good examples.
Six, by playing naive, Uhuru was a master strategist. He brought Raila Odinga to his fold and managed his own succession. Although his chosen candidate did not win, he did not become a lame duck.
It will remain a matter of conjecture what was the content of the handshake with Raila and why he 'quarrelled' with his deputy, who never resigned and eventually succeeded him.
Some have speculated, by stretching the truth, that his fallout with Ruto was stage-managed. The truth will one day come to light.
Some have said it does not matter who won, Raila or Ruto, Uhuru was the real winner. Others think that by backing the 'wrong horse' and failing to confront the hustler narrative, Uhuru portrayed himself as out of touch with Kenya’s political reality.
Seven, he ensured a smooth political transition that won us admiration globally. He put to shame the naysayers and prophets of doom.
Eight, graft and public admission of his helplessness in taming that vice left Kenyan tongues wagging. Did he leave it to his successor to confront the vice?
Nine, he deftly navigated two crises that brought out his leadership acumen - Covid-19 and inflation because of the war in Ukraine. National debt will be associated with his reign.
Ten, we shall remember Uhuru Kenyatta as a young president who balanced internal and external crises in a very democratic and open society.
Let’s get back to traditional wisdom. “Iiragwo yari iria yakua" (A cow is said to be producing lots of milk only after its death). That could apply to past presidents, with death referring to exit from power.
It could be too early to judge Uhuru’s legacy but my hunch tells me history will be fair to him.