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Kibaki-Uhuru ties that saw godson succeed godfather in political arena

 Pope Francis with President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Presidents Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki at State House in 2015. [File]

The relationship between President Mwai Kibaki and his successor Uhuru Kenyatta was like father and son before politics changed everything.

Young Uhuru growing up in Gatundu schooled with Kibaki’s sons when he was the Minister for Finance after he became his godfather in his infancy. Later Uhuru joined politics when Mr Kibaki was a senior politician serving in the Opposition before they faced off in the 2002 presidential elections.

And then in 2007, the president abandoned his role as leader of the Opposition and joined Kibaki’s re-election campaign. In fact after the 2007elections, president Kibaki appointed Uhuru as the Deputy Prime Minister, when many thought he would appoint Narc Kenya party leader Martha Karua. Ms Karua had played a very instrumental role in the negotiations during the Serena talks that led to the creation of the Grand Coalition Government after the disputed 2007 presidential elections.

Prof Peter Kagwanja credits Uhuru’s rise to presidency to the decision he made in 2007 to support Mr Kibaki because that is when he earned the trust of Mt Kenya region. The relationship began when Uhuru was an infant while the late President Kibaki was at the time serving as the Kanu party executive officer.

The young economist had been headhunted by the then Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga from Makerere University to come and serve the party.

It was that period in 1961 that the then First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta gave birth to Uhuru and Kibaki, a practicing Catholic became his godfather The late Njenga Karume who served in Kibaki’s first Cabinet, in his book From Charcoal to Gold, recounted how the late president visited Mama Ngina in the company of President Jomo Kenyatta at his Gatundu home to see the baby boy.

According to Mr Karume, Mr Kibaki is the one who suggested to the founding father that the boy be named Uhuru.

As fate would have it, the godson would later succeed his godfather to become the Fourth President of Kenya. But the journey to that succession was full of twists and turns, beginning with close family ties when the children of the late three presidents Mzee Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi and Kibaki attended the same schools.

“The children were close friends who still have a good relationship because they roughly went to the same schools,” says Prof Macharia Munene.

But it is the next phase, when Uhuru joined politics that inevitably created a rift between him and Mr Kibaki. It all began when Moi supported Uhuru to succeed him as the Kanu presidential candidate in 2002. Mr Kibaki had joined forces with several Cabinet ministers led by Raila Odinga who had earlier resigned from government to form the National Rainbow Alliance (Narc) party.

Flying the Narc ticket, Mr Kibaki then took on the ruling party’s Uhuru, a rookie who many considered to have been Moi’s political project. The late president trounced his godson by garnering 62 per of the vote. Uhuru became leader of the Official opposition. It was while serving in the Opposition that he became a harsh critic of the Government, describing Mr Kibaki as a “a hands-off” president leading a corrupt government.

At that time some high ranking ministers in President Kibaki’s government had been accused of engaging in grand corruption that led to a loss of colossal sums of public funds. Prof Munene says President Kibaki did not have the tendency of micro managing people, but instead allowed them to do their work and only intervened when they failed to perform as expected. He says Mr Kibaki’s way of doing things sometimes got him into trouble because some of the people he trusted betrayed his faith in them, took advantage and looted public funds.

“He gave them jobs, some betrayed him and that is how he ended up in a mess,” says Prof Munene.

He notes that Uhuru was playing his Opposition role of putting the Government in check when he said the President was hands-off. However, it is difficult to say if Uhuru has been either a hands-off or a hands-on president himself since 2013.

The late former President Mwai Kibaki (left), then-Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta (centre) and then-acting Head Of Civil Service Francis Kimemia at Seventh Day Adventist Church in Nairobi during a requiem service for the late Internal Security Assistant Minister Orwa Ojode.[Evans Habil, Standard]

Prof Munene argues that Uhuru appears to have borrowed Mr Kibaki’s style citing the day when he asked Kenyans last year what they expected him to do when he had assigned people duty but they failed to perform as expected.

“Sometimes he is hands on and wants to do a lot of things and other times becomes a Kibaki, when he says nimekupatia kazi, then he goes,” says Prof Munene, adding that he may have been caught in between Moi and Kibaki’s style of leadership.

In 2005, Uhuru and his friend’s in Kanu among them William Ruto and Gideon Moi, joined the Liberal Democratic Party rebels led by Mr Odinga who had become an Opposition within government to oppose the constitution referendum.

They trounced Kibaki’s “Yes” side which got a paltry 31 per cent of the vote and proceeded to form the Orange Democratic Movement which thereafter was registered as a political party. That is when Uhuru demonstrated his interwoven ties with Kibaki that had developed over time and abandoned his colleagues in the Opposition to support his re-election bid on his new Party of National Unity (PNU).

Upon his death, Uhuru has instructed his government to give his predecessor a send-off befitting a national hero, but some critics are not satisfied with what has been done so far.

Asked if President Kibaki has been accorded a send-off like President Moi’s, Prof Munene says in the current circumstances the Government has done a very good job.

Unlike when Moi died no other State functions like the release of KCSE exams happened and so he points out that the circumstances are different.

Given that State functions must continue without interruption, he is satisfied that that Mr Kibaki has been given due respect just like that accorded to President Moi.

“State functions stop and that is why they could not have postponed the release of KCSE results which affects many children and parents in the country,” he says.

Many Kenyans had divided opinion on social media on the matter, with many arguing that the release of the KCSE exams results and the ongoing political tours over shadowed mourning of the former president.

Others drew comparison between Kibaki and Moi’s funeral two years ago, saying media gave the latter big coverage.

“I didn’t feel Kibaki got his value on Day One and infact Moi’s coverage was so choreographed,” [email protected]

Others said there was something very stately, about how preparations were done in Nairobi and at Moi’s Kabarak home unlike what is happening now.

But others disagreed, arguing that they are seeing government preparedness in the funeral, although the family is not featuring prominently this time.

Prof Amukoa Anangwe, a former Cabinet minister describes Mr Kibaki as a very good person who did a lot for the country, especially on the economy.

He, however, clarifies that his stature was different from Uhuru’s and may not compare to others.

Prof Anangwe also argues that Uhuru’s relationship with Mr Kibaki was not as strong before 2007, mainly because he was an impediment to his candidature in 2002.

That is why Uhuru treated Moi as a benefactor and a father figure more than Mr Kibaki although both had a soft spot for him.

To advance his argument that the late president only differed with Uhuru because of political interests, Prof Anangwe says the bold move to leave the Opposition and join Kibaki says it all.

After abandoning the Opposition role, he became Mr Kibaki’s strongest ally especially at that critical juncture, when violence rocked the country after the 2007 elections.

“When people suffered during post elections violence, it is Uhuru who paid the price and so Kibaki’s second term nearly cost Uhuru his political career by being taken to ICC,” says Prof Anangwe.