Sabbatical leaves are considered opportunities for rest and personal reflection. Many spend them striking out destinations off their places-to-visit list, with others opting for intimate moments with family. To presidents though, such are luxuries, and the slightest opportunity to unwind is relished, courtesy of the demanding nature of their job. Kenya past three presidents and the incumbent have exhibited unique styles of leadership but share a taste in their preferred holiday destination, despite the limitless options offered by 'Magical Kenya'.
In her autobiography, Miss Uhuru 1963 Working for Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Mrs Elizabeth Madoka shares with us an intimate side of the founding father's life. His fright for flying drove him to cars and trains as the only means of getting to Mombasa and his other preferred destination, Nakuru. Foreign travel was, therefore, out of question. A pair of shorts, an occasional floral shirt and hat, a pair of sandals and, of course, his bakora to complete the look, was Mzee Jomo Kenyatta's choice of wardrobe when he was out on the shores of the Indian Ocean. The sandals, though, seemed a bother, as he would take them off when strolling the beach, perhaps craving a foot massage from the fine grains of sand.
"Mzee enjoyed spending time in the sea, although he was not a good swimmer,” writes Mrs Madoka. "Mzee had several swimming costumes. Even when he did not go into the sea, he enjoyed the swimming pool," she adds. His love for swimming was passed on to his children Uhuru, Nyokabi and Muhoho Kenyatta, who loved spending time in the pool as young children. Jomo Kenyatta's official workdays were Tuesday to Friday. He spent his Mondays in Gatundu, attending to his constituents. His busy work schedule came in between him and the most important meal of the day but he spent holidays making amends. An English breakfast comprising tea, toast, jam, and marmalade, fish, beef sausages and eggs did just the trick.
Mzee's love for traditional music and dance has been widely documented. He spent holidays at the Coast and at his Gatundu home entertained by live traditional choirs. Mzee Kenyatta would often join in the song and dance, beaming with delight, whenever the music got into his soul, she writes. According to Mrs Madoka, Mzee was always on duty, even when on holiday. "What about me? When do I ever go on leave?" President Kenyatta would retort whenever Mrs Madoka would ask for a leave.
When he was not receiving delegations, Kenya’s second president Daniel arap Moi would retreat to the beach and take long walks. Occasionally, he would hop onto a police boat and sail across the vast Indian Ocean, observing, keenly, how it glided through the waves with perfect precision.
President Moi also spent his annual two-week break from office on working days sampling the sumptuous delicacies of the Coast. He took his meals at hotel balconies, enchanted by the impeccable harmony of the humming sea and the rustling leaves of the towering palm trees, ruffled and rattled by the cool evening breeze. "He enjoyed taking his meals overlooking the
ocean, letting the breeze punctuate his meals," Franklin Bett, a one-time aide of the former president says. Away from solitude, President Moi would catch up with his peers, and engage in conversation with controversial figures, just to keep abreast with the happenings in the country. All this while, he would still work, albeit lightly, with no recognisable leave.
"He never missed Church. On Sundays he attended a Church service at the Kongowea African Inland Church in or the Anglican Church Cathedral in Mombasa and afterwards, would have a leisure moment," says Mr Bett of a man he refers to as a mentor, in life, politics and culture.
Kenya’s third president, Mwai Kibaki, spent his holidays with his children and grandchildren, according to former Government Spokesperson and now Machakos Governor Dr Alfred Mutua. Just like other presidents before him, he spent his days off at the Coast, often camping at State House Mombasa.
On other occasions, he would spend his time off work reliving his long-time hobby, golf, although he did not actively play owing to injuries he sustained in a 2002 road accident in Machakos at the height of a presidential campaign. The president, highly reputed as reserved, attended golf functions organised by young people and would watch, reminiscently, as they played his favourite sport.
"Although he took days off, President Kibaki never went on leave and senior government officials followed suit," Dr Mutua says. "He sometimes took days off that would last about four days but he would still be working. He would also spend afternoons on holiday with friends," he adds, attributing this to the pressing issues in the country that needed the president's attention.
Whenever he is spotted donning polo or his more preferred silky paisley print shirts, President Uhuru Kenyatta is most probably touring the Coast. Unlike his predecessors, President Kenyatta has successfully kept the public guessing on his business at the coast, only surfacing to preside over official functions in the many tours he has taken to the region throughout his regime.
Even when spending time away, the country bosses have to keep up appearances. Two events, 24 years apart, proved that a president's absence is too loud a silence. President Kenyatta and his perceived political godfather, President Moi have previously been the subject of concern when they disappeared from the limelight for days.
In 1995, opposition Members of Parliament demanded a statement from State House after President Moi disappeared from the public's glare for more than a week. 24 years later, a hashtag #FindPresidentUhuru went viral on social media, as Kenyans queried the whereabouts of President Kenyatta, two weeks after he had been seen leaving the country on official business.