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Uhuru’s legacy at a crossroads as clock ticks away his last 735 days

By Special Correspondent | August 3rd 2020 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

That is almost exactly two years from today. He must officially step aside on August 23, 2022 when a new President will be sworn in. The Constitution restricts him to that day. This is except for any brief caretaker season, that should last just a few days, in the event that there is a court petition against the presidential election result, or a repeat election. 

What will there be to account for President Kenyatta’s 10 years as the helmsman in Kenya?

Such is what legacies are made of. People memorialise you in a certain way. They remember you for that something, long after you have left the stage.

A great poet once described life as “a walking shadow; a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard of no more. It is a tale told by an idiot,” he said, “full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing.”

Homestretch

Such, however, are the lives of ordinary men and women. Ordinary folk live at the level of unvarying passions, doubts, habits and common patterns. Nothing much is expected of them. But the lives and journeys of those who have occupied high office are different.

To them much has been given, and much is expected. Hence another great poet said, “The lives of great men all remind us. We can make our lives sublime and departing, leave behind our footprints in the sands of time.”

So what footprints will President Kenyatta (pictured) leave in the sands of Kenya’s ageless times?

This is the one question that should preoccupy Kenya’s fourth president over the next 365 days. For that, strictly speaking, is all the time he has left, to make a mark in Kenya’s history. If he doesn’t, then that’s that. The entire period after that will be the homestretch to August 2022.

The national psyche is going to shift; to focus on the future. The question of who comes next, after Kenyatta, is going to be all-important. Indeed, after Budget day in June next year, all eyes will be on 2022. 

That will be the budget to carry much of the preparatory funds for the 2022 elections. Once it is done, a lot to do with Kenyatta will be framed in the past tense. Experience shows that even loyalties will begin shifting, as people align themselves more with those who represent the future. In such situations, even incumbents tend to begin aligning themselves with the future. 

Yet questions of what they did with their time still remain. And so it will be with President Kenyatta in the march to August 2022 and beyond. The exercise of remembering his tenure must itself be effortless. The memory of his season must flow out of people’s minds freely. For, memory is a living force. It cannot be imposed. Such is legacy, too. It cannot be foisted on people. When your name is mentioned, a sudden powerful overflow of memorial energy comes out. That is legacy.

Kenyatta is himself conscious of the significance of legacy. Hence, in the second half of his presidency, the word “legacy” has often been heard. At his second inauguration on November 28, 2017, he condensed his two campaign manifestos into four pillars that should constitute his legacy. He spoke of universal health care, sufficient food for all, affordable housing and manufacturing. He called it the Big Four Agenda.

His March 9, 2018 handshake with ODM leader Raila Odinga was marketed as intended to create the right environment for the Uhuru Big Four.

The jury must remain out for now, on whether the Big Four is being realised or not. The full scorecard will be ready after August 2022. How he manages the transition will be a part of that legacy. This is regardless that political loyalties should shortly begin shifting away from him to future presidential hopefuls. It is never done until it is done.

You do not, therefore, write off a sitting president, even as loyalties shift. Some leaders have, indeed, been known to reinvent themselves as part of the future. And that has been their legacy. Will Kenyatta also repackage himself for the future? In his case, there are those who say he is too young to retire. If he listens to them, that too will be part of his legacy. It might, indeed, be remembered more readily than anything else he does, or has done.

In spite of all this, Kenyatta’s presidency this far has been riddled with controversy. It is likely to go down in history as a restless season when controversy circled around the centre of power like a sinister vulture. The first three years of his tenure trained the public eye and mind on the International Criminal Court (ICC) trial of the president and his deputy, William Ruto.

The Kenyan cases before the ICC began, however, before Kenyatta became the president. They were the first instance in which the court opened a case proprio mutu, which is to say without receiving a referral. That, itself, is part of Kenya’s legacy to the international system. At another level, the fact that he became president while he was indicted before the court is part of his legacy for Kenya and for the international system. So, too, is the fact that the cases went on to be terminated and the accused freed.

The termination of the ICC cases should have given the Jubilee Alliance government of 2013-17 the space to work and deliver on its election promises. Yet this did not turn out to be the case. The Government found itself on the back foot most of the time, fending off blows from the political Opposition.

Uhuru inherited a country in which grand corruption has been the norm since independence. His tenure began with claims of scams in the National Youth Service (NYS), in the Ministry of Sports, in the energy sector, in his pet Standard Gauge Railway project, in the Ministry of Health and in sundry other places. The pick of the basket was the infamous Eurobond matter, in which accounting for Sh250 billion became an irksome subject.

It remains a matter to be swept under the mat, with the president once throwing all caution to the wind, to rile at the then Auditor-General in public, for proposing to visit the US as part of the investigation in the Eurobond saga. 

Such will be the things that are easily remembered in the post-Kenyatta years. It does not help matters that new scams have come up in his second tenure, with a motley of water dam scandals taking the centre stage. Equally, the mobile clinics scam in which over Sh800 million was spent has left a physical eyesore that is an outward symbol of scandal and impunity under the Jubilee government.

Good sounding

Brought in about five years ago, the container-based equipment has been abandoned to rot in Mombasa, with nobody taking any more interest in it, or responsibility for it. It would appear that the aim of the project was always to line a few pockets with bad money. Once that was done, there was no further interest in the matter.

To his credit, however, President Kenyatta is likely to be remembered for bringing to Parliament a schedule of government officials who were accused of corruption. He even spoke of corruption in the Office of the President. He went on to ask some of the prime suspects to resign, as part of the engagement against corruption. Yet some have since found their way back into plum jobs in government, with some boasting openly of being deeply heeled in the right stratum of power. The war against corruption is getting lost under President Kenyatta. 

The impunity that has been carried over from previous regimes is safe and well. If the wheel does not turn against it within the next 12 months, then this failure will be part of the Jubilee legacy. It does not matter that fire-spewing anti-corruption gurus have been appointed in the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) and in the Office of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (ODPP).

If the heads of these State apparatus only end up breathing out fire and doing nothing more, they are likely to cut no more than the image of showmen and public entertainers. That, too, will become part of the Kenyatta legacy. It will be remembered as a regime that was long on good sounding words against corruption, but short on any meaningful action.

The Kenyatta second tenure has easily presented him with the best opportunity, however, to carve out a legacy. It has been free of the unending street protests by the Opposition in the period 2013-17. The chief of the protests, ODM’s Raila Odinga, has become his best political ally since the March 9 handshake. Besides, they have been working together now for two-and-a-half years, building bridges. They have done well in calming down the country from previous flareups, in which life was often lost in the streets, with nobody being brought to book. 

The chumminess between Kenyatta and Odinga, however, has opened up a new theatre of hostility between that camp and that led by the deputy president. How this is managed will have its own implications for the Kenyatta legacy.

For a start, it is about trust. Will Kenyatta be remembered as a trustworthy politician, or will he be memorialised as a foxy individual who betrayed those who helped him to ascend to power? Betrayal in politics is itself part of the game, and Kenyan politicos from Jomo Kenyatta to Daniel Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki, have each thrown under the train those who helped them to ascend to power. Value-loaded judgement on whether they were honourable or not does not probably make any difference – one way or the other. 

Yet there can be no denying that trust forms part of a leader’s legacy. That President Kenyatta has in his second tenure dealt an unexpected card to those who helped him to get to power is not in doubt. He will certainly leave food for thought for all those seeking political alliances in the future. Questions of trust will invariably flash on the mental screen each time names like Uhuru, Jomo Kenyatta and Mwai Kibaki come up when considering political alliance formation. 

The biggest asset that Kenyatta inherited from Kibaki was the Constitution of 2010, and especially devolution. Does he seem, however, to have lost the opportunity to achieve greatness through implementing the Constitution?

There have been worrying trends that suggest a strong appetite for rolling back the gains in the Constitution. Above all else, this might be Kenyatta’s enduring memory. If he does not use the next few months to restore faith in constitutionalism, he will be remembered for reversals and negations. 

Civil liberties have suffered a great deal, too, under this presidency. Civil society is virtually dead, under President Kenyatta. The media has been both insulted and assaulted. The Judiciary lives under permanent attack by both the Executive and the Legislature. Thanks to assertive Chief Justices, Willy Mutunga and David Maraga, the Judiciary has stood its ground, despite Executive hostility and assault, with the President himself at the forefront. 

In the interest of a kind final verdict, this president must resist the urge to run down the Judiciary. He has a few months left to constructively revisit his relationship with the judicature and mend fences. He needs to reconsider his position on the stalled appointment of 41 judges. Whether he knows it or not, this will be a major part of his legacy.

History is likely to judge him very harshly, especially noting that when his election was nullified on September 30, 2017, he ridiculed the Supreme Court and promised “to revisit.” History, too, will revisit this matter.

Above all, President Kenyatta should be cautious about the composition of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and the possibility that it could appoint an Executive-user-friendly Chief Justice when Justice Maraga retires next year. It would leave an indelible blot on his legacy.

Moreover, the vexed question of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) remains. Even as the country has often talked of a possible referendum on the Constitution, the IEBC remains the stench in the room. Before the handshake, Raila was in the habit of lambasting IEBC, and framing it as a tool in the hands of the Executive. The electoral authority has never been fixed. How it should preside over a referendum is a question nobody seems to want to address.

Meanwhile the clock ticks on towards both 2022 and a possible referendum. Where the two leave the country will be part of the Kenyatta legacy.

Tied up in a double knot with the IEBC is the matter of the BBI. It is difficult to tell what sits at the core of the agreement that Kenyatta reached with Raila in March 2018 and after. However, the fact that they sent the November 26, 2019, BBI Report back to the drawing board indicates that the report did not reflect their desire or even different desires.

The ODM brigade betrays signs of frustration from time to time. The latest was the outburst by Senate Leader of Minority, James Orengo, who accused the president of inaccessibility. Orengo told the Senate that if only President Kenyatta were accessible, the stalemate on sharing of revenue among the counties would not be there.

The question is accessible to whom? It cannot be to Orengo, it must only be to Raila, who has told us that when a dog barks, seek to find out who owns the canine. On whose behalf is Orengo barking? Is President Kenyatta frustrating the BBI then? Is he inaccessible to Raila? Howsoever he manages this, it is part of what he will be remembered for.

Lost opportunities

But quite significantly, President Kenyatta will be remembered as the man who received the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Committee (TJRC) report from the committee’s chairman, Bethwell Kiplagat. Without a doubt now, he is likely to be also remembered as the president who failed to breathe life into the report.

The report has gathered dust for close to seven years now because the Executive does not want it to be implemented. It is a major lost opportunity for this president, for it represents a golden opportunity to heal the country from its past and place it on the path to a brilliant future. In it is buried a great opportunity for managing ethnic diversity and building a cohesive Kenyan nation. 

Lost, too, is the opportunity to make devolution a sterling success. The constitutional principle of funds following functions to the counties has been defied. In a number of areas – in health, agriculture, water and roads, for example – the national government has held on to funds that should have gone to the counties. In some other instances, roads have be reclassified, just so that the National Government retains the funds meant for roadworks at that level. Worse still, the roads have not been worked. It is a major area that development studies will explore in determining the Kenyatta legacy. 

It is, however, telling that while the Constitution distinguished between the national government and county government, the habit has been made to talk of the central government. In Kiswahili you hear of “Serikali Kuu,” in the place of “Serikali ya Kitaifa.” Is this inadvertent, or is it a part of the effort to belittle devolution?

The integrated financial management system that the Jubilee government introduced in 2014 has especially worked against devolution. Funds are delayed all the time, with counties being made to look like it is a favour for them to get their allocations. If devolution works, Kenyatta will take the credit. Similarly, if it does not work, he will take the flak. 

Time and tide wait for no man, so the saying goes. It is the same for President Kenyatta. His first eight years are gone – just like that. Effectively, he has only one year left – August 2020 to August 2021. August 2021 to August 2022 belongs to campaign politicking. Nobody will listen to him then.

He has 12 short months to do what he did not do in 96 months and to undo what he did not do right. Can he hack it? Time will tell, but first, he must be willing to try. And while at it, he must resist any thought about a third term in whatever guise. For that is likely to both fail and to leave his legacy in permanent opprobrium. 


President Uhuru Kenyatta Uhuru's legacy
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