Seth Onyango @SethManex
Exactly one year since he was sworn in for the second and final term, President Uhuru Kenyatta is focusing on delivering on his Big Four agenda which is expected to form the bedrock of his legacy.
The President, who was sworn-in on November 28, 2017 after a protracted electioneering, including the annulment of the first election by the Supreme Court and a repeat election, also appears to have drastically altered his style of operation to fit his grand plan.
Besides a renewed fight against corruption, incorporation of Opposition leaders in his administration and an overhaul of his inner cycle to help him deliver on his agenda, the President appears to have shed off the easygoing demeanour of his first term.
The Big Four agenda is a programme of mega projects that the Jubilee administration hopes to implement in the next four years. The pillars include food security, universal healthcare, affordable housing and manufacturing.
To ensure peace and unity in the country, the President has in the past year sought to bring the Opposition closer. Early in the year, he struck a unity pact with his erstwhile top nemesis, opposition leader Raila Odinga.
Their now-famous handshake of March 9 culminated in last month’s appointment of Raila as Africa Union’s High Representative for Infrastructure Development.
Raila’s running-mate in last year’s election, Kalonzo Musyoka, was also recently appointed head of Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission for South Sudan peace process.
But it is Uhuru, the man, who appears to have undergone considerable transformation in the past one year. Uhuru of the first term came across as easygoing and approachable, compared to his more conventional predecessors. This style demystified the Presidency without necessarily eroding its authority.
The flip side, however, is it exposed him to potential manipulators and self-seekers. In one memorable incident in May 2014, Mike Sonko, then Nairobi senator, called the President and put him on loud speaker mode in public in a bid to stop the demolition of a building in South B, Nairobi.
The President was heard saying: “Niko kwa mkutano kidogo lakini nimeambiwa… Ni nani anabomoa…Wacha nisimamishe (I’m in a meeting but I’ve been told…who is demolishing…let me stop it.)
Fast forward to 2018, the Head of State has transformed into a tougher, firmer leader leaving many wondering if he is the same person who entertained Sonko’s theatrics four years ago.
During the 2017 General Election campaigns, Uhuru’s aide David Murathe warned Kenyans to brace for a firmer and ruthless President in his second term.
“I am very sorry for people after Uhuru gets re-elected because I believe his agenda will be his legacy issues which will be law, order, discipline, and the fight against corruption,” Murathe told a local TV station.
And to observers, that has come to pass. Uhuru’s new style of operation has baffled even those in his innermost circle.
It started with the overhaul of State House staff, which saw comptroller Lawrence Lenayapa replaced by former Nakuru governor Kinuthia Mbugua. This signalled a tighter control of State House visits and the President’s diary.
And with the appointment of Nzioka Waita, who has a corporate background, as Chief of Staff and head of Presidential Delivery Unit to complement the vast experience of Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua, it was no longer business as usual.
But the next most significant development in Uhuru reinvention was the redefinition of what in the first term appeared like a co-presidency with his deputy William Ruto, into one where he is seen as the clear leader.
“The realisation that the twin burden of history and legacy would solely focus on him, Uhuru did not have to be persuaded to change tack,” a confidante, who did not wish to be identified, told People Daily.
Another source said: “During his first term, it almost appeared as though Uhuru’s administration was a coalition government…every decision was out of consultation. This time the President is out to assert his authority.”
Tanga tanga jibe
It is against this background that Uhuru appears to have taken a jibe at his deputy over early campaigns for 2022 election. At public meeting in May, the President spoke about the Deputy President loitering around (tanga tanga).
“Hii kijana anaitwa Ruto unajua kila wikendi anatangatanga kila pahali. Atakuwa anapitia hizi vichochoro. Akiona kitu inaenda konakona mmwambie. Tuhakikishe kazi ya wananchi imefanyika” (This young man called Ruto, you know he likes roaming everywhere every weekend. He will be passing through these routes. If he sees anything that’s not going well, tell him. We have to make sure citizen duties are fulfilled).
The President has also admonished Ruto’s allies in his Central Kenya backyard to stop early campaigns and serve the people who elected them.
A pointed remark in Nyeri early this month that his choice for president in the next election would “shock some people” raised questions on whether his deputy would be his automatic choice for successor when he retires in 2022.
A source who enjoys close proximity to the President, said with his ascent to the Presidency, there were concerns within his family circle that his trusting and accommodative nature could be manipulated by self-seekers. But Uhuru of the second term appears anything but vulnerable to manipulatation by selfish interests.
At the beginning of the demolition of unapproved structures, including those built on riparian land, in August, the President said he had lost many friends who may have assumed he would intervene to save their investments.
“Over the last few weeks I have lost many friends. I have received many calls being asked ‘how can you sit and just watch all this destruction going on. You must stop it.’
But I said, it is difficult to stop, not because we love to destroy but because we must fight impunity,” he said. Among casualties of Uhuru’s tougher disposition include staunch supporters, including some said to have mobilised campaign resources for Jubilee in the last election.
It is in the same spirit of fighting impunity that several famous names including former Nairobi governor Evans Kidero, tycoon Jaswant Singh Rai and former Kenya Power boss Ben Chumo have found themselves in court to answer graft-related charges.
Others facing corruption charges are former Cabinet secretaries Hassan Wario (Sports) and Michael Kamau (Transport).
This week, National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) chief executive officer Geoffrey Mwangi and chief finance director Wilbert Kurgat were arrested over graft allegations.
Observers point out that the fact that Kenya Civil Aviation Authority and the National Land Commission are involved in a tussle with Weston Hotel — which is associated with Deputy President Ruto — over the ownership of the land on which it sits, means the era of higher intervention is gone.
A month ago, Agriculture Cabinet secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri was the target of the President’s ire as he publicly reprimanded him over the maize scandal.
State House sources intimated to People Daily that communication channels for some individuals who have found themselves in trouble with the law have been cut off to keep them at bay.
“Those who have managed to get hold of the President have been told what he has always said in public, ‘everyone must carry their own cross’,” said a source.
Rule of law
According to Leader of Majority in the National Assembly Aden Duale, the President will no longer entertain rogue elements in his administration or inner circle.
“The President wants to make sure that he leaves behind a country that observes the rule of law. Both friend and foe must be careful about their dealings,” he told People Daily on phone.
According to Duale, “One is either part of this vision or is not”.