Is Kenyatta steering his regime (country) to a new direction?

Saturday June 06 2020

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses the nation during the 57th anniversary of Madaraka Day on June 1, 2020, at State House, Nairobi. PHOTO | PSCU


President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Madaraka Day speech had laudable moments. First was his reference to two Kenyans who have been anathema to the previous regimes, especially those of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi—Tom Mboya and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

Mboya had a detailed grasp of the social and economic challenges facing Kenya and could discuss theoretical assumptions informing government policies. The one person who came close to him was the young Mwai Kibaki.

When you listen to these two gentlemen expounding on development agenda with reference to social and economic models, you wonder how we missed the development boat.

The answer, however, is not far to find.

We began to create a political culture that demanded sycophancy, not brilliance.

Robert Hughes, a critic of American political culture, once wrote that President Ronald Reagan had educated America down to his level. In the system we created, not acting like a fool could cost you your livelihood or life.


Jaramogi was offered the post of prime minster by the British as a moderate alternative to the jailed Kenyatta who was seen as “a leader unto to darkness and death”. He not only turned down the offer, but declared that Kenyatta was the leader of the African people.

Jaramogi’s later vilification under the Kenyatta and Moi regimes as a wild socialist hungry for power is not borne out by history. This characterisation was a distraction from the plunder going on in the country.

Mboya and Jaramogi—to greater or lesser degrees—exemplified the values Uhuru said are absent in our present political culture.

The president, quoting the ‘deadly sins’ spoken of by Canon Frederick Donaldson in 1925, said we should not be a country of wealth without work, of politics without principle, religion without sacrifice, and knowledge without character.

Can people serving in his regime claim to live up to ideals opposed to the ‘deadly sins’? In the first five years of his regime, the country regressed to the nihilistic Nyayo state where everything—school fields, water catchment areas, hospital grounds—were fair game in a pathological race to accumulate property.

The other remarkable moment in the speech was recognition and award of national honours to people in the frontline of the war against Covid -19.

Normally, those awarded national honours are political sycophants, most of whom are linked to corruption and tribalism.

Our national honours list is a who-is-who of Kenya’s political class. Show me, I say, a country’s national honours roll, and I will tell you what kind of country it is.

We hope that Uhuru’s speech is not mere platitudes, and that it marks an uncompromising intention to change our political and civic culture. Starting with his regime.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator