Uhuru Kenyatta’s legacy would have been more impressive

Sunday September 18 2022
President Uhuru Kenyatta.

President Uhuru Kenyatta speaking at JKIA Expressway toll Station on Sunday, July 31, 2022. PHOTO | NMG


Uhuru Kenyatta leaves office with a mixed legacy. During his tenure, he presided over the greatest infrastructural development Kenya has even witnessed since the British came to Kenya.

He expanded harbours and built new ones. He built highways and hospitals in record time. He connected more people in the rural areas to the power grid than his predecessors combined. His government commissioned ferries and bridges.

The Nairobi Expressway shortened travel to the airport by 90 percent.

Moribund railway tracks were resuscitated. The railway built by the British in the 1900s was replaced by the Standard Gauge Railway.

In his last three years, the president went on a dizzying inspection tour of projects to ascertain they were completed on schedule. He ordered his sometimes somnolent ministers and officials to get out of their cushy offices and inspect projects.

Although he was never part of the struggle for democracy, he bravely acknowledged and apologised for human rights abuses by the state.


On national days, he acknowledged people who were anathema to the state like Jaramogi Oginga Odinga or Martin Shikuku as national heroes. He met Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiongo, another enemy of the state, and pledged that his government would help expand the creative industry.

The president also tried to mend the historical mutual suspicion between the Kikuyu and Luo communities which began after the fallout between Jomo Kenyatta and Oginga Odinga in the 1960s. If Raila Odinga was elected as president, it would have been Kenyatta’s most enduring legacy.

Spectacular plunder

In his second term, Kenyatta revived the fight against corruption. In his first term, thievery in government had surpassed that of his predecessors, including the British combined. An Auditor-General’s report indicated that in the first six years of his administration, a staggering Ksh4 trillion was misappropriated, unaccounted for or missing.

High-level visitors to the country like former US President Barack Obama and the Pope decried the spectacular plunder of Kenya’s resources. Kenyatta also failed to make thievery a political liability by not appointing tainted people as ambassadors or parastatal thieves, er, sorry, chiefs.

At the end of his tenure, Uhuru came to understand that Africa was poor, not because of some Western conspiracy, but because of the way we manage our affairs. He often argued that if everyone did what they were supposed to do, without stealing, and on schedule, Kenya would be very far. Unfortunately, he realised this near the end of his term. Had he had that mentality at the start of his term, his legacy would have been a lot more impressive.

On a personal level, Kenyatta might not have had his father’s charisma, but he was personable, and he was more approachable than any of his predecessors. He also demystified State House, which hitherto was shrouded in mafia-style secrecy.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.