Four reasons why Uhuru is no Jomo Kenyatta

Saturday April 16 2011



They say that fire begets ash – in most cases. That’s the fear of every high achieving parent. Which begs the question: did Mzee Jomo Kenyatta produce a replica in Uhuru?

There’s no doubt that the scion of Kenya’s “founding father” is a near spitting image of old Jomo. But do the similarities end there? If not, what else did the Finance minister – the most prominent member of the Ocampo Six – inherit from his famous dad?

The crucible that is The Hague trials has been a pressure cooker for Kenya’s prince. The man who would be president has exposed a soft underbelly. Methinks the Burning Spear would not have approved. Surely the dad must be turning in his famous mausoleum.

There’s a world of difference between father and son. The first, and most important, is that the Ocampo Six are not the Kapenguria Six. The Kapenguria Six – Mzee Kenyatta, Paul Ngei, Achieng Oneko, Fred Kubai, Bildad Kaggia and Kung’u Karumba – were bona fide anti-colonialist heroes.

No one accused them of killing, raping, and pillaging fellow Kenyans to gain power. Quite the contrary – the British committed crimes against humanity on them. The Ocampo Six are accused of flipping that coin and committing crimes against humanity on fellow Kenyans.

The difference between the two is night and day. One is virtuous while the other is vicious. That’s why it’s sacrilege for Mr Kenyatta to analogise The Hague trials to Kapenguria.

The second difference is that the Kapenguria Six were tried and convicted by a rogue colonial kangaroo court. The ICC, on the other hand, is a legitimate international criminal court to which Kenya has subscribed voluntarily. In fact, African states are the largest single bloc in the membership of the ICC.

That’s why any suggestion that the ICC is a Western tool against Africa is feckless. If anything, the ICC may do for the “little people” in Kenya – the IDPs and victims of post-election violence – what the State will not do.

Yes – the ICC is likely to deliver justice to victims. The Kapenguria trial delivered injustice.

Mr Kenyatta and the Ocampo Six would do well to remember this fundamental difference. Mr Kenyatta and the Ocampo Six were repeatedly – and sternly – warned by the ICC to put a halt to hate speech.

That includes inciting Kenyans against the ICC. It’s time for a reality check for him and his colleagues. May be they should try channelling Buddhism which teaches humility.

If they are innocent – as they profess – why all the fulminating and name-calling? Blaming PM Raila Odinga and ODM for their woes is cowardly and hypocritical.

This is my free advice – when in a hole, stop digging! Belligerent political rallies and cancerous talk are the best proof that one should not be elected Kenya’s next CEO. Uhuru must remember that his dad was persecuted for loving Kenyans, not dividing them.

The third difference between son and dad is one of temperament and character. They say that you must never let them see you sweat. That’s especially true when “they” are your political enemies or opponents.

Mzee Kenyatta comported himself with remarkable dignity throughout his Kapenguria ordeal.

He knew the cause of Kenya’s independence was just. Like other anti-colonial greats – among them Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela – his inner strength was oak-like. He was not petty. It’s true that in later age he fell off the moral wagon, but history hasn’t questioned his early nationalist credentials.

During this period of personal tribulation, Mr Kenyatta may do well to study his dad’s character. Jomo’s sturdy centre of gravity lacked frivolity.

The fourth difference between the liberation hero and his son was ideology. For most of his life, Mzee was anchored in nationalism and Pan-Africanism. His worldview expanded during his studies and sojourn in Europe.

With Kwame Nkrumah and W.E.B. Du Bois, Mzee Kenyatta was a major player in the pivotal 1945 Pan-African Congress organised in Manchester by George Padmore. It’s unfortunate that in his dotage Mzee abandoned these high ideals and tribalised the Kenyan state.

But, unlike the father, the son does not seem to have any identifiable ideology, except a thirst for power. But he may believe in crude capitalism. Unlike his father at a similar age, Uhuru seems to be seduced by ethnic baiting.

We know that Jaramogi, Mr Odinga’s dad, declined the presidency for Mzee Kenyatta until he was freed. This was a remarkable feat of self-sacrifice. It’s one of Kenya’s most tragic curses that the two fell asunder.

They became bitter rivals. Ironically, Uhuru is falsely accusing Raila of orchestrating The Hague trials against him. The curse is playing out at Kenya’s expense. It’s as though the scions of Kenya’s most famous politicians are each other’s evil twin. Jaramogi took a back seat for Mzee only to be persecuted by him.

We shouldn’t visit the sins of the father on the son. Perhaps there is a moral lesson for Uhuru here. He should ask himself what his dad, the Pan-Africanist, would do.

But my conclusion – based on the available evidence – is that Uhuru is no Kenyatta. I know he badly wants to reclaim the State House for the family. But he hasn’t demonstrated a compelling vision and the grit of nationalist credentials.

The “little matter” at The Hague will either make or break him. If he is clearly exonerated – absent a legal technicality – he may bounce back stronger. But his goose will be cooked if he’s convicted. Which will it be?

Makau Mutua is Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School and Chair of the KHRC.