Image of an increasingly angry and irritable president

Saturday March 11 2017

President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House in Nairobi on March 8, 2017. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House in Nairobi on March 8, 2017. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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The emotional meltdown this week in which President Uhuru Kenyatta hurl expletives at Turkana Governor Josphat Nanok at a public meeting was unfortunate.

But it wasn’t an isolated incident. It bucks a trend in which the President has increasingly become angry and irritable.

In the same week that he humiliated the governor in Turkana before his people and suggested that he didn’t care much about their votes, he spewed so much bile talking about the doctors on strike at the devolution conference in Naivasha and lamented their perceived lack of respect.

One can go back a few months to find that moment he let rip against opposition leader Raila Odinga, calling him muguruki (Kikuyu word for "madman").

Critics have termed Mr Kenyatta’s demeanour on each occasion unpresidential.

But the scrutiny should go much deeper than presidential etiquette considering he tends to lose his cool whenever he is confronted with a serious issue for which he doesn’t seem to have a solution.

So often the President reacts to issues in a manner that suggests he subscribes to the Noah Katana Ngala school of thought: that national leadership isn’t that serious.

Asked by a journalist in the run-up to the 2003 General Election if he would join the presidential race, the long-serving Kanu-era Cabinet minister said nonchalantly: “Uongozi tu? Kukaa chini na kupanga maendeleo tu? (Just leadership? Just sitting down and planning development?)’’. Of course, governing is more challenging than that.


The Turkana meltdown, for instance, was triggered by a fairly legitimate challenge by Governor Nanok to the President to address the simmering local grievance around oil revenue sharing.

Now, matters to do with natural resources like oil are the kind that normally keep heads of state awake at night.

Exploiting the resources to grow the national wealth might be the easy part. Perceptions about the opportunity to improve livelihoods in communities that are historically marginalised make it even harder to manage local expectations and sentiment.

And beyond the economic opportunity, there are always national security and political stability issues to mull over in case of conflicts.

For all its flaws, Kenya has up to this point handled the politics of its new-found oil wealth fairly well – putting in place relevant policies and institutions to deal with it.

Local leaders like Governor Nanok particularly deserve a pat on the back for choosing the constitutional path of bringing their communities’ grievances up for public debate and trying to lobby government support at public meetings. Elsewhere, they simply disappear into the nearest bush or cave from where they draw their countries and communities into bloody resource conflicts or even secession wars. There are no signs that Kenya will go that route.

Otieno Otieno is chief subeditor, ‘Business Daily’.

Twitter: @otienootieno