Monday, July 5, 2010

Uhuru’s dilemma over the Gema mantle

The Gema community, led by the House of Mumbi, is desperate. There is no obvious heir-apparent to President Mwai Kibaki in central Kenya. The power vacuum is so large that the community is at risk of disintegrating as a political force.

That’s why it met in Limuru last week to resuscitate Uhuru Kenyatta, the underachieving prince. But Mr Kenyatta is acting like a deer caught in the headlights. He doesn’t know whether he is coming or going. Mr Kenyatta cannot find his footing. He has completely been spooked by Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the other prince, on the draft constitution. My crystal ball tells me that no matter what Gema does, Mr Kenyatta may be on his political deathbed.

I will tell why I don’t think it’s too early to write Mr Kenyatta’s political obituary. You will recall that except for his big name, Mr Kenyatta was a nobody until former President Daniel arap Moi picked him from obscurity in 2001. It was an unprecedented meteoric rise for the political novice from Gatundu. Mr Moi immediately elevated him to the Cabinet and, to the shock of the nation, launched him into political orbit as Kanu’s presidential candidate. But not even the tutelage of the “professor of politics” could save Mr Kenyatta – a greenhorn – from a humiliating drubbing by Narc and Mr Kibaki. A decade later, Mr Kenyatta has yet to find his political identity.

Mr Kenyatta only has himself to blame for his political woes. Given an opportunity to be a national leader, he has chosen to be an ethnic chief at every turn. In 2007, he didn’t have to hitch his wagon to PNU. But he was positioning himself to inherit Mr Kibaki’s mantle in the Mt Kenya region. This was shortsighted political opportunism. In Limuru last week, Mr Kenyatta again happily accepted the title of tribal chief.

I don’t think being the alpha male in Gema will do much for his political fortunes in today’s Kenya. Gema, like all tribal groupings, has a stench that is decidedly anti-Kenya. Gema is so “yesterday” that Mr Kenyatta should be ashamed of associating with it. In the wake of the demonic violence in 2008, the country is looking for a leader who is not captive to a tribal cabal. That’s why I was shocked to see retired Anglican Archbishop David Gitari, a respected reformer, and his Methodist counterpart Bishop Lawi Imathiu, co-chairing the Gema tribal conclave. I am sure Jesus would not have approved. But the yoking of the political and religious elite from the region tells us plenty – Gema has pushed the panic button because the community is politically at sea. I have news for them.

Looking to Mr Kenyatta to rescue Gema – or vice versa – is a pipe dream. He doesn’t have it in him, and Kenya is highly unlikely to return a Kikuyu to State House. Mr Kenyatta has several albatrosses around his neck. The first is the draft constitution which he has only given tepid support. By agreeing to take over the ‘Yes’ campaign within Gema, Mr Kenyatta effectively admitted that he had been a “watermelon” – green on the outside and red on the inside. Until then he had appeared to support the constitution, but actually didn’t. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating – it remains to be seen whether he will now totally embrace the constitution and vigorously campaign for its passage.

Mr Kenyatta’s problem – which is also Gema’s – is that Mr Odinga has cleaned their clock on the constitution. It is Mr Odinga’s project. Period. Nothing Mr Kenyatta does now can change that basic political reality. Mr Odinga’s “ownership” of the constitution means that Mr Kenyatta cannot use it to revive his presidential ambitions for 2012. Mr Kenyatta’s only choice – and Gema’s – is to subordinate their interests to another candidate. He cannot go it alone. Nor is he going to be the top dog. Not in 2012. He has two plausible choices. Either he hooks up with Mr Odinga as a junior partner, or throws his weight behind Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka. He and Gema must decide which of the two options serves Kenya, and them, best. But they need to put Kenya first and themselves second. Mr Kenyatta is still a relatively young man. He may have at least one more bite of the apple.

The matter of post-election violence also poses a grave danger to Mr Kenyatta’s political career. Recently, the High Court refused to expunge his name from a report of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights linking him to the violence. He has now appealed that decision. No one knows what implications this has for the investigation by Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo of the International Criminal Court.

But this must be a trying time for Mr Kenyatta. Gema’s determination to anoint Mr Kenyatta – in spite of his problems – shows the dearth of leadership within its ranks. Perhaps they should throw their weight behind Martha Karua, the Gichugu legislator, if they have to stay home.

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