Tuesday February 1, 2005
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The rise and rise of Uhuru to high table

By Francis Openda

Uhuru Kenyatta has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the political arena giving him a first in two fronts.

He is the youngest candidate to have taken a serious shot at the Presidency and vie for the leadership of one of the country’s major political parties.

Born to a powerful political family, it came as no surprise when Uhuru joined politics but though his rise was expected to be steady he went on to astound both friend and foe by having serious ‘upward mobility’.

While it has taken various politicians among them sitting President Mwai Kibaki decades to reach where they are Uhuru’s rise can best be described as meteoric.

Uhuru’s name first started being mentioned in political circles at the advent of multi-partyism in 1992 when he was touted to take on his nephew, Ngengi Muigai, for the Gatundu South seat.

He, however, stayed out of the 1992 polls, which saw Ngengi lose to Ford Asili MP Kamuiru Gitau.

In 1997, however, and with the backing of former President Moi and blessings of his mother Mama Ngina Kenyatta, Uhuru joined competitive politics and vied for the Gatundu South seat.

But his debut on a Kanu ticket especially at a time when the party’s popularity was sharply on the decline especially in Central Province seemed to be his undoing.

He was floored by little known Moses Muihia who vied for the seat on an SDP ticket.

Uhuru retreated into private life but Moi was not through with him and seemed to have bigger plans for Jomo’s son.

He was soon appointed the Chairman of the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) as the then "Grandmaster" of Kenyan politics took a fresh look at the Kanu succession chessboard.

After cooling his heels at KTB, Uhuru was soon in Parliament as a nominated MP after Moi’s close ally and political medicine man Mark Too alias Bwana Dawa whose usefulness was waning was elbowed out.

His stint at the backbenches was even shorter for soon Moi reshuffled his Cabinet and Uhuru found himself in charge of the Ministry of Local Government.

The then Kanu Secretary-General Joseph Kamotho had to move to the low profile Ministry of Environment to create room for the ‘new kid on the block’.

The 2002 elections were fast approaching and having served his two five-year term in office, Moi had no choice but to name a successor and Kanu’s Presidential candidate.

He had a wide field of candidates to choose from, among them Musalia Mudavadi, Prof George Saitoti, Kalonzo Musyoka, Katana Ngala and new-found ally Raila Odinga who had just wedded his National Development Party (NDP) to Kanu at a colourful function at Kasarani.

But Moi’s mind had been long made and he had settled on Uhuru as his successor.

This saw Uhuru elected as one of the four Kanu chairmen alongside Katana Ngala, Musalia Mudavadi, and Haroun Mwau during the Kanu-NDP merger.

Saitoti was dropped as Kanu vice-chairman thus technically knocking him out of the contention for Presidency.

Moi soon embarked on a spirited campaign to market Uhuru as his preferred heir and first among equals.

Kasarani was promptly dubbed "Kisirani".

Disappointed by Moi’s choice, Presidential hopefuls Raila, Saitoti, Kalonzo and Musalia boycotted the Kasarani conference, which endorsed Uhuru as Kanu Presidential candidate and instead teamed up to form the Rainbow Alliance that later merged with NAK to form the National Rainbow Coalition.

Mudavadi, however, developed cold feet and made a U-turn to back to Kanu where he was rewarded with the post of Vice-President and went on to make history as Kenya’s shortest serving V-P.

Uhuru went ahead to take on Kibaki and even though Kanu suffered its first defeat in four decades, he had made a mark on the political arena and managed a respectable second.

Previous Kanu chairmen include the late James Gichuru, the late Okiki Amayo, Oloo Aringo, Ndolo Ayah, and Moi.

The author is a reporter with The Standard

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