Uhuru Kenyatta: East Africa’s Next Strongman?

Listening to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s speech in the wake of the Mandera attack, especially the part where he re-echoes George Bush’s famous post 9/11 “You are either with us or with the terrorists…” statement I couldn’t help but suppress a grin. We don’t learn from history, do we? While such statements are re-assuring, they are also telling and should not be taken lightly. After Bush’s “You are either with us or them” speech, the U.S has never been the same – 5 trillion dollars was spent hunting “terrorists” in every nook and cranny; regimes were toppled; dictators propped up with “war on terror” dollars; domestic freedoms were curtailed…I could go on.

Kenya is likely to take the same path. The firing of inspector of police, David Kimayo, and interior cabinet secretary Joseph Ole Lenku, while expected and and seemingly the wisest thing to do by Uhuru, is the start of something. A very worrying trend. In Ole Lenku’s case, he has immediately been replaced by a retired military General, Joseph Nkaissery. Nkaissery is the MP for Kajiado county and a member of the opposition ODM party. Pundits have been quick to hail Uhuru for this timely olive branch gesture. Well, don’t pop the champagne yet, gentlemen.

Last month’s edition of The Africa Report, their cover story, “The many battles of Uhuru Kenyatta”, gives insight into the wider scheme of things. In the article, the author unveils Uhuru’s worryingly close relationship to the head of the Kenyan Army, General Julius Karangi. In what he calls Uhuru Kenyatta’s increasingly “authoritarian streak” – akin to his peers Kagame and Museveni, the author details the president’s new found love for military paraphernalia; his trip aboard a Kenya air force jet to personally oversee the destruction of an impounded drug ship by the Kenyan navy. This conjures up memories of George Bush in full military gear aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln war ship. Voila!


Kimayo and Ole Lenku’s exit could provide the “perfect” opportunity to bring Gen. Karanji even closer to the power centre. Kenya, that beacon of sanity and civilian “democracy” in a region known best for it’s war-monger cowboys, Museveni, Kagame and (before he died) Meles Zenawi, is no more. Thanks to Al Shabaab.


Politics aside, we really need to discuss this emergent brand of terrorism by groups like Boko Haram, ISIS(L) and Al shabaab. It is a subject that the public has paid little attention to and for those that have, too often they’ve given in to simplistic narratives like “these are Al Qaeda affiliate groups run by Islamic fundamentalists…”

This is only half the story. The producer of the KFM Hot seat show where I am a regular panelist now, Joseph Byeyanga, tried to bring up this subject last Friday but it was not discussed fully. Even the conspiracy theory afficionado, Timothy Kalyegira, seemed to be puzzled by these developments. But what is it with these movements? Could they re-define the meaning of conventional warfare? That you have non-state actors like ISIL(S) take over vast parts of a country, establish authority, collect taxes and (in the case of Iraq), control oil fields – with apparent ease – is a pointer that all is not well in the world today.

Back to Kenya, I sense someone in Kampala and Kigali is trying so hard to suppress a grin: that Kenya, with a large economy (recently named the 9th biggest on the continent); with the highest military spending in East Africa; dubbed the most stable country in the region, has been brought to its knees by a rag-tag force. That yesterday’s preachers of separation of powers, with a vibrant civil society and a laid back army, are now haranguing it’s us against the terrorists! says a lot  about the failure of the modern African state – a man-child of sorts, copying and pasting western ideals with disregard for local conditions and context.


3 thoughts on “Uhuru Kenyatta: East Africa’s Next Strongman?

  1. This is continuation of Kenya’s campaign to be the mini-USA of Africa would be funny íf it didn’t spell doom for the region. Unfortunately the bad guys seem all too aware of the “man-child in a toy shop” gift that keeps on giving generously.

  2. I saw this coming. Kenya as a country is has a lot to do when it comes to the fight against terrorism which puts me in a position where i disagree with you.
    Truth be told in my opinion, Uhuru Kenyatta (UK) is losing the war on terrorism. These now common and constant terror attacks in North East of Kenya have made UK to begin shifting the blame from political enemies to the Al-Shabab and back to the centre.
    I do not expect much from UK. Fighting terrorism is not about massaging military fatigue(s) or firing Ole Lenku. Kimaiyo and Lenku are just victims of circumstances. The question is, if the Police and interior heads are fired and the status quo (of attacks) remains, will the way forward be to fire the new ones or just looking on?
    UK should and his team should get back to the drawing board and address the root causes of insecurity happening right now in Kenya and how that will be done, i do not know.
    Let’s just watch the space.
    Quite a good analysis there though.

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