On Saturday, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta addressed the fourth edition of Vision Group's Pakasa Forum in Kampala and later responded to questions from the audience that comprised of mainly youths. Watuwa Timbiti looks at Uhuru Kenyatta the man and what sets him apart from the rest.
Kenyatta, the man
In his eloquent and tastefully intelligent inaugural speech cushioned in a powerful voice as president of Kenya on April 9, 2013 at the Moi International Sports Complex in Nairobi, Uhuru Kenyatta echoed:
“With humility and respect, I acknowledge and pay tribute to the memory of my father, the late founding father of our nation, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. May he and his fellow architects of liberation in Kenya and Africa as a whole, rest in peace with the knowledge that this generation is committed to fulfi lling their dreams for our nation and our continent.”
It is, therefore, if you agree, that the very humility that Kenyatta talks of is a lived experience on his part; for it is in light of this humility that despite his busy schedule, he was able to address the Pakasa Forum in Uganda on Saturday.
Kenyatta did so, not entirely in consideration of the current cassock of the East African Community (EAC) chairmanship he is donning, but because he is equally committed to fulfilling the dreams of Africa’s political forefathers fighting poverty, which fight inevitably has the youth at the centre.
Armed with such a sharp sense of foresight, Kenyatta granted Ugandan youth the unusual opportunity to drink from his gourd of business acumen to elicit their ambitions and enable them see financially liberating opportunities where they do not seem obvious.
Thick business muscle
Kenyatta projects a thick business muscle to reckon with, especially on the African continent and also exudes a character the youth can easily identify with in the political, business and entrepreneurial world.
In 2011 Forbes magazine named Uhuru, heir to some of the largest land holdings in Kenya, number 26 on their inaugural Africa’s 40 Richest List . His net worth was estimated at a whopping $500m (sh1.3 trillion).
Forbes then reported that he owned at least 500,000 acres of prime land spread across the country.
President Jomo Kenyatta, it is reported, laid the foundation for the family business back in the 1960s and 1970s. He acquired hundreds of thousands of acres of land across the country when the British colonial government and the World Bank funded a settlement transfer fund scheme that enabled government officials and wealthy Kenyans to acquire land from the British at low prices.
President Jomo Kenyatta, it is reported, laid the foundation for the family business
Uhuru and his family also own Brookside Dairies, Kenya’s largest dairy company.
They also have stakes in popular television station K24 and a stake in the Commercial Bank of Africa, as well as controlling stakes in Heritage Hotels among other interests.
However, the next year, he was dropped off the list following popular protest because as Forbes said, “the Kenyatta family is a very large one and it is not certain at the moment that Uhuru is the principal custodian of these assets.” But it looks like the Kenyatta fortune has since grown even bigger.
In July this year, Forbes reported that the Kenyatta family was among the top 10 wealthiest families in Africa.
They reported that the president was set to earn millions of dollars from the sale of a family-owned stake in Brookside, Kenya’s largest dairy company, to French food group Danone.
“Brookside, which was founded in Kenya in 1993, produces and markets fresh milk, yoghurt and butter in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda,” the article reads, explaining: “The deal will see the Kenyatta family, of which Kenyan President Uhuru is its most prominent member, cut down its stake in the company from 90% to 50%.”
Earlier in 2009, the family had sold off a 10% stake to an African-focused private equity firm Aureos Capital for a reported $18.7m (about sh45b), valuing the company at $187m (about sh460b) at the time.
Uhuru was raised in a wealthy and politically powerful Kikuyu family. He attended St. Mary’s School in Nairobi, where he played as a winger for the school’s rugby team.
He then went on to study political science and economics at Amherst College in Massachusetts, United States of America. Nursing an individual mind, Kenyatta trotted back to Kenya and founded a horticulture business which he subsequently sold in order to focus on managing his family’s extensive business holdings.
Much as the recent US-Africa summit elicited a multitude of reactions and speculation within the country’s body politic, it, states Macharia Gaitho in an August 12 opinion article in the Daily Nation, was taken as a great victory for President Kenyatta.
“The trip was taken as a great victory for President Kenyatta and an indication that the White House had eaten a humble pie in recognising a leader it had warned Kenyans against electing,” he writes.
In a related analytical article in the same publication, Kenyatta is positioned as having scored a plus from the summit, especially his economic achievements largely anchored in foreign relations and countries of the East than the West.
Although it is said the big achievement from the summit were the many pledges made to the government by American multinationals and the US government to invest in various industries.
At the summit, US president Barak Obama promised trade goodies for Africa valued at $33b directed towards boosting economic engagements; the trade deal was not specific to Kenya; the country would only get part of a $26b fund to increase access to electricity.
Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Trade and Investment official Masinde Mwangale is quoted to have envisaged the growth of the economy with increased investment.
“We identified opportunities with companies such as General Electric to fund Kenya in cheap energy, firms like Coca cola were willing to expand their presence in Kenya,” said Mwangale.
Additionally, the article reports that Uhuru has engaged both bilateral and multilateral trade ties with countries from the east. This has, subsequently, resulted in the signing of several successful agreements with China, Japan, India, Turkey, Qatar and Russia.
Latest developments by China in the country include a sh6.9b African headquarters and CCTV broadcast centre in Nairobi and a bilateral air service allowing Kenya Airways more destinations in China.
“The president’s visit to China after the elections landed Kenya a $5b deal to build a railway line, an energy project and to improve wild life protection,” the article reads in part, adding that President Kenyatta during the summit told US investors to view Kenya as the destination of choice for their businesses.
He particularly assured Americans that Kenya and other countries in the region had never taken deliberate decisions to ignore the US in terms of business.
Paragon of financial intelligence
Much as his family financial weight and his position of presidency put him at the helm of Kenya’s resources, Kenyatta has remained a paragon of that much needed financial intelligence in a largely corrupt and over indulgent political world.
He has preached water and drank water without taking recourse to the wine. When he became Kenyan president, Kenyatta is reported to have announced that he and deputy president William Ruto would be taking a 20% pay cut while cabinet ministers’ salaries would be slashed by 10% in fresh efforts to cut down on the government’s ballooning public wage bill.
According to Kenyatta, the government was spending close to $4.6b every year in salaries, leaving only $2.3b for development; a ratio he said was unsustainable.
“We need to deal with this monster if we are to develop this nation otherwise sooner or later we will become a nation that only collects taxes to pay ourselves,” Kenyatta said.
It is in light of such people-centred thinking that his $14,000 (about sh35m) a month basic salary after the wage reduction, came to a little over $11,000 (about sh27m) a month.
Much as he seems to be rolling well, there currently seems to be a spec of sand in his political shoe that he has to deal with; there is fever-pitch tension and impending calls by the opposition to put presidential powers on the chopping block and thin them.
The Standard on August 16, cautioned that as Kenyatta basks in the glow of high job approval ratings by the global pollster, Gallup Word Survey, that placed him in third position in the 26 African nations surveyed, he must resent the agitation for a national referendum for overshadowing his rare achievement.
“For the first time since assuming office, President Kenyatta is facing a real test from his Central Kenya support base and Jubilee side of Parliament, corners that rarely voice reservations or opposition to government decisions and business,” the article reads.
Statements from political players from Mt. Kenya region and actions of Jubilee-dominated committees in Parliament may also give the President’s side more cause for worry than their CORD rivals.
CORD and the Council of Governors have each unveiled their technical committees to spearhead their referendum request. However, considering his political wit, analysts believe Uhuru will emerge victorious.
Besides battling and having to contend with a prickly opposition, Kenyatta’s search for more foreign investment and economic and political milestones have been largely undermined by insecurity, especially the terrorism that have torn through the masses.
In a recent interview with CNN’s Richard Quest, Kenyatta faulted the international community for not doing enough to help the country in the fight against terrorism.
“The world needs to recognise the fact that this is a global threat which requires to be countered by a global partnership in order to defeat and secure, not just Kenya, but the world,” he said. Kenyatta called upon the world to rally behind Kenya and fully support the country’s mission in Somalia so that Kenya’s forces can expand their operations and reduce the area of Al-Shabaab’s operation.
RISING UP THROUGH THE POLITICAL RANKS
Born in October 1961, according to a March 9, 2013 BBC online profile, Kenyatta is not only following his father’s footsteps in the country, but also stands out as the youngest president among his East African counterparts.
A glance at his early life sort of presents a mismatch between Kenyatta then and Kenyatta today.
The pro‑ le talks of him as a young man who always shied away from politics and wanted to be seen as an ordinary person at ease with ordinary Kenyans.
Inversely, in July 1990, together with four other sons of prominent politicians, Kenyatta is said to have issued a statement urging the then-ruling party, Kenya African National Union (KANU), to open up the political space.
The most prominent stage in Kenyatta’s political career under the tutelage of former Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi, the BBC reports, came in 2002 when the outgoing president anointed him as his successor on a KANU ticket.
As expected, Moi’s trust and subsequent decision to entrust the party’s leadership with Kenyatta stirred a wave of restlessness among senior and key party kingpins such as Raila Odinga and then Vice-President George Saitoti.
Although Moi’s plan ultimately backfired and Kenyatta lost to Mwai Kibaki, who benefitted from Odinga’s support, Kenyatta sagely played his cards well in awareness of what he wanted.
It is not, therefore, surprising that Kibaki threw his weight behind Kenyatta’s presidential bid, inadvertently granting Uganda a worthy presidential friend who appreciates and identifies with the contemporary challenges confronting the country’s young people.
It is in light of this amiable friendliness that Saturday saw Ugandans jostle for space at the Kampala Parents auditorium and interface with Kenyatta’s ever smiling face; for it was an experience that pushed many out of the ashes of their own limitations and strike in them a new fire of unwavering purpose.
Slithering up the political ladder
Kenyatta, according to sources, kick-started his rosy career in public service in 1999 upon appointment by then Kenyan president Daniel Arap Moi as chairman of the Kenya Tourism Board.
Propelled by determination, Kenyatta in 2001 was elected to the Kenyan parliament and was made minister for Local Government. He was later in 2008 appointed deputy prime minister under the coalition government and assumed the position of minister of finance in 2009.
Taking on Kenya’s presidency brought a historical reality, it cast him as the EAC’s youngest president and the first son of a president to take power in a competitive election in east and central Africa.
KENYATTA BUSINESS EMPIRE
Presidential allowances or emoluments, deals and gifts aside, Uhuru comes from the Jomo Kenyatta family whose hand at multi-scale business establishments and friendship with money in millions of dollars is known in the entire East Africa.
The family’s flagship business Brookside Dairies is a well-known entity, in the East African business world according to the company’s website.
Brookside’s business expansion has brought in its fold over 100,000 small-scale farmers across six of Kenya’s eight provinces benefitting not only from incomes earned, but also extension services and trainings tailored to increased productivity.
According to the company’s website, Brookside directly employs 1,500 Kenyans and indirectly supports another 150,000 in the value chain, including farmers, suppliers, retailers, transporters, distributors, among others.
It is perhaps the quality of Brookside products that has seen it collect the coveted awards, for instance, the company scooped the Quality Management awards at the Company of the Year Awards (COYA) in 2006 (Quality Management Practice) and 2007 (Supply Chain Management).
Also, they have received additional numerous prestigious awards both locally and internationally such as the ISO Certification.
Apart from Brookside, the Kenyatta business empire boasts other money minting establishments. The Business Daily in a November 11, 2013 article states that Commercial Bank of Africa, a mid-tier lender that is controlled by the Kenyatta family has also recently been on the charge with the launch of an even more ambitious cross-border expansion plan.
The plan would see the bank establish a presence in 10 markets, including Malawi, Botswana and Rwanda in the next decade.
The bank has grown to become the second largest in the retail market with its new mobile-banking product M-Shwari brand – developed jointly with Safaricom.
In recent months, the Business Daily reports, the Kenyattas have also awakened their hospitality giant, Heritage Hotels East Africa, with the announcement of an expansion plan that aims at giving it a presence in Nairobi for the first time.
Heritage Hotels is a chain of seven properties in three di erent brands: Voyager camps and resorts in Tsavo and Mombasa; the famous Intrepids camps in Samburu and the Maasai Mara, and Naivasha’s Great Rift Valley Lodge; and the five-star Mara Explorer camp and island hideaway of Kipungani Lamu.
The family is also linked to Media Max Company, which owns K24 TV, Kameme Radio and The People newspaper. It also owns thousands of acres of prime land across Kenya.
Also related to this story
President Uhuru: 'Human capital is the biggest asset for E. Africa's success'