4 October 2001

Kenya: Culmination of President's Courtship With Kenyatta Son

Mr Uhuru Kenyatta's road to political prominence has been slow but steady. It began with speculation that he intended to vie for Lari seat in Kiambu District in the 1988 General Election.

He was living at his family's tea estate in the area, and had presided over several fund raising meetings in the constituency, creating the impression that he was laying ground for a political career. So widespread was the speculation that Mr Kenyatta had to publicly reassure then Lari MP, Mr Turuthi Mungai, that that he was not eyeing his seat.

At the time, Mr Kenyatta was only 27 years old and preparing for marriage to Miss Margaret Wanjiru Gakuo the following year.

The first signal that he was interested in a political career came in mid-1990 when he joined then debate on whether Kenya should go multi-party. Mr Kenyatta's foray came when he teamed up with four other sons of prominent Kenyans to issue a statement calling for dialogue between the government and advocates of political pluralism.

The four were Mr Peter Obonyo Mboya, son of the slain Economic Planning Minister Tom Mboya, Mr Caesar Kodhek, son of the Independence Foreign Affairs Minister Arwings Kodhek, Mr Alfred Getonga, son of former Nairobi Town Clerk Simon Getonga, and Mr Francis Michuki, son of Kangema MP John Michuki.

"There must be dialogue, open dialogue among all individuals and institutions," the four wealthy but otherwise apolitical scions of prominent leaders said.

The statement, which was released a few days after the Saba Saba riots of July 7, 1990, caused ripples within the Establishment.

Sources say President Moi summoned Mama Ngina Kenyatta and demanded to know whether her son had joined the Opposition. She promised the President that she would talk her son against the idea.

When pluralism was finally legalised in December 1991, Mr Kenyatta - and to some extent Mama Ngina - were undecided on whether to stick with Kanu or to pitch tent in the Opposition.

Their dilemma was made worse by the fact that Central Province had joined the Opposition to a man and more importantly because the two most political members of the Kenyatta family - former Cabinet Minister George Muhoho (Mama Ngina's brother) and former Assistant Minister Ngengi Muigai (President Kenyatta's nephew) had joined the Opposition.

Given the strong Opposition tide in Central Province, it was prudent that Uhuru dare not vie for a parliamentary seat on a Kanu ticket.

It is in the aftermath of the 1992 polls that Kanu made serious attempts to woo Mr Kenyatta. The first major indication came in 1995 when the then Gatundu constituency was carved into two, Gatundu North and South, a move widely interpreted as meant to create a niche for Mr Kenyatta.

Soon after he was installed as Kanu chairman in the newly created Thika District.

By the 1997 elections, Mr Kenyatta's candidacy for Gatundu South seat was a foregone conclusion. However, he kept everybody guessing because of the fear of a family feud expected by the candidacy of his first cousin, Mr Muigai.

Luckily for Mr Kenyatta, Mr Muigai did not contest after his party, the unregistered Saba Saba Asili, opted out.

Mr Kenyatta was left to face the Social Democratic Party candidate, Mr Moses Muihia. Despite great resources pumped into his campaign, Mr Muihia garnered 22,637 votes against Mr Kenyatta's 10,632.

But Mr Kenyatta moved closer to President Moi and was appointed chairman of the Kenya Tourism Board and the National Disaster Relief Fund.

He also came to increasingly challenge Mr Kamotho's Kanu's dominance in the province.

He was born on October 28, 1961. The name Uhuru - Kiswahili for freedom - was given to him by Kenya's second Vice-President, Mr Joseph Murumbi to symbolise Jomo Kenyatta's release from colonial imprisonment only a few weeks earlier.

The first-born son to Kenyatta's fourth wife, Ngina, he married former Miss Margaret Wanjiru Gakuo, on December 2, 1989. The couple has three children.

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