29 December 2012

Kenya: Eyes On the Prize - the Highest Stakes Ever

Kibaki and his inner circle and associates are leaving office considerably wealthier than when they came in, a short 10 years ago. And they swear by ambition, opportunity and expertise, rather than land-grabbing, dodgy procurement and cronyism. The post-Jomo Kenyatta presidency was the greatest political prize for Independence era politicians.

And the power struggle and jostling for pole position began almost as soon as Prime Minister Kenyatta received the instruments of Independence from Prince Philip, the British Queen's consort, on December 12, 1963.

Kenyatta was in office for 15 years and three months as both Prime Minister (18 months) and President (14 years and 8 months).

The path to the Kenyatta succession was marked by a deadly decade, 1965-1975, of high-profile political assassinations that removed a number of potential presidential contenders, foremost among them being Thomas Joseph Mboya (1969) and Josiah Mwangi Kariuki (1975).

The man who finally succeeded Kenyatta, Daniel Toroitich arap Moi, did not look like the sharpest tool in the box, but he outwitted and outlasted operatives with much more glittering credentials and potential.

He remained at State House for 24 years and, like his predecessor, became one of the richest Kenyan Africans of all time.

The path to the Moi succession saw many would-be contenders fall by the wayside, and some, for instance veteran vice-presidents Mwai Kibaki and George Saitoti, rudely and ruthlessly shunted aside, in Saitoti's case not once but twice.

Kibaki picked himself up and repaid Moi in his own coin, diving headlong from the Cabinet and into the Opposition on December 24, 1991.

Moi's inner circle, like Kenyatta's, also made money by the ton while the sun of incumbency still shone and have never stopped minting it.

Kibaki and his inner circle and associates are also leaving office considerably wealthier than when they came in, a short 10 years ago.

And although they swear by ambition, opportunity and expertise, rather than land-grabbing, dodgy procurement and cronyism, the older ones among them have profited from all three presidential eras.

The next power elite:

The next Kenyan power elite will preside over the beginnings of a petrodollar economy driven by oil revenues that will make even the most extravagant projections in the Vision 2030 national economic blueprint and roadmap to prosperity look effortlessly achievable.

If you are impressed by what the Kibaki Administration has done for the economy in one short decade, purely on the basis of the most disciplined tax collection since the Union Jack flew over the Treasury and Central Bank, and strategic partnering with entities like the Chinese Government, wait for what oil revenues, prudently deployed, can bring to Kenya.

The Fourth President of Kenya and his Cabinet of technocrats will go down in history as the greatest nation builders of the Independence era thus far.

And, as always, some of their relatives, friends and associates will become seriously rich, only this time it will be Super Rich.

We are talking dollar and euro billionaires, not merely shilling billionaires, although the shilling is destined to become stronger than it has been since the 1970s.

The Kenyan elite in all sectors is acutely aware of the coming booming times and is positioning itself to be the right people in the right place at the right time.

If that President is Raila Odinga, and most indicators are that it indeed is, and he can preside over a largely corruption-free and enlightened economic programme, millions of ordinary Kenyans will wonder why they did not install a president from the lakeside much earlier.

If that President is Uhuru Kenyatta, and this is a prospect that it would take real clairvoyance to write off, and he can preside over a largely corruption-free and enlightened economic programme, then the impression that presidents drawn from Kikuyuland are good for the economy will be formidably reinforced.

In either case, the truth of the matter will, of course, be much more complicated than these surface impressions and narratives.

Making an oil economy boom and lift millions from poverty by developing a country takes much more than good leadership and the political will at the top - it also takes a miracle of technocracy and economic planning.

As in the case of the Kenyatta and Moi successions, the Kibaki succession has many politicos with their eyes aglitter, focused like laser rays on the presidency and all its satellites, including the brand-new chief executive officers of devolution, the county governors.

Although high-profile political assassination has not been a method of jockeying for the presidential succession for decades in Kenya, all other holds are not barred and the competition for the next power elite is as savage as ever.

Two players would doubtless dearly have loved to have been alive and in contention at the end of Kibaki's tenure, but they passed on - Michael Kijana Wamalwa and George Muthengi Saitoti, both of them one-time VPs and the latter one of the greatest material beneficiaries of the politics of presidentialism and patronage in Kenya.

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