Uhuru Kenyatta: Kenyan president in profile

  • 5 December 2014
  • From the section Africa
Kenya's Deputy Prime Minister and Jubilee alliance presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta delivers a speech during a political rally at Uhuru park in Nairobi (12 January 2013) Image copyright AFP

As the son of Kenya's founding father, Uhuru Kenyatta has the name, the wealth - and the burden that comes with his heritage.

Unlike his late father, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Uhuru does not carry a fly-whisk as a mark of authority. Instead he had to carry an indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for allegedly committing crimes against humanity after the previous elections, in 2007.

But, to his delight, his case has now collapsed. Kenya's campaign to have the charges dropped won the day - with the ICC prosecutor admitting she did not have enough evidence.

It was the issue of the charges that helped him win elections last year when he, and running mate William Ruto, who is still facing ICC charges, galvanised support by accusing the court of meddling in domestic affairs.

Sharing the tag "ICC-hunted", the impact of their campaign was instant and far-reaching.

The bitter rivalry between Mr Kenyatta's Kikuyu community and Mr Ruto's Kalenjins, which often degenerated into violent clashes, was pushed aside as they catapulted into leadership.

But now the relationship between Mr Kenyatta and his deputy could be seriously tested as Mr Ruto's trial at The Hague is ongoing.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Uhuru Kenyatta's relationship with his deputy William Ruto may now be tested

They may remain personal friends - but the reaction within their own political and ethnic groupings could be different.

'Young man'

When he was growing up, Mr Kenyatta always shied away from politics, wanting to be seen as an ordinary person at ease with ordinary Kenyans.

As a child born to a rich and powerful family, he went to one of the best schools in Nairobi before attending Amherst College in the US where he studied Political Science and Economics.

Mr Kenyatta does not have a natural flair for public speaking but has a powerful voice and can be persuasive when fighting his corner.

Image caption Kenya's first president Mzee Jomo Kenyatta died in 1978 and was succeeded by Daniel arap Moi

He has his mother to thank for ensuring that he mastered the local Kikuyu language, which helps him to connect with his countrymen in rural areas.

They love to call him "kamwana", which means "young man" - and he made history last year by being sworn in as Kenya's youngest president.

In July 1990, together with four other sons of prominent politicians, he issued a statement urging the then-ruling party, Kenya African National Union (Kanu), to open up the political space.

Many in Kenya thought such a move would draw the wrath of then-President Daniel arap Moi.

Instead, the leader brought young Kenyatta closer and guided him into politics.

Uhuru Kenyatta in focus:

  • Born in 1961, became Kenya's youngest president
  • Son of the country's first president, Jomo Kenyatta
  • Heir to one of the largest fortunes in Kenya, according to Forbes magazine
  • Entered politics in 1990s, groomed by ex-President Daniel arap Moi
  • Lost presidential race in 2002 by a large margin to coalition led by Mwai Kibaki
  • Backed Mr Kibaki for re-election in 2007
  • Married father of three
  • Hobbies: Football and golf

The most prominent stage in Mr Kenyatta's political career under the tutelage of Mr Moi came in 2002 when the outgoing president anointed him as his successor on a Kanu ticket.

The decision saw a number of key members of Kanu such as Raila Odinga and then Vice-President George Saitoti walk out of the party and away from Mr Moi's "Uhuru Project".

Mr Moi's plan ultimately backfired and Mr Kenyatta lost to President Mwai Kibaki, who benefitted from Mr Odinga's support.

During the 2007 elections Mr Kenyatta supported President Kibaki's bid for a second term against Mr Odinga.

The controversy and violence following the 2007 elections - in which 1,000 people died and some 600,000 people were displaced - forced Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga to form a coalition government.


Mr Kenyatta became one of the two deputy prime ministers and also minister of trade. He was later appointed to the treasury as minister for finance.

One of his first moves in this role was to direct that ministers, assistant ministers and permanent secretaries return their official Mercedes Benz cars in exchange for the more economical Volkswagen Passats.

Mr Kenyatta has been keen to demonstrate that he is his own man. He is no longer Moi's "project" and does not need political patronage from Mr Kibaki either.

He left Kanu to form his own party, The National Alliance (TNA), and has gone on to form a coalition with other parties that backing his 2013 presidential bid.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption One of Mr Kenyatta's greatest challenges as president is dealing with the terror attacks it faces

He is also eager to show that he is modern, in tune with the country's youth and tech-savvy.

While preparing the 2011/12 budget he used Twitter to invite public contributions.

Since taking office he has been keen to show that he has a "digital administration" capable of developing Kenya.

He has set up an anti-corruption website for people to report concerns directly to him and launched e-centres - "one-stop shop" to access and pay for government services electronically in order to cut corruption and bureaucracy.

Media mogul

He is ranked by Forbes Magazine as the 26th richest person in Africa with an estimated fortune of $500m (£318m).

He is also a media mogul, the Kenyatta family owns TV channel K24, The People newspaper and a number of radio stations.

The family also has vast interests in the country's tourism, banking, construction, dairy and insurance sectors.

They also own huge parcels of land in the Rift Valley, central and coastal regions of Kenya.

It is the land question that haunts Mr Kenyatta and the rest of his family wherever they go in Kenya.

In an interview with BBC's HardTalk programme in 2008, he was asked how much land his family owned.

He replied: "I don't need to answer that question because that's not the issue. Land reform is not about a person; land reform is about a nation. It's not that I won't tell you. It's that I don't need to tell you."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Land is a contentious issue in Kenya

Land is the source of nearly all ethnic clashes that bedevil the Rift Valley. It is so divisive that during the last election the inspector general of police told political candidates not to make it a campaign issue.

In his election manifesto, Mr Kenyatta acknowledged that "Kenya's future prosperity is dependent upon the transformation into a property owning and land-user rights democracy.

"Our ambition is a massive expansion of land user and ownership rights, so that all Kenyans who want to own their own homes are able to do so."


Besides the ICC fight, Mr Kenyatta's greatest burden as president has been the terror attacks the country is facing from Islamist militants in neighbouring Somalia.

Last year, they went on a shooting spree in Nairobi's Westgate shopping centre for four days, leaving 67 people dead and more than 200 wounded.

People feel President Kenyatta has not done enough to tackle the problem of insecurity that has brought the country's tourism sector close to its knees and threatens East Africa's largest economy.

The recent sackings of the country's security chiefs, a move that many argue should have been taken a year ago following the Westgate, came after two deadly attacks near the Kenyan-Somali border town of Mandera.

The militant group al-Shabab claimed responsibility and vowed to continue with the attacks until Kenya removed its troops from Somalia.

Now that the ICC charges have been dropped, Kenyans expect their president to fully focus on the country's security, economy and unemployment.

However, the ICC will still occupy some of his time - supporters of Deputy President Ruto will be keen to see that he works as hard to get charges dropped in this case.

Out of six Kenyans indicted the court only two now remain in the dock and prosecutor Fatou Bensouda seems determined not to end up empty handed.

The ICC could still present a serious personal and national challenge for him.

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