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The Man We Thought We Sent to Ichaweri

The Man We Thought We Sent to Ichaweri

In the run up to the August 9 general election, rambunctious Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU) Secretary General, Francis Atwoli, made audacious guarantees that William Ruto would never be president, and that Uhuru Kenyatta was too young to retire to Ichaweri, the little village along Kenyatta Road in Gatundu South, Kiambu County, where President Kenyatta was born, and where his father, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, had retreated to after his pre-independence release from house arrest in Maralal in 1961. Ichaweri was also where Jomo Kenyatta would commute to and from as president, daily. 

Atwoli was responding to something and someone. On the campaign trail, Ruto’s supporters adopted the “send Raila Odinga to Bondo and Uhuru Kenyatta to Ichaweri” chorus. It was only fair that Atwoli fired back. Raila Odinga, Ruto’s main challenger, was running his fifth and possibly final presidential campaign, with President Kenyatta’s and Atwoli’s backing.

But more than that, Ruto’s entire  campaign premise  was to consign the sons of independence leaders Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga — the so-called dynasties — into political oblivion, by sending them back to their fathers’ villages – Ichaweri for Kenyatta, Bondo for Odinga, and wherever the Moi’s needed to be sent to (Ruto purposely restrained himself from directly targeting the Mois verbally, possibly because they were too close to home, having been been mentored by their father and coming from his Rift Valley bedrock). 

In the end, Ruto succeeded to become President, proving Atwoli wrong on one account. Ruto’s success also proved true as he swept the Mois off the political slate, with the brothers Gideon and Raymond losing the Baringo Senate seat and Rongai MP seat respectively. Opposition leader Raila Odinga may not be restricted to Bondo yet, or ever, he’s just back from COP27 in Egypt. However, the one prediction Atwoli got right was that on President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been everywhere except sleepy Ichaweri.

In the three months after Kenyatta handed over power to his then estranged Deputy William Ruto on 13 September, Kenyatta’s foray into post-presidential life has included the unmistakable perks of a semi-private life coming complete with the picturesque scenes of Maasai Mara Game Reserve which he relishes from his 1,000-acre Olol Mongi in Trans Mara, Narok County.

Immediately after casting his vote in Mutomo Polling Station in Gatundu on the morning of August 9, Kenyatta went on a hiatus, his first public appearance coming  weeks later on August 31 on the streets of Mombasa in the company of some of his Azimio La Umoja One Kenya Coalition leaders, including Mombasa Governor-elect Abdulswamad Nassir, outgoing governor Ali Hassan Joho and Kilifi Governor-elect Gideon Munga’aro. 

Kenyatta’s next public appearance would be on 12 September when he, alongside his wife Margaret Kenyatta, met with President-elect William Ruto and First Lady Rachel Ruto at State House Nairobi on the eve of Ruto’s inauguration. This was a ceremonial handing-over-the-keys meeting that has been a tradition for outgoing presidents. Mwai Kibaki met with President Kenyatta in 2013 as had President Moi in 2002 with President Kibaki.

Soon after handing over the instruments of power to President Ruto at the Moi International Sports Centre Kasarani, Nairobi, Kenyatta who forwent the State House inauguration after party  would yet again pull a houdini. But not before accepting his parting gift from the incoming government, to serve as a peace envoy for the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa in the regional peace interventions on behalf of the Government of Kenya, an appointment announced in Ruto’s maiden speech as Head of State.

Weeks on as questions of Kenyatta’s whereabouts since the inauguration crept up, random photos of him on a lonesome walk around the premises of Zebu Hotel in Narok County made it to social media. A few days later, he was making merry with pupils from Partakilat Primary School, still in Narok, where he fulfilled a promise he made during his tenure as president to donate a school bus to the institution.

Granted, Kenyatta’s appointment as peace envoy  wasn’t a surprising surprise. The man had unfinished regional peace engagements – think the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia, and as if to honour Francis Atwoli’s prophecy, the man was too young (politically speaking) to go anywhere, leave alone get relegated to Ichaweri.

Kenyatta had excelled at winning over continental and world leaders with his diplomatic charm offensive. His role in defining Africa’s position on the International Criminal Court, positioning Kenya in China’s Indian Ocean ambitions through the Belt and Road Initiative and raising Nairobi’s stature in containing the flare ups in East Africa, one of the most volatile regions in the world, had set him apart. In his time as the East African Community and The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) chair, Kenyatta had convened the Somalia and South-Sudan peace initiatives.

And so on 18 October Kenyatta was well on to West Africa—flanked by former Interior Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Fred Matiang’i and Nzoika Waita, the former State House Chief of Staff—on his first official international trip since leaving office. President Kenyatta was at Aso Presidential Villa Abuja, Nigeria where he delivered a keynote speech, at the behest of President Muhamadu Buhari at the opening ceremony of the third Ministerial Performance Review.

But come 24 October, Kenyatta embarked on his peace ambassadorship, starting with a trip to South Africa for the African Union-led talks with delegations from the Ethiopian government and Tigray authorities. Together with former Nigerian president and African Union Special Representative for the Horn of Africa envoy, Olesegun Obasanjo, and former South African deputy president and ex-UN Women leader Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka were invited to Pretoria to mediate the peace talks between Tigray and Addis Ababa, who have been at war since November 2020. 

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After eight days of talks in South Africa that culminated in a truce deal between the Ethiopian federal government and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to permanently end the civil war, Kenyatta was on his next mission — the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Accompanied by the East African Community Secretary-General Peter Mathuki, Kenyatta arrived in Bujumbura, welcomed by Burundi President Evariste Ndayishimiye who is also the chairperson of East African Community Heads of State Summit. Kenyatta, who is the East African Community facilitator of the inter-Congolese Consultations and Dialogue on Peace Restoration, is expected to facilitate the talks on the ongoing conflict that has led to the death and displacement of many Congolese citizens. Coincidentally, Kenyatta’s task at hand mirrors that of his father, a few decades back. Barely a year into Kenya’s independence, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Prime Minister at the time, had been tasked to chair the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) – now the African Union – ad hoc commission to mediate ceasefire in Congo.

Earlier in June this year, Kenyatta, who at the time was the chair of the East African Community Heads of State Summit  had ordered the deployment of regional forces in the DRC after M23 rebels had captured Bunagana city in the eastern part of the country.

From Bujumbura, Kenyatta headed to Kinshasa where he held consultative talks with DRC President, Felix Tshisekedi. In the time since his arrival to DRC on November 14, Kenyatta has met with the President, visited the internally displaced persons’ camps in Goma and Rutshuru in North Kivu as part of an outreach mission to meet with residents affected by the conflict and brokered a deal with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame.

Uhuru Kenyatta is everywhere but Ichaweri.

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