Kenya: is Uhuru Kenyatta really the man to unite the country?

Does Kenyatta's denial at the ICC in The Hague put paid to his presidential hopes?

The 50-year old son of Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta, is now the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister. A close ally of President Mwai Kibaki, Uhuru Kenyatta has denied allegations that he orchestrated violence after the 2007 election. Some 1,200 people died at that time and 600,000 were displaced. A compromise between rival presidential candidates, Kibaki and Raila Odinga, resulted in a government being formed, not least to halt the bloodshed.

All three men are now in coalition, cobbled together after the election to enable Kibaki to maintain power, and yet give Odinga some access to decision-making as his Prime Minister. It must be suspected that Uhuru Kenyatta keeps a watchful eye on the Prime Minister's office, as Kibaki appointed him Odinga's deputy. And as Minister for Finance, Kenyatta holds the purse strings.

Kenyatta is alleged to have attended meetings of a secretative and now banned Kikuyu group called Mungiki which is said to have arranged attacks on other tribes in 2008. 

Although the African Union and Kenyan government have lobbied hard for ICC proceedings not to lead to trial, and several men are accused, the ICC proceedings give rise to numerous questions. Strong protestations and denials from Kenyatta do little to assuage the rumour-mongers. Whether this leads to a full trial or not, Kenyatta's standing inside Kenya will inevitably be damaged, in not a dissimilar way to that of Dominic Strauss-Kahn's in France where, before rape allegations in New York, he was a front-running presidential candidate for the Socialists.

Kenyatta might continue to command swathes of support in the Kikuyu community, but he will have little chance of binding Kenya's multi-ethnic society together should he win the presidency. Although the largest tribe with nearly a quarter of the populations, the Kikuyu are only one of several major groups in the country. Some 14% are Luhya, 13% Luo, 12% Kalenjin, 11% Kamba, and the remaining people either Kisii, Meru, members of other African ethnicities, or Arabs and Europeans. It's a complex framework, and while Swahili brings some degree of cohesion to the country, it - as the shocking 2007 violence demonstrated - does nothing to dampen rivalries, ancient emnities, or concerns about political influence or patronage.

And while the country's economic growth of 5% is impressive, it doesn't touch that attained in Ghana, Ethiopia or Angola. The people remain poor, and overcrowding is a huge issue in Nairobi. There is the problematic issue of Somali refugees escaping anarchy and starvation from drought. And corruption continues to linger. The Kibaki government was accused of complicity in graft scandals in 2005-6 after which the IMF and World Bank cut funds. And while international lenders have started lending again, little has been done to fight corruption, reports maintain.

As a key Kibaki ally, Kenyatta is tainted. Could he really garner sufficient support to wrestle the presidency from Raila Odinga next time? Fears for Kenya's future peace and prosperity will persist until a true unifying force can rally the various interested parties together, reduce corruption and effect wealth-distribution, yet still maintain or enhance growth and development: a challenging cocktail indeed.

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