Monday, 24 September 2012

5 Things Uhuru Kenyatta Needs to Do to Become the 4th President of Kenya

First, a Disclaimer: this is not an endorsement of the candidature of Uhuru Kenyatta for president. I know because of my last name, it might be taken for granted that I would automatically support and vote for him on account of ethnic considerations. Not so. None of the candidates so far has impressed me sufficiently enough for me to make a decision on who gets my one vote. Not yet anyway.

On the other hand, I want to make it clear that if I should decide to vote for Uhuru, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. There has always been the perception that if a Gikuyu supports Uhuru, then they are being tribalistic. I do not hear the same charge against people from other ethnic communities when they support candidates from their community. There are obviously some double standards here, but that is a subject for another post.

However, let us remove our heads from the sand for a minute and agree that barring any roadblock regarding the ICC matter, this election will indeed be a two horse race between the Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his deputy Uhuru Kenyatta. And when that time comes and it is just the two of them on the ballot in the run-off, Kenyans from all walks of life, including myself, will have to make a decision on whom to vote for.

So, what does Uhuru Kenyatta need to do in his presidential campaign to bolster his chances of winning this election in 2013?


Uhuru Kenyatta introduces his son, Muhoho Kenyatta to President Mwai Kibaki at a past function

1. Engage positively with all ethnic communities

There appears to be quite some hostility about his candidature from ethnic communities that support Raila Odinga, particularly in the Nyanza region. I think he needs to do more of what he did when he went to Ndhiwa during the by-election campaigns in support of The National Alliance (TNA) candidate.

He needs to demonstrate to the Luo in particular that his presidency will be all inclusive, that they will not be sidelined as they were by the administrations of his father, President Kenyatta and his successor President Moi.

His personal differences with Raila should not be an issue in this campaign. He might not get the votes he needs from that region, but the fact that he is seen as friendly might give him a boost.

2. Talk about his family’s wealth and how it benefits the community

It is no secret that Uhuru and the larger Kenyatta family are fantastically wealthy. Obviously, this has been the subject of a lot of heated debate by Kenyans, many of whom live below the poverty line and can only dream of such fortune. While Uhuru himself may be a likeable personality, his family is viewed largely as aloof.

Does all that wealth benefit anyone outside the family and its employees? Does the family engage in any community social responsibility activities? Do they have a foundation that say, educates kids from less fortunate families? Are there families that have piped water in their homes courtesy of Uhuru and his family?

If all this is true, then he needs to find a way to let the ordinary Kenyan voter know. He needs to show that he can connect with regular folks regardless of his fortune. This should enhance his down to earth credentials.

3. Tout his achievements as MP, opposition leader and in government

Apart from a couple of presidential candidates, I am not hearing much in the way of past achievements and development record or whatever it is we need to hear from these people. And this includes Uhuru. I feel that we need to hear more about how his policies have helped the people of Gatundu South. We would also like to know how effective he was as Leader of The Official Opposition between 2003 and 2007 and what mark he left.

Uhuru has served in various ministries in his time in government including Local Government, Trade and Finance. At Treasury, he led that ministry in instituting reforms such as the Economic Stimulus Program, a re-engineered Integrated Financial Management Information System, reducing government expenditure among others.

If he does not talk about the positive changes that he has been able to bring about, we the voters will never know. And this is the kind of information that we require to judge his suitability for the presidency.

4. Define and sell his agenda

I know Uhuru just launched his political party a couple of months ago, and he still has to deal with the headache of getting his supporters in Central Kenya to all come together under TNA. So he has a lot on his plate. But, what exactly is his campaign platform going into the election? Does the kawaida voter know exactly what he intends to do for them as president?

TNA will shortly launch its “unique manifesto”. We will wait to see what that is about. In the meantime, I think Uhuru should break down his agenda into bullet points that regular folks can understand.

Candidates running for president of the United States do this, and it helps the voters differentiate between the candidates and what they stand for. Right now, all the Kenyan presidential candidates sound the same; they have the same sound bites, except when they are attacking each other.

5. Go easy on the arrogance when courting other political leaders

Uhuru may be very popular in his Central Kenya stronghold. But he is rubbing up his supporters the wrong way by his stubborn insistence that other political parties supporting his bid for president be dissolved in favour of his TNA.

When you are courting a girl, you do not win her by being forceful. You must “come slowly”, so that the girl does not get the impression that you are feeling entitled. Uhuru’s people need to find a less arrogant way of dealing with their supporters from the various different political parties, and come up with a viable working arrangement that will not leave anyone feeling alienated.

If he is to convince potential voters from other regions of the country to vote for him, he needs to demonstrate that he is in charge at home, and that sibling rivalry can be sorted out amicably.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Islam: A Religion of Violence?

My first encounter with extreme violence perpetrated by a person or persons professing the Islamic faith was the 1998 bomb attack on the United States Embassy in Nairobi. I was about to leave the house to visit a friend at the Teacher’s Service Commission offices at Co-Operative House, which was separated from the embassy by a smaller building called Ufundi House when the attack took place.

The bomb as many of you will recall, completely leveled the small building and extensively damaged the other two. Over 200 Kenyans and 12 Americans were killed, and thousands others injured.  A simultaneous attack took place at the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Aftermath of the blast in Nairobi

There have been other acts of violence attributed to Muslims in this country, including the bomb attack on Paradise Hotel in Kikambala in 2002, the attempted downing of an Israeli airliner and the grenade attacks we have witnessed in recent times.

The same pattern of violence has been replicated in other parts of the world by Muslims who claim to be fighting a Jihad or Holy War. Of course, the most spectacular of them all was the attacks on US soil in 2001 by Al-Qaeda, in which over 3,000 people lost their lives.

The second plane approaches the South Tower of the World Trade Centre

Now, a legitimate question has to be asked: why is all this violence carried out in the name of Islam? Why have Muslim fundamentalists and extremists been allowed to hijack that religion to advance their own causes and agenda by violent means? Why is the ordinary Muslim likely to react violently to any slight directed at his religion?

Does Islam sanction the use of violence to advance its causes and to protect its integrity?

It is believed that out of 6,000 verses in the Qur’an, 109 of those expressly advocate and encourage violence against unbelievers. For instance, Qur'an 9:5, known as "the verse of the sword," declares, "Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem."

The other verses carry on in the same vein; any person or society that does not believe in Allah in the way prescribed by Islam is to be vanquished and dominated. Now that sounds like some pretty scary stuff to me! But are there verses in the Qur’an that teach peace and coexistence with non believers?

Sure. Qur’an 17:53, 54 says, “And tell my servants that they should speak in a most kindly manner (unto those who do not share their beliefs). Verily, Satan is always ready to stir up discord between men; for verily; Satan is man’s foe.... Hence, We have not sent you (Unto men O Prophet) with power to determine their Faith.”

So, is there a contradiction in terms here? It is confusing to hear the likes of extremists like Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, the guys who run Iran and many others all over the world quoting verses that call for violence against “infidels” as the basis for their activities.

On the other hand, there are moderate Muslims, also known as Sunni, who practice a more peaceful brand of Islam. They say that their brothers, the Wahabis, are wrong and that their interpretation of the Qur’an is misguided. Who is to be believed?

I am not a scholar of religion, let alone Islam. I only know what I observe. Right now, there is a slow burning war being directed at non Muslims, particularly those of the Christian faith. This is happening in many parts of the world, and more so in Africa. The Boko Haram in Nigeria have been slaughtering Christians in their hundreds over there and burning their churches. The same thing, though on a smaller scale is happening in North Africa. Closer to home, the Al-Shabaab wants to impose Sharia law in the horn of Africa, and if they are to have their way, they would dominate the whole of the Eastern African region.

So, as a Christian, perhaps I might be forgiven if I believe that Muslims are waging a war against people who are not of the Islamic faith going forward in the 21st Century. But I also think that that might be a rather pedestrian way of looking at it. Muslims do not really believe that they can dominate the world in this day and age, do they?

Of course not! But I must say that they are not doing themselves any favours by perpetuating the image of their religion as being supportive of violent means to solve differences. A person who can only be described as an idiot recently made a 14 minute film called the Innocence of Muslims that disparaged and made a mockery of the Prophet Muhammad.

I watched that movie on YouTube. It was poorly shot on green screen and the acting was terrible. But as a Christian, I must say that even I found it to be extremely offensive. Like I said, the guy who made it is an idiot! But, several other movies have been made that portrayed Jesus Christ in very bad taste. Corpus Christi is a play that was staged a few years ago. It depicted Jesus as a homosexual living in 1950s Texas! Were Christians offended and outraged? Of course they were! Did they express their anger in violence and senseless destruction? No, they did not. They protested peacefully.

What we saw in Cairo and Benghazi last week in reaction to the Innocence of Muslims was despicable, and I do not care how offended you are, but do not take it out on innocent people!

Protestors attacking the US Embassy in Cairo
Having said that, I know that there are many Muslims who are not violent. In fact, the majority of people who profess Islam are peace loving, normal, regular folks who just want to get on with their lives without troubling anyone, and practice their faith peacefully.

The reality of the world we live in is one torn apart by religious differences. You would think that in the 21st Century, we would all just get along, right?

You think about that.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Does Kenya Have An Obama or A Clinton? Are We Fired Up And Ready To Go?

I watched both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions that took place within the last two weeks. And the thing that struck me the most was not just how patriotic Americans feel about their country (of course there is that), but the quality of speeches by most of those that were given the honour of addressing the delegates was eye opening.

There was a lot of personality bashing, sure, but the focus was more on the issues that afflict The United States of America. Everyone was so passionate about their respective candidate, Mitt Romney for the Republicans and President Barack Obama for the Democrats. And the focus was not just about the candidates and whether you liked them or not (there was that too), it was about what they said they would do for their country and how they delivered their message.

Now, I am personally not a fan of Romney and the Republicans and I hope he loses the election in November. Badly. However, since I do not have a dog in that fight, I leave that to the Americans.

                                                                  Mitt Romney

So, my focus right now is on the Democratic National Convention and more specifically the speeches by Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Mrs Obama is easily her husband’s biggest cheerleader and it showed when she spoke passionately about him as a husband, a father and as president. She referenced the challenges of running a nation like the United States in its current economic situation, and how the president was doing the best for the American people.

Bill Clinton, who is being touted as one of the greatest US presidents of all time, had very kind things to say about Obama. He acknowledged that when he was president, that was an easier time for America, and that he did not have to deal with what the current president has to now. But he expressed full confidence in Obama’s ability to deliver.


Bill Clinton

Then President Obama spoke to the American people. It was a markedly different speech from the ones he gave in the last two Democratic conventions. In 2004, he was a senator giving the keynote speech in support of the nomination of Senator John Kerry for president. In 2008, he gave his own acceptance speech as presidential nominee. What stood out in both of these speeches was the high level of hope expressed.

As president in 2012, Obama seems to have been hit by the realities of the presidency, and so he tempered this year’s speech. Instead of rhetoric and blind optimism about the future, he chose to be honest about the troubles bedevilling his country, and what could reasonably be done about them. It may not have been one of his most rousing of speeches (personally, I will never forget his victory speech in Grant Park, Chicago after he won the 2008 election), but it was one of his most candid.

                                                       President Barack Obama

Now, my point is that words and perhaps more importantly, how they are delivered, have the power to move masses. These two American presidents, Clinton and Obama understood this long ago. It helps that they are both gifted with charisma and charm (important ingredients in successful politicians).

That is how Clinton won the presidency twice, and why Obama might be on his way to a second term. By crafting words in such a passionate way to articulate their vision, and to connect with their electorate. Needless to say, words must be backed by action.

Back to Kenya.

To be quite honest, the last time I came close to feeling moved by a political speech must have been in 2002. Daniel Moi was retiring as president and we could not wait to see the back of him fast enough. Some of us even had the audacity to pelt him with mud balls. The incoming president, Mwai Kibaki, gave what I consider to be the best speech of his political life.

I will not go into the details of what he said, we all remember. But do you remember how he said it? Man, I still get goose bumps whenever I watch clips of it almost ten years later. And Kenyans from all walks of life responded to Kibaki in big ways. We even “arrested” traffic cops for daring to take bribes when the president himself had declared zero tolerance on corruption!


                                                          President Mwai Kibaki

That is what I am talking about.

So, heading towards the elections of March, 2013, who among all the candidates lining up to succeed President Kibaki has the ability to get to us like that? Who has the charisma and charm to use their personal story like Obama, or Clinton’s ability to break down complex issues into bullet points, to reach out and touch us in such a personal way that we would almost literally eat out of their hand?

Are we fired up and ready to go for any one candidate on the issues, rather than our tribal affinity?

You be the judge of that.