A puppet or a strategist, a dilettante or a power-hungry heir? After nearly 10 years in power and a mixed legacy, Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta remains an enigma to many Kenyans, even those who elected him president twice.

But one thing is certain: it is impossible to separate the outgoing leader from his family, which is among the richest in Kenya, as two of the four Kenyan presidents come from the Kenyatta dynasty.

His support for longtime arch-rival Raila Odinga has fueled rumors that he wants to play kingmaker, helping the veteran opposition leader win support from his ruling Jubilee Party.

Indeed, Kenyatta’s motives and future plans remain unclear, but many believe he will build on the diplomatic legacy built after his 2017 re-election.

The 60-year-old has worked hard to raise Kenya’s international profile and has established himself as a regional statesman, working to resolve conflicts in Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He has also strengthened the country’s status as an economic hub for East Africa by launching several major infrastructure projects, including the Nairobi expressway that opened last month, which has also seen Kenya’s debt rise.

His outspoken fight against corruption has been less successful, drawing consternation and even derision among Kenyans who have long viewed the Kenyatta family as the epitome of the elite’s grip on power.

His father, Jomo, was Kenya’s first independent president, and the family is the country’s biggest landowner with a financial empire that includes dairy giant Brookside, NCBA Bank and Mediamax TV.

In 2011, Forbes estimated his net worth at $500 million.

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Political alliances

Uhuru (which means “freedom” in Swahili), born to Jomo and his fourth wife “Mama” Ngina in October 1961, studied in the US and entered politics in the mid-1990s.

Over the years, the “prince of Kenyan politics” has teamed up with leaders across the spectrum, from autocrat Daniel arap Moi — an early mentor — to former president Mwai Kibaki, whom he supported in the 2007 election.

The disputed vote led to an outbreak of politically motivated tribal violence involving mainly Kenya’s two main ethnic groups, the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin, killing more than 1,100 people.

In 2013, Kenyatta — a Kikuyu — teamed up with William Ruto, a Kalenjin, to be elected president.

Both were indicted by the International Criminal Court for their roles in the 2007-2008 killings, but the cases eventually collapsed, with prosecutors saying an ongoing campaign of witness intimidation made a trial impossible.

Kenyatta’s re-election in 2017 plunged the country into chaos as police cracked down on opposition protests with deadly consequences.

His victory was overturned by the Supreme Court, but he won a repeat vote after his then-opponent Odinga boycotted the process, calling the vote rigged.

Then, in a turn of events few saw coming, in March 2018 the two men stunned the nation by shaking hands and declaring a truce.

The pact — known simply as the “handshake” — sidelined Ruth.

But Kenyatta’s pet policy project, the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), which sought to expand executive power, hit a snag after the Supreme Court ruled it illegal.

Many viewed the constitutional proposals, which included the creation of a new post of prime minister, purportedly for Kenyatta, as a last-ditch effort to stay in power after his second and final term as president.


Kenya’s global stature grew under his watch as he welcomed foreign investors and a number of international dignitaries, including former US President Barack Obama and Pope Francis.

Despite his long career, the father of three remains a mystery to many.

Some diplomatic sources describe him as a “party guy who didn’t want to work”, while others describe him as a shrewd politician with a general note “who knows how to talk to people”.

A regular churchgoer, he easily connects with ordinary Kenyans, willingly getting on the dance floor and cracking jokes in local youth slang.

His shy brother Muhoho manages the family finances, while he reportedly likes to drive around Nairobi late at night, incognito and under the protection of a handful of bodyguards.

As his final term comes to an end, Kenyatta approaches Tuesday’s election, with Ruta devoting much of his time to campaigning against his former boss instead of Odinga.

​​​​​​While many Kenyans expect Kenyatta to keep his hand in the game, the man himself dismissed the speculation, telling France 24 last year: “Oh please, please! I would like to enjoy a holiday in France every summer.’

“I don’t want to stay in power, as they say. It’s hard work,” he said at a prayer service last month.

“Ten years is enough for me. I’m waiting for August 9.”

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