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Uhuru Kenyatta: Heir to a fortune and a political dynasty

FILE PHOTO: Kenyatta at a state function

Nairobi, Kenya | AFP |  Uhuru Kenyatta, who won a second and final term in a disputed election Friday, is the son of Kenya’s founding president and a man who epitomises the country’s elite.

The 55-year-old US-educated multi-millionaire, whose family owns an array of businesses, properties and land, is the son of Kenya’s first president Jomo Kenyatta.

Stretching a political feud to a new generation, he first beat Raila Odinga — the son of his father’s biggest rival Jaramogi Oginga Odinga — to the presidency in 2013.

He was re-elected after Tuesday’s election, trumping Odinga with 54 percent of the vote.

Both times Odinga has claimed election rigging.

Kenyatta won in 2013 despite being indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) along with his running mate, William Ruto, for alleged roles in orchestrating violence that left over 1,100 people dead after the previous election in 2007.

Foreign powers, including Britain and the US, warned at the time that Kenya under an ICC-indicted president would be a pariah, but the threats proved empty.

In 2014 the ICC dropped charges against Kenyatta — and later Ruto — citing the disappearance of witnesses and lack of evidence.

Since then Kenya has welcomed former US president Barack Obama, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Pope Francis and hosted a string of international gatherings.

– Privilege and wealth –

Kenyatta’s first term was defined by big spending on eye-catching infrastructure and impressive economic growth in a tough climate.

But this has gone hand-in-hand with spiralling debt and widening inequality.

Terrorism has also been a consistent threat, with Kenyatta being forced to address the nation in doleful terms on numerous occasions, notably after the deadly 2013 Westgate mall siege and the 2015 Garissa university attack.

The former finance minister and deputy prime minister was born in 1961, shortly after his father Jomo Kenyatta was released from nearly a decade in British jails and before becoming Kenya’s first president in 1964. His first name means “freedom” in Kiswahili.

Educated at a private school in Nairobi and at Amherst College in the United States, Kenyatta is regarded as a leader of the Kikuyu people, the country’s single largest ethnic group.

He is married with three children and regularly attends Catholic church.

In 2011 Forbes magazine estimated Kenyatta’s wealth at $500 million (420 million euros).

Despite his elite background Kenyatta has a common touch. He easily mixes it up with ordinary Kenyans, eagerly gets down on the dance floor and joshes in the local youth slang and, in his younger years, earned a persistent reputation for partying hard.

A leaked 2009 US diplomatic cable described him as “bright and charming, even charismatic” but warned that “Kenyatta’s liabilities are at least as important as his strengths. He drinks too much and is not a hard worker.”

– Dynastic politics –

Kenyatta’s political career is a case study in pragmatism.

In the 1990s, he joined with the sons of other independence heroes to call for democratic reforms but then became a close ally of autocratic former president Daniel arap Moi who had him nominated as the ruling party’s candidate for the presidency in 2002.

Kenyatta lost to fellow Kikuyu politician Mwai Kibaki but then backed Kibaki’s successful re-election bid in 2007, against Odinga who at the time was allied with Ruto.

The violent fallout from the disputed result led to a power-sharing government in which Kibaki was president, Odinga prime minister and Kenyatta one of his deputies.

In 2013 the two ICC indictees, Kenyatta and Ruto, joined forces to defeat Odinga in a close and controversial election. Kenyatta won in the first round with a wafer-thin margin of 50.03 percent — a result Odinga disputed, unsuccessfully but peacefully, in court.

The same team beat Odinga this time around.

The country is now holding its breath as violent protests erupted in Odinga’s strongholds upon news of the result.




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