Uhuru Kenyatta: Kenya′s controversial president | Africa | DW | 10.03.2013

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Uhuru Kenyatta: Kenya's controversial president

Kenyatta's second bid for president was successful. But the politician indicted by the International Criminal Court for possible crimes against humanity will quickly see his political mettle put to the test.

President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta visits a school SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images

President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta

"We celebrate the triumph of democracy; the triumph of peace; the triumph of nationhood," exclaimed Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta before a throng of supporters after he was named Kenya's president on Saturday (09.03.2013). "We demonstrated a level of political maturity that surpassed expectations," the president-elect continued.

Kenyatta's election marks the latest chapter in a family history of political prominence. Kenya's incoming leader was born on October 26, 1961, to the first president to serve after the country gained independence. The politician received his first name, Uhuru, which means "freedom" in Kiswahili, because the Kenyan liberation struggle against British colonial rule had reached a high point at the time of his birth.

Uhuru Kenyatta enjoyed a good education. After finishing secondary school in Nairobi, he studied economics and political science at Amherst College in the United States. He was a dedicated supporter of Kenyan African National Union (KANU), which ruled the country for around 40 years. After the death of Kenyatta's father, Jomo Kenyatta, leadership of KANU passed to Daniel Arap Moi. Kenya's incoming president owes much to Moi. In 2001, then-President Moi secured a seat in parliament for Kenyatta as well as putting him in charge of the Ministry of Local Government.

Under Moi's mentorship

Election posters for Kenyatta line a wall in Kenya (c) picture-alliance/dpa

Kenyatta was unsuccessful in his 2002 presidential bid

Kenyatta's career took off when Moi decided ahead of his retirement to designate the 40-year-old as KANU's candidate for president in the 2002 elections. But the political newcomer lost out to the opposition's candidate, Mwai Kibaki, a member of the National Rainbow Coalition of parties. As head of state, Kibaki sought to enact a constitution that would see the rights of the president strengthened further. Together with fellow politician Raila Odinga, Kenyatta took a stance against Kibaki's plans. Voters approved, and, in a 2005 referendum, the majority voted against the new draft of the constitution.

However, Odinga and Kenyatta parted ways in the run-up to the 2007 election. Their differences of opinion led Kenyatta to join the Party for National Unity (PNU), which enjoys strong support in Kenya's Central Province region. In the presidential election, he presented himself as a supporter of Kibaki. After all, both men belong to Kenya's largest ethnic group, the Kikuyu, whose members are concentrated in central Kenya. "Central Province residents regard Kenyatta as Kibaki's heir," noted Kenyan journalist Munira Mohammed in an interview with DW.

International Criminal Court indictment

Uhuru Kenyatta leaves the International Criminal Court in The Hague Photo: Bas Czerwinski, File/AP/dapd

Kenyatta resigned as finance minister in 2012

The 2007 election turned into a neck-and-neck battle between Kibaki and Odinga. When Kibaki was declared the winner, ethnic conflicts enveloped the country, leading to the deaths of around 1,200 people. Kenyatta, who is known as one of Kenya's richest men, fell under suspicion of having financed a group of violent Kikuyus and inciting them to murder and displace others. In the aftermath, Kenya petitioned the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the post-election violence. Kenyatta, along with three other Kenyans, has since been indicted by the ICC.

Kenyatta was named deputy prime minister after post-election peace negotiations concluded. But he resigned the post of minister for finance after the ICC confirmed its case against him in January 2012.

Political maneuvering

Uhuru Kenyatta shares a laugh with running mate William Ruto during the campaign (c) SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images

The odd couple: Kenyatta (r) and William Ruto during the campaign

In the same year, Kenyatta left KANU and established The National Alliance (TNA), a party that quickly made a name for itself. It drew attention after forming a political alliance with the United Republican Party (URP), whose leader, William Ruto, had become a staunch opponent of Kenyatta following the 2007 election debacle. But the two men have something in common: Both have been indicted by the ICC for alleged illegal acts during the post-election unrest.

"The process is underway, and we know that it will pass," said Ruto during the campaign.

The prospect of Kenya being ruled by suspected perpetrators of crimes against humanity has drawn critical responses internationally. Kenya may face sanctions under its new president. And, says Kenyan lawyer Yusuf Abubakar, the legal battle could also complicate the political process domestically: "Some political decisions require the president's signature," he said, adding, "In his absence, the deputy can step in for him. But he is also going to be in The Hague often."

Watch video 01:28

Kenya: A narrow win for Kenyatta

Ahead of the election, observers predicted it would be a close run between Kenyatta's coalition and that of Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Both sides spoke of their support for peaceful and fair voting.

"The year 2007 is behind us," Kenyatta noted before vote counting began, going on to say that he would be the first to congratulate the winner should he lose. After being declared the winner on Saturday by the narrowest of margins, it's anyone's guess whether Kenyatta would have fulfilled that pledge.

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