December 5, 2022

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta leaves behind complex legacy after decade in office

President Joe Biden holds a bilateral meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and his delegation, Thursday, October 14, 2021, in the Oval Office. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
President Joe Biden holds a bilateral meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and his delegation, Thursday, October 14, 2021, in the Oval Office. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
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As Uhuru Kenyatta’s final term as President of Kenya approaches an end, Kenyans reflect on the mixed legacy that he crafted throughout his near-decade in office and the changes that the nation has undergone.

The son of Kenya’s first president Jomo Kenyatta has held the office of President since 2013. The Kenyan constitution does not allow for presidents to serve more than two five-year terms and his successor will be determined in the August 9 general election.

Uhuru Kenyatta is Kenya’s first president to be elected since adopting a new national constitution in 2010, signaling a new era in Kenyan politics. The previous constitution had been in effect since 1969.

When Kenyatta first came to power in 2013, he was facing charges of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. He was accused of being involved in murder, deportation or forcible transfer of population, rape, persecution, and other inhumane acts. These charges were all in the context of the nationwide violence that occurred for months following the 2007 election. These charges were dropped for lack of evidence in 2015.

Kenyatta publicly communicated a firm anti-corruption stance. In 2018, he said “If there is evidence against anyone… charge them.” For many years, corruption has been a pervasive issue in Kenya. Under Kenyatta’s leadership, many high-ranking government officials have been arrested and charged in connection with corruption.

However, many assert that anti-corruption efforts have stagnated and much more could have been done by President Uhru Kenyatta. Corruption still remains entrenched in the Kenyan government and some wonder what long-term progress has really been made in recent years. Transparency International gave Kenya a 2021 corruption perception index score of 30 out of 100, just 3 points better than when Kenyatta took office in 2013.

“Corruption continues to plague national and county governments in Kenya, and state institutions tasked with combating corruption have been ineffective,” said Freedom House in its 2022 report on the nation.

While Kenyatta’s rhetoric has pointed toward a steadfast opposition to corruption, he has not taken the steps to fully realize this vision. For many, he will be remembered alongside the other Kenyan presidents that likewise failed to tackle corruption. 

In 2021, Kenyatta’s name was included in the Pandora Papers leak. It was revealed that he and his family had over $30 million in assets stored in offshore companies and entities. This convinced many that while he was publicly encouraging transparency and condemning corruption, the president was secretly building up wealth through hidden means.

Over the course of the first seven years of Uhuru Kenyatta’s presidency prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Kenya’s per-capita GDP grew roughly 50 percent. “Until the COVID-19 pandemic, Kenya was one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, with an annual average growth of 5.9% between 2010 and 2018,” reports USAID.

Kenya has established one of the more diverse and successful economies in Africa, seeing tremendous growth over recent years. However, the World bank still forecasts a 33.4 percent poverty rate for Kenya in 2022. As many African nations currently face a food insecurity crisis, Famine Early Warning System Network  projects that 3.5 million people in Kenya will be classified as food insecure.

In Kenya, political tensions continue to build surrounding the upcoming election of Uhuru Kenyatta’s replacement as President of Kenya. Like many world leaders, Kenyatta will leave office with a complicated legacy behind him after having made some progress while simultaneously failing to fulfill all commitments.

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