President Uhuru Kenyatta’s inaugural speech was a delicate affair — invoking the spirit of sovereignty and nationalism while reaching out to development partners even as he rooted for unity among Kenyans.
Although the speech lacked memorable sound-bites — unlike Kibaki’s December 2002 lyrical — “I looked far into the horizon and the beauty of what I saw around me stirred my soul” – Mr Kenyatta sought to adopt a more laidback approach that avoided rhetoric and adopted his father Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s baritone voice and eloquence to deliver his five-year agenda to the nation.
Symbolically too, he came close to adopting his father’s presidential standard picking navy blue as opposed to Old Jomo’s dark blue flag with a yellow cockerel.
In between Mr Kenyatta paraphrased the Saint Francis of Assisi prayer as he made his promises without wagging his finger, a podium habit he had picked since he entered competitive politics in 1997.
Unlike his father, who took power in 1963 with the backing of Western nations to implement his economic policies and land transfer, and Moi who took power in 1978 with tacit approval of Western capitals, Mr Kenyatta has taken over at a time when most are diplomatically lukewarm towards Kenya.
But it is his agenda, both at the national and international level, that was the central theme of his speech choosing to spice his bid day with sub-themes on sovereignty, nationalism, and economic growth.
The presence of many African heads of States at the occasion was symbolic and Mr Kenyatta chose to start his speech by thanking them for keeping the “pan-african agenda alive”, a term that is used to rally African nations to stand in solidarity with each other.
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That Mr Kenyatta chose to connect with the fathers of independence struggle – he talked of African renaissance and thanked the pioneers – in his speech was a pointer to the fact that a new generation was taking over. Former President Kibaki said as much in his farewell speech.
With Mr Kenyatta facing charges against humanity at the International Criminal Court, which Uganda’s President Museveni described as “blackmail” (He said the ICC’s mission was distorted by opinionated and arrogant actors), the arrival of many African heads of State and government must have buoyed his place.
Although he evaded the ICC issue, Mr Kenyatta promised to respect “international treaties” but warned: “No one country or group of countries should have control or monopoly of international institutions or the interpretation of international treaties.”
His choice of words did not betray his recent dalliance with diplomacy but Mr Kenyatta will not be an easy shove and talked of “mutual respect” and “reciprocity” as his approach towards Kenya’s foreign policy.
“While each state has a right to its own view, it must respect the fact that it holds just one view amongst many in the community of nations,” he said.
That Mr Kenyatta said he will “continue” cultivating the relationships Kenya has with “our traditional partners” means that there will be no clear break in foreign policy adopted over the years and opened doors to those who want to invest and trade.
“I say to all developing and developed nations who desire a deeper and more mutually beneficial relationship with Kenya: we are ready for partnerships, we are open for business and we invite you to invest in our country.”
While he had left Deputy President, William Ruto, to throw some barbs to the western diplomats who had warned Kenyans against electing the duo with a warning that “choices have consequences,” Mr Kenyatta appeared to reach out to all nations of the world choosing adjectives such as “mutual respect” as the determinant factor on who gets some listening.
Locally, Mr Kenyatta takes over a country that is divided along tribal lines – just like his father, Moi and his predecessor.
Country was divided
When Mr Jomo Kenyatta took on the realms in 1963, the country was divided with two major tribes — Kikuyus and Luos dominating both the Senate and the Lower House. While Jomo went on to abolish the Senate and entice the opposition KADU to dissolve itself, Mr Kenyatta made a promise to let multiparty democracy flourish and promising like his predecessor, Kibaki, to let freedom of expression thrive.
Of late, Mr Kenyatta’s Jubilee Coalition has been accused of signing post-election pacts with small political parties previously in the Cord coalition of former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga.
Mr Kenyatta chose his day Tuesday to allay those fears: “There is a vital role for a vibrant opposition that helps to hold the Government to account. Kenya is such a democracy, and as President I will respect that role just as I will champion the right of every Kenyan to speak their mind free of fear of reprisal or condemnation.”
Mr Kenyatta is also taking the country under a new Constitution and with devolved powers to the regions – again just like his father.
While his father killed the devolution dream and abandoned the Majimbos, it will be interesting to see how he will work with the devolved system under the new Constitution. Tuesday, he promised to protect the devolved governments saying “Supporting devolution is not a choice, as some claim it to be - it is a duty,” he said.
But how he manages to balance the multiparty democracy and appease his political rivals in the Coalition for Restoration of Democracy (Cord) who chose to shrug off the event for a South Africa retreat will be a Herculian Task.
Mr Kenyatta appeared to have this in mind when he thanked the Cord leaders as “worthy opponents (who) helped define and make our democracy stronger.”
While Mr Kenyatta promised to adhere to the Jubilee manifesto promises of providing laptops to standard one pupils and free maternity and health care in all dispensaries, there was little on the tax regime and how the government will bridge the budget deficit.
Mr Kenyatta appeared to be picking from Mr Kibaki who decided to improve trade relations with Kenya’s neighbours to spur local economic growth. Much of the speech by President Museveni, and Mr Kenyatta’s was more on the business potential in the region, the removal of non-tariff barriers and the pursuit of political stability in the region.
Mr Kenyatta has inherited a country with troops still engaged in a war zone in Somalia and it is these dynamics that have seen some Western powers – the US and UK soften their previous stand on a Kenyatta election.
Former President Kibaki, with the help of US military aid, sent Kenyan troops to pursue the al-Qaeda backed Al-Shabaab bandits into Somalia where they helped restore order in most of the Southern Somalia towns and stabilized the country.