‘My task is to build on the successes of my father’

Uhuru Kenyatta

As the son of Kenya’s founding father, President Uhuru Kenyatta has a lot to live up to. He tells Global about his plans to regenerate his country’s economy and how the nation is embracing ICT. 

Elected President in April, Uhuru Kenyatta is head of Kenya’s National Alliance, which formed part of the winning coalition Jubilee Alliance. But the election was dogged by controversy, with the results contested by losing candidate Raila Odinga. And no sooner had he been sworn in as President than Kenyatta’s trial for war crimes – concerning violence at a previous election – began at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. It’s been a difficult few months for the new President. 

Global: You took the oath using the same Bible as your father. What lessons did you learn from him?

Uhuru Kenyatta: My father, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, who is also the founding father of our nation, together with other great men and women made huge sacrifices for our nation so we could have the freedom and liberty we are enjoying today. Some of these heroes and heroines actually paid the ultimate price for the liberation of our country. Indeed, we draw many lessons from them. They left a rich legacy as demonstrated by their patriotism, selflessness and diligence. I am encouraged by the sacrifices they made and this challenges us to rededicate our efforts to build a more prosperous, freer, stronger and richer nation. I also learnt to be tolerant and patient with the various divergent views and the value of dialogue. 

The means and processes of production have changed over time. We now have more advanced technology than there was then, which we shall now deploy to achieve our national goals. 

My task is to build on the successes of my father and his successors in our endeavour to achieve the dreams of my father and other like-minded men and women – of higher economic growth and higher living standards for our people. 

You come from a privileged background, yet you have managed to establish yourself as a ‘man of the people’. Can you tell us a bit more about what you think the people of Kenya are looking for in a president?

It is indeed true that I come from a privileged background, however, that has never alienated me from the common mwananchi, whom I pledged to serve dutifully when I began my presidential duties. Long before I assumed presidency, I had served Kenyans in various capacities, including as Minister for the Dockets of Finance and Local Government, leader of the official opposition and the elected member of parliament for Gatundu South. 

Additionally, during the campaign rallies I held as I sought the presidency of this country and my constant interaction with Kenyans on the various social media platforms, I am aware that Kenyans are looking for a number of qualities in their president. They want a president who will ensure that the national cake is baked and distributed equally. This is why my government has aggressively pursued the implementation of the Lamu Port Southern Sudan Ethiopia Transport Corridor project (LAPPSET). This is a development initiative which, once completed, will not only create employment but also contribute enormously towards the development of our country. 

Kenyans also want a president who will not only create a conducive environment for them to transact their businesses, but will also guarantee them security as they earn their daily bread. Without a doubt, Kenyans yearn for an accountable president and one who will ultimately help to improve their well-being. Indeed, the quest to fulfil this need is what led my government to scrap maternity fees for expectant mothers in all public hospitals countrywide early this year. Kenyans are also looking for a democrat who will entrench democratic processes and values, as well as a leader who is accessible and sensitive to the needs of the vulnerable in society – especially children, youth and women. 

Online fans have been impressed that you have embraced social media, especially with the treasury’s request for Kenyans to ‘tweet’ their views on the Budget. As many Kenyans cannot afford the technology required to use social media, do you believe it is a viable means of moving towards a more inclusive political process?

Definitely. The use of social media forms part of a revolution for governments that want to encourage open dialogue with their citizens. Certainly, social media has turned into a robust avenue through which the public can participate and engage in not just social but also political discourses. Social media encourages more of our people to express their views on a wide range of issues on a platform that is more accessible and that has a wide reach of people, including various governance authorities, from which they would have otherwise been excluded. 

The good news is that the number of people using the internet in the country has increased tremendously. Current statistics indicate that there are more than 16 million internet users in the country, which is equivalent of 41.6 per cent of the population. This is a significant improvement from only five per cent five years ago. My government is in the process of improving internet reach to ensure more of our people have access to this critical resource. 

The election has done little to dispel the old problem of tribalism, and many have claimed that your victory was due more to your canniness in building tribal alliances than to any set of policies. What are you going to do during your tenure to create a more unified Kenya?

The country’s new constitution prescribes various solutions for a more unified Kenya. As President, I will strive to ensure total compliance and enforcement of the new constitution. Part of what the constitution recommends is that all government appointments made by the Head of State are representative of the entire Kenya constituency. This is a requirement I intend to fulfil. From a personal observation, I have noted that the ugly head of tribalism often rears itself when some sections of Kenyans feel left out of the governance of the country. I also want to ensure equitable distribution of the country’s resources, which is yet another way of creating a more unified Kenya. At present there are various development initiatives that have been put in place, such as the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), to ensure that all 290 constituencies in the country benefit equally from the monies available. Also, my government will work closely with the National Cohesion and Integration Commission to ensure the same. 

Your family owns huge tracts of land, and you will be under a lot of scrutiny over the touchy issue of land ownership. Some also fear that Charity Ngilu – the recently appointed Cabinet Secretary for Land, Housing and Urban Development – may block much-needed reform of land ownership. How do you intend to deal with the historical injustices regarding land that have left thousands displaced?

The Constitution of Kenya, specifically under Section 40 (1), provides that every person has a right, either individually or in association with others, to acquire and own property of any description and in any part of Kenya. All the land owned by the Kenyatta family, either by themselves or in association with others, was acquired legally under a willing buyer/willing seller arrangement. It is, therefore, property that is protected under the Constitution of Kenya. Moreover, it is important to note that there have been various commissions appointed to look into the many issues of irregular and illegal land acquisitions and, as such, none of the land owned by the Kenyatta family has been adversely mentioned. 

On the issue of appointment of Cabinet Secretary Mrs Ngilu, Chapter 5 of the Constitution provides the basis of land reforms and, specifically, the principles of land policy and classifications, as well as establishing the National Land Commission, whose functions are, among others, to manage public land on behalf of the national and county governments. Following the promulgation of the constitution, various acts dealing with the administration of land have been enacted – specifically the Registration of Land Act, the Land Act and the National Land Commission Act, among others. On the other hand, the Cabinet Secretary, who is the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry, is required by law to act in accordance with the constitution and provide parliament with full and regular reports concerning matters under her control. From the foregoing, the Cabinet Secretary for Land, Housing and Urban Development is obliged to comply with the requirements of the constitution, particularly Section 153. This means that the much-needed land reforms will be spearheaded by the National Land Commission and complemented by the support of the Cabinet Secretary for implementation of the same. Consequently, there is absolutely no conflict of the role of the National Land Commission and that of the Cabinet Secretary. 

The question of historical land injustices dates from the year 1895 when Kenya was declared a protectorate of the British monarchy. This declaration, and the coming of white settlers, led to disinheritance of Africans from their lands by the colonial authorities. Upon attainment of independence, there being no codified National Land Policy, most Kenyans remained landless since they had been dispossessed of their land to pave way for the white settlers. In realisation of this problem, the government has mandated the National Land Commission to initiate investigations into present and historical land injustices and recommend appropriate redress. The government is committed towards the implementation of the National Land Policy, and to act upon the recommendations of the National Land Commission and other findings emanating from commissions investigating the land issue. 

Just last week, l led the government in the launch of issuance of 60,000 title deeds at the coast. This is part of the Jubilee government’s plan to issue three million title deeds to Kenyans in the next five years. 

The IMF stated in a recent report that the economic reforms are showing promise, with growth forecast at up to six per cent this year, not far off the historic high of seven per cent in 2007. Yet you have pledged to deliver double-digit growth. How do you propose to reach this goal?

It is true what the IMF has stated – that economic reforms are showing promise, with growth forecast at around six per cent this year. The government has taken deliberate measures that will bolster economic growth this year and in the medium term. We are confident that we shall achieve double-digit growth in the medium term, as strategic interventions by the government continue to bear fruit. 

The Kenyan economy continues to show resilience, expanding by 4.6 per cent in 2012 and estimated to have expanded by 5.2 per cent in the first quarter of 2013. Growth in 2013 is expected to expand by between 5.6 per cent and six per cent and rise to double digits in the medium term. This growth will be bolstered by production in agriculture, including initiatives to revamp irrigation schemes; completion of key infrastructure projects (such as roads, rail and energy); further structural reforms; and exports to regional markets that are expected to continue to benefit from the relatively strong growth in the sub-region, which has a population of more than 130 million people. The structural reforms will particularly focus on improving competitiveness of the private sector and promoting overall productivity in the economy. 

In an effort to expand the growth opportunity of the country, the government has embarked on a process of transforming Kenya’s economy through strategic interventions in its first year in office. This has been through resource allocations to some of the flagship projects. Specifically, the government is focusing on the improvement of infrastructure and management of counties, cities and urban centres through road construction and maintenance, as well as the expansion of power generation capacity to geothermal, solar, solid waste and increased access to electricity. 

The current demand for energy in Kenya is approximately 1,500 MW, which will be enhanced to 5,000 MW in the medium term. The government has embarked on the development of a modern national ICT infrastructure and expansion of the ports and rail facilities – initial works on a standard gauge railway from Mombasa port to Kisumu have commenced. In addition, work has started on LAPSSET. The LAPSSET project, among others, will be an engine for economic growth and job creation, deepening our links with our regional partners. 

The government has also invested heavily in security in order to ensure citizens, investors and tourists are kept safe. As a way to empower the security force to react to crimes, the government has set aside funds for leasing vehicles from the private sector for use by the police force. In addition, the government is undertaking construction of houses for the police service. 

Unemployment in Kenya remains high, at around 40 per cent. What do you intend to do to create jobs in Kenya?

The unemployment rate in Kenya is high and this remains a key concern of the government. Seventy per cent of our population is aged 35 years and under. As a government, our main focus is to initiate projects and programmes that are geared towards enhancing income generation and employment creation amongst our youth. 

In this respect, the government has embarked on initiatives that will expand our economy and facilitate the creation of opportunities by both the government and the private sector. In addition to the strategic interventions being financed by the government in the current fiscal year, we have reviewed regulations under the public procurement and disposal law to reduce the time it takes to initiate and complete procurement. The revised regulations provide for an allocation of 30 per cent of all government procurement to the youth. This will empower the youth and expand the scope for job creation within the private sector. 

We have enacted the Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) Act, which provides a mechanism for contractual arrangement between the public and private sectors in providing services or infrastructure development. This will enable the private sector to create more employment opportunities. The government, in the current financial year, has set aside a KSH6 billion fund to support youth and women’s enterprises, dubbed the Uwezo Fund. Women and youths will gain access to interest-free loans as start-up capital for small and micro businesses of varying amounts, not exceeding KSH500,000. 

Only a three per cent one-off administration fee will be payable for each loan. The resources under the Uwezo Fund will be disbursed directly to beneficiaries through the Constituency Development Fund framework. The fund will act as a catalyst for youth engagement in productive activities. 

We have also embarked on irrigation programmes in the agriculture sector and this, together with agribusiness, will generate approximately three million jobs through the value chain over the next three years. 

Many Kenyans are concerned that your trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) will damage the Kenyan economy, which depends on good relations with Western countries. Some members of the European Union have already said they will only have ‘essential contact’ with you. How do you intend to improve your personal image, as well as that of Kenya internationally?

At a personal level, I am not convinced that either my image or that of my country Kenya is dented internationally and thus none needs any sprucing up. On numerous occasions, I have expressed my interest to co-operate fully with the International Criminal Court and, indeed, have done so, intent on proving my innocence through the judicial process. As a government, however, we are in the process of redefining our foreign policy. We seek to embrace relations with new emerging players such as China, Brazil, India and Russia, and to continue engagement with our traditional partners. We are also keen to ensure that such relations are mutually beneficial to all and that, as a country, we are handled with the respect and dignity that is required amongst trading partners. 

Part of your election platform focused on fighting the “menace and impeding threat of al-Shabaab’s terrorism”. The USA is depending on Kenya as an ally against Islamic extremism in the region. What role do you believe Kenya should play in the war on terrorism, and do you think there is a long-term solution?

My government appreciates that security is essential to any meaningful stabilisation process, without which the political and economic recovery, development and humanitarian programmes are not viable. To enhance internal security, the military has beefed up deployment in a few hotspots within the country. The troops deployed are not only in support of our internal security apparatus, but also check cross-border incursions. 

At present, Kenya has 3,810 troops deployed with AMISOM (the African Union Mission in Somalia) under a UN mandate in Somalia. Kenya is in the process of putting in place a diverse and expanded framework for co-operation and assistance, as requested by our Somali counterparts. Capacity-building in identified priority areas will be offered under this framework. Kenya has already trained more than 2,500 Somali soldiers and is willing to offer further assistance as requested in training Somali judicial and financial officers at relevant institutions. 

In the long term, it is imperative that the reform of the Somali security sector be holistic, inclusive, logically sequenced and prioritised. In creating the Somali national security forces, the process must include the systematic and orderly integration of the various allied forces that are currently engaged in the anti-al-Shabaab war, including orderly reception of al-Shabaab deserters, their rehabilitation, re-training and integration into the security forces or any other institutions where they will perform productive civilian roles. 

It is also critical that this process includes the civilian components of the entire justice administration system. In addition, Somalia needs to develop the necessary capabilities to confront the myriad internal security challenges facing the country, which have a ripple effect on the region as a whole. 

Most importantly, the capacity of Somalia to deal effectively with the internal security situation is a prerequisite for lasting peace and stability. 

(Since this interview Uhuru Kenyatta’s nephew was killed in the al-Shabaab attack on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping centre) 

Recent oil and gas finds may help the balance of payments and improve electricity supply in Kenya. How do you intend to ensure that the revenue from these oil and gas finds are prudently used?

Kenya has recently discovered oil, coal and other natural resources. The government is, therefore, putting in place the necessary legal and institutional framework to ensure the potential of this sector is maximised, but without compromising the competitiveness of other priority sectors. The overall management of natural resources in Kenya is provided for in the constitution that was promulgated in August 2010. 

The government has already embarked on developing an appropriate fiscal framework to manage the extractive industry that covers issues of licensing and taxation consistent with international best practice. The government, under the Public Financial Management Framework, will ensure efficient and sustainable management of natural resources, taking into account macro-economic stability. 

When I constituted my government, I created the Ministry of Mining to oversee all mining matters in the country. This was in order to ensure that the revenue from the finds of these natural resources rightfully benefits locals and ultimately helps to improve the economy of our country as a whole. As a government, we are also currently in the process of drawing up a new mining law that will help to further guide and streamline the sector. 

The ICT sector has been moving very quickly, but Kenya still has a large traditional sector in which most of the population is engaged. Do you have any plans for transforming this sector?

Our ICT sector has continued to experience tremendous growth. Our country has continued to experience an increase in the number of people using internet services to interact, do business or research new innovations. In fact, and contrary to popular belief, internet users increased from 5.1 million in 2008 to 16.4 million by March 2013, representing an internet penetration of 8.7 per cent in 2008, rising to 41.6 per cent in March 2013. 

Kenya is currently a hub of international ICT networks, with four major submarine cables serving the country through the port of Mombasa. These include the East African Marine Systems, SEACOM, the Eastern African Submarine Cable System and the Lower Indian Ocean Network. These submarine cables are complemented by the National Optic Fibre Backbone Infrastructure, which connects all 47 counties. 

In addition, the government completed the implementation of the Kenya Education Network, which connects all the public universities and tertiary institutions, so as to promote education, research and e-learning. In order to reach a wider population with internet connectivity, the government is currently implementing phase II of the National Optic Fibre Backbone Infrastructure programme to cover the rest of the country. The government is also in the process of providing bandwidth to social, learning and government institutions. 

In addition, the government intends to increase the human resource capacity in ICT through improved ICT education in schools and training of teachers; establishment of a single registration system activated at birth to streamline registration; national ID registration; voter registration; and, among others, progressively rolling out wi-fi in major towns within the next five years. 

The government also plans to position Kenya as a business processing and outsourcing hub through the establishment of Konza Techno City. This will provide employment opportunities, especially to the youth who will work in software development, the light electronic manufacturing industries and IT-enabled services, particularly business process outsourcing, among others. We are also in the process of establishing incubation hubs for ICT start-ups through the New Biashara Kenya Agency and Tandaa grants.

About the author:

Uhuru Kenyatta is the President of Kenya


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