WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS

Difficulty of securing a legacy

How can Uhuru hope to be remembered fondly by future generations?

In Summary
  • The President will actually have very little influence over what future generations will think or say about him.
  • It is the media, independent writers and professional historians who will determine what Uhuru Kenyatta’s legacy will be, and how future generations will judge his presidency.
History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.
British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill

Even before the death of former President Daniel Moi, the question of “legacy” had been very much in the headlines.

Various opinion writers and political analysts have addressed this subject, in response to the increasing political temperatures brought about by the relaunched Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) championed by President Uhuru Kenyatta and his former arch-rival, the opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Specifically, Uhuru hopes to put an end to the election-related violence, which has in the past two decades become an existential challenge here in Kenya.

 
 

Now on this matter of political legacies, the odd thing is that the President will actually have very little influence over what future generations will think or say about him. Once those of us who are currently witnessing these events have been gathered unto our fathers, all that will remain will be the record of history books and our national literature. It is the media, independent writers and professional historians who will determine what Uhuru Kenyatta’s legacy will be, and how future generations will judge his presidency.

It is in recognition of this grim reality that the British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, who is widely considered to be one of the outstanding statesmen of the 20th century, reportedly declared that “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”

Churchill of course was a great writer – great enough to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953. And for decades after his death (in 1965) virtually all histories of the Second World War presented him as one of the towering figures who led the heroic opposition to the Nazi tyranny which had at that point seized control of the German state; launched the holocaust; and practically overrun all of Europe.

If the great Sir Winston Churchill is now being subjected to such humiliating revisionism by British historians and journalists, we could well ask: How then can President Uhuru Kenyatta hope to be remembered fondly by future generations of Kenyans?

But even Churchill’s gift for writing has proved to have its limits. In recent years I have read essays which persuasively argue that the really crucial battles of that war were those fought between Germany and Russia. And that it is Russia, and not Great Britain, which played the indispensable role in crushing the Nazi war machine.

Such arguments, taken to their logical conclusion, suggest that all of Churchill’s famous wartime speeches were but a sideshow to the really significant events of the Second World War. And so, if the great Sir Winston Churchill is now being subjected to such humiliating revisionism by British historians and journalists, we could well ask: How then can President Uhuru Kenyatta hope to be remembered fondly by future generations of Kenyans?

The answer is that it all depends on two things: first, the success or failure of the BBI. And second, how events shape up during the presidency of his successor, whoever that will be.

Consider the example of the recently departed Daniel Moi: Up to 2007, most Kenyans assumed that the worst thing that could happen to us, was the kind of epic mismanagement of the economy and unlimited corruption associated with the later years of Moi’s authoritarian rule. That we could not possibly have a worse experience as a nation, than that of living under such a predatory and oppressive state.

 
 

Moi retired in 2002. And then came the 2007 presidential election, when a new reality emerged. It was suddenly obvious that we could actually face far worse. And that the previous certainties of our national identity were easily demolished when faced with the onslaught of unprecedented election-related violence.

We learned that if roughly 50 per cent of the country believed that the presidential election had been “stolen in broad daylight” and that the man sworn in as president lacked legitimacy, then violence could escalate to the point where the continued existence of the Kenyan state would be in doubt.

And suddenly even formerly bitter Moi critics had kind words for him. They pointed out that whatever may have been Moi’s failings, at no point during his rule had the country spun out of control as completely as it did in 2008, under President Mwai Kibaki.

And that not once during Moi’s 24 years in power, had the nation been on the verge of becoming a failed state, as happened during Kibaki’s tenure.