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Last Updated: Monday, 29 September, 2003, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
Profile: Kenya's 'Uncle Moody'
By Gray Phombeah
BBC, Nairobi

Kenyans fondly call Arthur Moody Awori "Uncle Moody" - a man known for his wisdom, compassion and modesty.

He is also regarded as fashion trendsetter on Kenya's political stage - whether dressed in immaculate western suits, flowing West African robes or in colonial khaki shorts, colourful stockings and a cowboy hat.

Moody Awori
Awori's appointment maintains a delicate ethnic balance
And so when President Mwai Kibaki named him vice-president, the battered president had settled on a political uncle to every politician and the parties that form his shaky coalition government.

Seriously weakened by the power struggle in his government and rising public anger over his failure to curb corruption and deliver on his election promises, Mr Kibaki went for a man older than himself but who is essentially a mirror of his laid back style of leadership.

In Mr Awori, Mr Kibaki chose an older version of the likeable Michael Kijana Wamalwa, his closest ally and former vice president who died in August in London, plunging the country into communal mourning and the government into serious political crisis.

In his choice of Uncle Moody, Mr Kibaki also took into account Kenya's touchy ethnic and regional sensibilities by rewarding the biggest voting block that brought him to power and the region where the late Michael Wamalwa also belonged.

Exodus

Mr Awori is a member of the Luhya - the second-largest of Kenya's 40-plus ethnic groups - and is expected to help preserve the delicate tribal balance that makes up the governing coalition, which has been increasingly plagued by disputes among its many groups.

At 76, his elevation to an almost national political icon has been a long journey.

Wamalwa's coffin carried on his final journey
He replaces Wamalwa who died last month

Born to a famous family of a pioneer Anglican clergyman in 1927, Mr Awori was first elected to parliament in 1983 and went on to become, in the eyes of many Kenyans, a "professional assistant minister" under the regime of former President Daniel arap Moi.

Regarded in the 1980s as a Moi loyalist, he served as an assistant minister in various ministries for 20 years until late last year when he surprised many by joining the exodus of rebels from the ruling Kanu party to the opposition after Mr Moi handpicked Uhuru Kenyatta, a political nonentity, to be his successor.

His first stint as minister came in January after the opposition Narc alliance swept into power in the December polls, ending Mr Moi's 24-year rule.

President Mwai Kibaki appointed him minister of home affairs, a key portfolio which he retains as vice president.

Marriage counsellor

One of his first assignments as home affairs minister was a visit to a Nairobi prison where he donated radio and television sets and promised to reform the archaic and inhuman prison system in the country.

To many Kenyans, Moody Awori is more than just a politician.

President Mwai Kibaki
Kenyans hoped that Kibaki would quickly change their lives

He is a marriage counsellor, industrialist, businessman and a charity fundraiser.

He is considered one of the wealthiest members of the new ruling elite.

Ethnic politics aside, many Kenyans see Mr Awori as a reasonable and moral man.

He is credited with assembling the broad coalition that ended almost 40 years of a virtual one-party reign in Kenya and many see him as the man who can heal the coalition's self-afflicted wounds.

Fading hopes

But because of his age and that of his president, Mr Awori and the Narc leadership in general, are also seen as the embodiment of a tired, old Kenya: wealthy but sickly, too laid back and running out of steam only nine months after taking power.

Concerns about his boss's health and his ability to govern are hurting the coalition government's credibility and image.

At the same time, in-fighting and allegations of sleaze have reduced the coalition to a shambles.

With a popularity that cuts across ethnic groups, "Every Kenya's Uncle" might rekindle the dream of a new Kenya.

But it's a long shot.

The new dawn many Kenyans embraced with joy as the Narc government was sworn in early this year is now looking more like twilight.




SEE ALSO:
Kenya names new vice-president
25 Sep 03  |  Africa
Obituary: Michael Kijana Wamalwa
23 Aug 03  |  Africa
Kenya's vice-president dies
23 Aug 03  |  Africa
Kenya's new era assessed
08 Apr 03  |  Africa
Kenyan leader back in hospital
20 Jan 03  |  Africa


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