Sons of their Fathers ….and Mothers: Benigno Aquino III and Uhuru Kenyatta

Published on 19th March 2013

When I grow up to be a man like my father was when I was young I hope I can make him so proud of me Proud enough to call me his son-Phil Collins [Sons of our Fathers].

The Philippines and Kenya may be geographically miles apart, but these two nations display a myriad of common social and political similarities. One of the similarities is that of the election of each country’s head of state. The 15th President of the Republic of the Philippines, Benigno “Noy Noy” Simeon Cojuangco Aquino III, or fondly referred to as P-Noy, was on June 9, 2010 proclaimed as the President Elect of the Philippines by the Congress of the Philippines after a hard fought victory over his closest rival, former President Joseph Estrada. Born on February 8, 1960, President Noy is the only son of Philippine democracy icons Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino and former President the late Corazon Aquino. President Aquino’s father was in 1983 assassinated upon his return from exile in the USA at the height of strongman Ferdinand Marco’s reign. The site where his father was shot and killed upon his embarkation from the airplane was renamed The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in his honour. A monument in his honour also stands in the heart of the CBD in Makati.

His death helped spur the country to depose the Marco’s regime through a nonviolent and prayerful revolution, dubbed the EDSA People Power Revolution [EDSA 1], which in effect helped restore Philippine democracy with Noy’s mother, Corazon Aquino, a housewife with no prior political experience or inclination, elected as the 11th President of the Philippines in 1986. In 1998, Noy Noy entered public service serving as Representative of the 2nd District of Tarlac from 1998 to 2007. In May 2007, he joined the Philippine Senate, on a political pedestal of protecting human rights and honesty, and responsible governance. The passing of his mother in 2009 stirred up national fervour and yearning for an honest and compassionate leadership coupled with a trustworthy government.

In response to this mass appeal, Noy responded on September 9, 2009, the 40th day after former president Cory Aquino’s passing, his candidacy for presidency at the Club Filipino in Greenhills, San Juan, the same venue where his mother took oath on the final day of the EDSA People Power Revolution. In his inaugural address to the nation on June 30, 2010, President Noy pledged to work to serve and not lord over the country on a mandate of change in order to transform the government. It was after all his campaign slogan ““Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap”, loosely translated as “Without corruption, there won’t be poverty,” indicating the main priority his presidency would focus on in order to transform the country. Meeting this motto is President’s Noy hope for his legacy after his reign, sorry, service! Under Article 7, Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines, the presidential tenure is fixed to one term of 6 years and where an incumbent President is ineligible for any re-election.

President Noy holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from the prestigious and private Jesuits run Ateneo de Manila University having graduated in 1981. He also holds a number of honorary degrees. President Noy comes from a lineage of politicians, apart from that of his own parents. As a fourth generation politician, President Noy’s great-grandfather, Servillano "Mianong" Aquino, served as a delegate to the Malolos Congress. His grandfather, Benigno Aquino, Sr., served as Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Philippines from 1943 to 1944.

President Aquino is the first president to be a bachelor, being unmarried and having no children, an enthusiast of shooting and billiards, an avid smoker and an audiophile also enjoys listening to music. President Aquino worked the private sector upon his return to the country after his father’s assassination before dabbling in politics. Some jobs he held include working as an executive director of the Philippine Business for Social Progress, an assistant retail sales supervisor for Mondragon Industries Philippines, Inc. and as an assistant promotions manager for Nike Philippines, Inc.

During the presidency of his mother, President Noy joined the Intra-Strata Assurance Corporation, a company owned by his uncle as vice president. President Noy has a bullet still lodged in his neck following an attempted coup against his mother’s 18 months old presidency by rebel soldiers on August 28, 1987. Three of Aquino's four security escorts were killed, and the last was wounded protecting him. He himself was hit by five bullets.

Into his 4th year, President’s Noy government has faced myriad of challenges, however despite these, confidence has been upped with good ratings for his administration and economic growth with a report in the Business Mirror noting the Philippines of late surpassing its Asian neighbours in providing a good business environment conducive for multinationals. According to the report, the country’s economic situation under the Aquino administration was boosted by the GDP growth of 6.6% at the end of 2012, where such growth, coupled with a competitive labour force and a stable government, has fuelled investor confidence in the country.

Born to Kenya’s first President and independence icon, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and to Kenya’s post independent First Lady, Mama Ngina Kenyatta, Kenya’s President elect, Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, or fondly referred to a UK, was born on 26th October, 1961. He was elected as President on 9th March 2013. Born at the dawn of Kenya’s Independence, his name, Uhuru (Freedom) thus carries the aspirations of his father’s freedom from British colonial rule. His father has been immortalized through various honours including naming the main airport in Nairobi as Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), major highways, erected monuments in the heart of Nairobi’s CBD, a major referral hospital in East African region, among many others.

Uhuru attended the religiously strict and equally prestigious Roman Catholic run Saint Mary’s School in Nairobi and later Amherst College, Massachusetts, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in politics and economics. Before dabbling in politics, Uhuru worked with the private sector. His political sojourn began through his election as the chairman of his hometown branch of the ruling party, KANU, in 1997. However, he lost in his debut attempt in the same year to represent the Gatundu South Constituency parliamentary seat, incidentally his own father’s constituency. In disappointment, Uhuru retracted to the family business that includes five-star tourist hotels, airlines and commercial farming.

In 2001, Uhuru was nominated to Parliament becoming Minister for Local Government under President Daniel arap Moi and, despite his political inexperience, was favoured by President Moi as his successor and lost to Mwai Kibaki by a large margin, subsequently becoming Leader of the Opposition in Parliament. In backing Kibaki for the latter’s re-election in the December 2007 presidential election, Uhuru became Minister of Local Government in January 2008, before becoming Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Trade in April 2008 as part of a coalition government.

From 2009 to 2012, Uhuru held the position as Minister of Finance while remaining Deputy Prime Minister. Accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of committing crimes against humanity in relation to the violent aftermath of the 2007 election, he resigned as Minister of Finance on 26 January 2012. Uhuru Kenyatta has been credited for a number of gains during his tenure as Finance Minsiter, spearheading a number of reform measures that have seen a change in how treasury and government by extension transact it business. Releasing the nation’s budget estimates to the public through the Finance Ministry’s website a week before and immediately after the reading in Parliament through various social media platform were some of the actions that endeared Uhuru as a proponent of transparency in government. Despite his privileged background, Uhuru’s sociability and fondness for the national favourite beverage Tusker brand of beer, has cast him as a man of the people. Unlike Aquino, Uhuru is a family man, married with 3 children.

The uncanny similarities between President Aquino of the Philippines and President elect Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya is amazing; from their ages, prestigious education backgrounds, political lineage, political reform agendas, sons of democratic and independence figures, honoured parents, mass support and appeal, working in the private sector prior to joining active politics, and shared common ‘social ills.’ An amazing coincidence these scions have but an ultimate political similarity they both seem to share in common, apart from the presidency, is that of reviving the popularity and fortunes of their father’s and mother’s political parties and memories; Aquino with the Liberal Party, Kenyatta with KANU (though he ran on The National Alliance Party (TNA) whose otherwise uncanny resemblance reflects with that of KANU in terms of party members, party colours and image, a dove for TNA, a cockerel for KANU, both avian!].

Given such trends, the question thus begs, is the direction towards real democracy and socio-economic development within newly emerging democracies of the south resting in the hands of the scions of political families of years of yore, or is it just an extension of political dynasties and resultant status quo political hegemony while exploiting mass sympathy and appeal? I search an answer because similar trends are equally pointing towards the largest democracy in the world’, India, where in the same wagon as Aquino and Kenyatta,  is India’s blue-eyed boy, Rahul Gandhi, he himself who comes from a politically influential family where his parents, Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi, have served as the Prime Minister of India and the President of the Congress Party respectively, a grandson of a former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, and great grandson of India’s first Prime Minister and independence hero, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Like President Aquino, Rahul’s family has experienced political assassinations, first that of his grandmother in 1984 and later his own father in 1991. Rahul is forthright in his political agenda to confront corruption in government and on national security. Rahul Gandhi was indeed accredited for the 2009 revival of Congress’ fortune in Uttar Pradesh where they won 21 out of the total 80 Lok Sabha seats. If President Aquino’s performance is one to draw any parallel from, then there is hope and inspiration, but as the saying goes, ‘Time will tell.’

By Satwinder S. Rehal

The author is an Associate Professor in the Department of Consular and Diplomatic Affairs, De La Salle College of Saint Benilde, Manila, The Philippines, and an Honorary Teacher in the School of Population, Communication & Behavioural Sciences, The University of Liverpool (UK).

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