Three years after the most horrific crisis to hit Kenya since independence in 1963, in the shape of the post-election violence, an ebullient President Mwai Kibaki says the legacy he wants to leave when he finally bows out of politics next year is: “Together we made our country a better place that Kenyans are happy to call home.”
Q:You have received international kudos for forming Africa’s first Grand Coalition to resolve a national conflict. What has been your experience of this form of government?
A: The Grand Coalition Government was formed at a very trying time in our nation’s history. We came together as parties that had competed in one of the most closely contested elections in our country since independence. The main agenda of the Grand Coalition Government was to institutionalise reforms so as to move the country forward and deal with some of the simmering issues that had preoccupied our national discourse.
We had different ideologies in the run-up to the last elections but I am happy that we were able to coalesce around the country’s Vision 2030 blueprint that we launched soon after the formation of the new government. This has been a quick reference point on the social, economic and political reforms that are needed to transform our nation.
Q: Kenya succeeded in crafting a new consultative constitution within a year and a half of the political crisis; what were the main drivers of this urgency?
A: The new constitution was born out of a long- running dialogue and at times acrimonious debate that spilled to the streets over a 20-year period. As leaders, we knew that it was time to bring this long debate to a close to enable the Kenyan people to unleash their inherent potential and focus on the social, economic and political transformation envisaged for our people. The Kenyan people were also eager to embrace a new constitution that would reflect and address our nation’s modern day opportunities and challenges.
I remember travelling around the country over the period when we campaigned for a “yes” vote for the constitution. I recall the enthusiasm and excitement that the people exhibited. I thank the people of Kenya for choosing a peaceful and democratic way of change in their voting for the new constitution. We have now enthusiastically set out on the path of passing the laws needed to anchor the constitution.
Q: From all objective indicators, Kenya has bucked the trend and made a remarkably rapid economic recovery since this coalition government took office in April 2008. What do you attribute this achievement to?
A: Turning around the economy was the platform upon which we came into office in December 2002. Our overall growth moved from less than 1% in 2002 to 7% in 2007. Unfortunately in 2008 we faced challenges that led to a slowdown in our economic growth. Adverse weather conditions that have resulted in recurring drought and volatility in the international financial markets have also had negative effects on our economy.
However, we are back on the positive growth path due to the hard work of our people and the forward-looking policies that we have put in place. Chief among these are the investments we are making in the social sectors, especially health and education, that have a direct impact on the well-being of our people.
The growth is also being driven by the most ambitious infrastructure programme in our nation’s history incorporating investments in the roads and energy sector. Innovation has also played a big part. Kenya is today home to some of the world’s ICT innovations, like the mobile money transfer that has made it easy for our people to transact and bank from the comfort of their homes and business premises.
Q: It has been said that one of the best things that has happened since you came into office in 2002 was to greatly reduce the country’s dependence on foreign aid. How has this been achieved?
A: First, we had to grow our economy which we have done, having nearly tripled our GDP in the last eight and half years. This made it easy to widen our taxable base. We streamlined our tax collections by reforming the institutions charged with this responsibility.
Above all, we became more accountable to the people. The more people see their taxes at work – building schools, health centres, roads, more water and electricity connections – the more people are willing to pay taxes. We still have dependable development partners working with us, but we are also saying, let us do this much and we are happy for you to help us in other areas where we may not have the necessary expertise and resources.
Q:How important is the East African Community to achieving your Vision 2030 goals?
A: I consider myself an East African. Over 50 years ago, I took my first train ride and journeyed to Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, in search of higher education. My stay in Uganda greatly influenced my perceptions of our region. As President, I have always been happy to promote matters that grow the East African Community.
It was therefore a great pleasure
that while I was chairman of the East African community, Rwanda and Burundi joined the group. Our Vision 2030 envisions transforming Kenya into a middle income country in 20 years’ time. A prosperous East Africa at peace with itself is key to the fortunes of our individual countries.
Q:It is said that the proposed Lamu Port project will not only transform the economic prospects of northern Kenya but also South Sudan and even Ethiopia. How will it do so?
A: The Lamu Port–South Sudan–Ethiopia Transport Corridor (or LAPSSET) is Kenya’s, and indeed our region’s, most ambitious infrastructure project since the construction of the Mombasa-Nairobi-Kampala railway line over 100 years ago. The project will open up vast areas of northern and eastern Kenya and link our country to the newly independent South Sudan and give Ethiopia an alternative access to the Indian Ocean.
We are selling the project to various prospective investors. Ultimately I see good and innovative public-private partnerships (PPPs) emerging to develop the project. I say this because the various components of the project that include a brand new port, roads, railway line, airports and other energy and infrastructure projects will need to be imaginatively managed, hence the need for both public and private sector involvement in the development, management and ownership of the various components of the project.
Q:Kenya has had many crises in the past and so far, has always been able to bounce back. What do you attribute this resilience to?
A: By and large, Kenyans are very ambitious people who like to see progress in their lives. They will therefore easily identify with progressive forces that want to move the country forward. Whenever we have had a national crisis, Kenyans apply their resilience to resolve issues. I have seen this at work during my many years in public life. I also know that Kenyans are people who like to express themselves, especially now that we have an expanded democratic space with one of the most liberalised media in the world.
I must also thank the Kenyan people for their hard work. As leaders, our work is to create the necessary environment to ensure that we make our country a place where the citizens can live out their dreams, hopes and aspirations.
Q:You have been deeply involved in Kenyan politics since before independence in 1963. What legacy do you want to leave when you finally bow out of politics?
A: That together we made our country a better place that Kenyans are happy to call home.