This year, the curtains will fall on the illustrious career of one of Africa’s long-standing politicians, who will go home after 50 years at the heart of Kenyan politics. President Mwai Kibaki will retire after serving two terms, as demanded by the Kenyan constitution. When he entered politics as a fresh-faced young man, little did he know that his political career would come this far. As he prepares to return to his native Nyeri, we look back on his career and what lessons Africa can learn from him personally and from the country he worked for, for so long, and led for eight years.
Sometime in 1950, a 19-year-old boy in Nyeri, in colonial Kenya, had just finished high school and wanted to join the King’s African Rifles (KAR), the then military service of the British colonial government. Due to the Mau Mau insurgency in the country, the then colonial secretary, Walter Coutts, had decreed that members of the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru communities be barred from the colonial military service. As the teenager came from the Kikuyu community, he was disqualified from joining the KAR.
Fifty-two years later, that young man, now older and wiser, has achieved his teenage dream in totally different circumstances. Sitting in a wheelchair, nursing a bandaged broken right leg, he was sworn in before a mammoth crowd not just as the commander-in-chief of Kenya’s Armed Forces but as the third president of the Republic of Kenya.
After 10 years as president, Mwai Kibaki will this year retire to his home county of Nyeri where it all began, and what a sweet retirement package awaits him!
To enjoy his retirement, and generally mull over his presidency and 50-year life at the heart of Kenya’s politics, President Kibaki will be well placated with a staff of 38, twelve of whom will be his security detail drawn from the presidential regiment of the General Service Unit (GSU).
Other members of his staff will include four housekeepers, four secretaries, two laundry personnel, four drivers, two chefs, two personal assistants, two gardeners, four messengers, four house cleaners and others to take care of his office. In addition, adequate security will also be provided for by the state for the president’s rural home in Nyeri, the urban home in Muthaiga, Nairobi; and for escorting him when he is travelling.
All this will be complemented by a palatial $6m ranch house in Nyeri complete with an airstrip and helipad. According to the Presidential Retirement Benefits Act of 2003, Kibaki is also entitled to an upmarket office space not exceeding 1000 square metres with all furnishings, furniture, office supplies and appropriate equipment being provided for by the government.
An entertainment allowance of $2,500 and a house allowance of $3,600 every month will also be thrown in. He will also get another $2,500 as fuel allowance and $3,600 to cover his monthly utility bills. To cater for his and his wife’s health needs, full local and international medical and hospital cover, taken from a reputable insurance company, awaits.
He also stands to get an automatic diplomatic passport and an international travel allowance to cover four trips a year, which will not exceed a fortnight each. He will enjoy the trappings of power and full access to the VIP lounges at all Kenyan airports.
Again, as and when needed, President Kibaki will be accorded courtesies by the government of Kenya and will be paid “a reasonable allowance in respect of such official functions.” Together with all this, Kibaki will choose four new cars, two of which will be four-wheel SUVs, and the others high-powered limousines whose maintenance and running expenses will be paid by the Kenyan government and which will be replaceable every three years. The icing on the cake, however, will be a one-off lump sum gratuity send-off payment of $201,000 and an annual payment of $144,000 for the rest of his life.
A rider to all this, according to the Presidential Retirement Benefits Act, is that “a retired president shall not hold office in any political party for more than six months after ceasing to hold office as president” and will be expected to play a “consultative and advisory role to the government and the people of Kenya”.
With such sweet trappings, President Kibaki is sure to walk into the sunset with his mind well settled. Key milestones in his mind will be that day in 1960 when he decided to quit his academic career at the Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, to become the first full-time executive officer of the Kenya African National Union (KANU), his first plunge into elective politics in 1963 as the member of parliament for Bahati constituency in Nairobi; and 30 December 2002, when he was sworn in as the third president of Kenya.
Another milestone, which incidentally will haunt Kibaki forever, is the evening of 30 December 2007, when Kenya burst into an orgy of ethnic destruction due to a disputed presidential election as he was sworn in for the second time on the State House lawns. On the other side of the coin, he will take some comfort in the memory of 27 August 2010, when he promulgated Kenya’s new constitution.
Kibaki the economist
For Kenyans, their third president leaves them with many memories, including what is referred to in Nairobi as Kibakinomics. He transformed Kenya’s economy and completely redefined the country’s landscape by revamping its tattered infrastructure.
As Kibaki walks into retirement he will look to his record and see the spanking 50km Nairobi-Thika superhighway that links the capital Nairobi to the industrial town of Thika, the first step in opening the Great North Road to Ethiopia.
Again, during his tenure, he overhauled the 530km Mombasa-Nairobi highway, increased the capital’s metropolitan borders, enhanced Nairobi’s diplomatic status, raised Kenya’s economic profile, and attracted foreign direct investment with more than a dozen multinationals setting their African bases in Nairobi.
A smile will part his lips as he recalls how in his time Kenya became a regional economic and communications hub and leader in innovations such as the mobile money transfer system, M-Pesa, alongside other information and communication technology systems. He leaves behind the Konza Technocity, taking shape under the “Silicon Savannah” tagline.
Fully aware of the challenges faced by the Mombasa port, and the difficulties that landlocked South Sudan and Ethiopia are facing from East African congested ports, Kibaki is leaving the scene having set in motion Africa’s grandest development project, the $24.7bn Lamu Port South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor. The LAPSSET Corridor will ease the pressure on the Northern Corridor served by Mombasa and Dar es Salaam ports as it will have a secure oil pipeline, oil refinery, standard gauge railway, highway, airport and a port at Kenya’s northern coastal resort island of Lamu.
To Kenyan farmers, Kibaki’s 10-year administration will be remembered as the decade where their debts were written off and subsidies and incentives offered to growers of cotton, coffee, tea, sugar cane, pyrethrum, cashew nuts, and grains. The revival of farmer-friendly banks, farmer cooperative societies and factories also peaked during this period.
The real estate sector will remember Kibaki for turning their fortunes around. When Kibaki took over, the value of Kenya’s approved building plans stood at $48m. Come 2012 and the values have skyrocketed to $2.4bn.
It was during Kibaki’s tenure that futuristic gated communities and new cities such as Tatu, Northlands Estate, Thika Greens, Migaa, Vipingo Ridge, and Mukima Ridge took root, and microfinance institutions stole the thunder from conglomerates and other established banks.
Indeed, Kibaki’s years have seen Kenyan banks becoming bullish in the region, with the Kenya Commercial Bank, Equity Bank, and the Diamond Trust Bank extending their tentacles to neighbouring Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and South Sudan.
When Kibaki took over as president, Nairobi had earned the tag “Nairobbery” as crime levels had soared. But under Kibaki, greater investment in the criminal justice system, housing for the police, and heavy budgetary allocation to the defence and intelligence sectors were given top priority and soon the “Nairobbery” tag had disappeared. Kibaki leaves the scene with Kenya’s international rating improved and the United Nations Office in Nairobi (UNON) enjoying the same status as that of other UN key stations in Rome, Vienna and Geneva.
In the energy sector, the country’s power generation capacity stood at 4685GWh when Kibaki took office, which has risen to 7000GWh now. Installed electric capacity trebled from 1142MW to 3224MW, and the country is now seriously tapping into green energy, thanks to geothermal wells in the Rift Valley.
In 2002, immunisation coverage for children against TB, diphtheria, polio, tetanus and measles stood at 47%; now as Kibaki leaves the scene, the rate has risen to 83%.
But as he examines his fiscal policies and marvels at how he pushed the Kenyan budget to reach the $12bn mark, Kibaki will realise that his economic prowess left the country with a weak shilling and a debilitating interest rate.
Kibaki the ideologue
Earlier in his presidency, Kibaki took a bold move to legalise the Mau Mau movement which had been proscribed by the British colonial government way back in 1952. The ban remained in force throughout Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Moi’s tenures.
Kibaki went on to unveil a statue of the Mau Mau resistance icon, Field Marshall Dedan Kimathi, right in the heart of Nairobi; and facilitated the rapid issuance of travel documents to surviving Mau Mau veterans to sue the British government for the atrocities perpetrated against them by the colonial government. He also unveiled another statue in Nairobi’s central business district of his bosom friend and mentor, Tom Joseph Mboya, with whom he wrote independent Kenya’s economic blueprint, best known as “Sessional Paper Number 10”.
During Kibaki’s 10 years as president, Kenya’s major foreign direct investors ceased to be British as Chinese investment gradually became more dominant. Indeed, Kibaki’s game-changing “Look East policy” saw China, India, Thailand and other Asian economies making huge strides in Kenya. This was a radical departure in every sense of the word.
Kibaki the academic
When Kibaki entered State House, his first duty (even when his own lieutenants doubted his resolve) was to provide free primary education to Kenyans. The decorated former Makerere University don refused to accept that Kenya could not shoulder the burden of free primary education. One week after taking over the reins of power, he initiated his plan.
That decision saw classrooms attracting 1 million more pupils, among them the late Kimani Maruge, the world’s oldest pupil, who enrolled as a first grader at the ripe age of 84. Primary school enrolment rose from 6 million pupils in 2002 to 10 million in 2011. Today secondary school enrolment has jumped by 72.5%.
It is this single-mindedness that saw Kibaki earn acclaim from the former US president, Bill Clinton. He not only earned the praise of parents but got the rare attention of Clinton who, when asked about the person he wanted to meet, mentioned Kibaki. In a TV interview in 2004, Clinton said: “I would like to meet the new president of Kenya because he abolished school fees for poor children and a million extra children showed up at school.” In 2005, Clinton visited Nairobi and fulfilled his wish.
Kibaki the diplomat
Frustrated by piracy and lawlessness in Somalia, which were threatening Kenya’s maritime trade and tourism sector, Kibaki sent the Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF) across the border to deal with the problems in Somalia. He will be remembered as Kenya’s first president to deploy the KDF into war in an attempt to reshape the country’s diplomatic engagement abroad, and to assert Kenya’s military might in a region governed by former military men.
A firm believer in regional economic cooperation, Kibaki will cherish the strides he made towards regional economic integration. He will beam when he recalls the unveiling of the East African Common Markets Protocol, which allows the free movement of labour, goods, capital, services; and residence within the region.
Kibaki the politician
Sometime in 2006, the US State Department and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) organised a conference on Kenya in Washington. The thinking then was of a Raila Odinga presidency in Kenya. Odinga was seen as the president-in-waiting, ready to win the 2007 general election. As I sat in this meeting, I sensed that they had all made their judgements from reading Kenyan newspapers, but not its history. When I was given a chance to speak, I opened my statement with a Chinese proverb: “If you believe everything you read … you better not read at all.” Had they cared to read Kenya’s history, they would have discovered that Kibaki had survived many of Kenya’s tumultuous times, not entirely by dint of luck but by cool-headed political savvy unseen by the press.
In other words, there was another side of Kibaki that was not known. When push came to shove in 2007, the real Kibaki stood out as a cold and sometimes ruthless political operator. The result was a botched presidential election, loss of lives, and a coalition government with Kibaki as the head.
Kibaki will also reminisce on the tough moments in his career. He will recall how in 1975 he found himself in the opposite corner of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s “kitchen cabinet” when he condemned the assassination of JM Kariuki, whose surging popularity as heir apparent to Kenyatta was seen as a threat. He was the only cabinet minister to attend Kariuki’s funeral. He will remember how in 1977, against all the odds, he broke ranks with politicians from his backyard of Central Province, who had set up the Change-the-Constitution group in order to block the then Vice President Daniel Moi from ascending to the presidency. Standing by the constitution and Moi, he was made Vice President, but it earned him the enmity of his colleagues who made life difficult for the 10 years he occupied the position.
The 1988 general elections marked a serious low when Kibaki was replaced as Vice President and demoted to being the health minister, a position he took without much fuss. Out of favour with the ruling party’s kingmakers, 1988 was a difficult year as he also famously protested against electoral malpractices within KANU. Three years later he resigned from KANU, parted ways with Moi politically and formed the Democratic Party (DP).
As he saunters into retirement, Kibaki may look back at his 2002 and 2007 swearing-in ceremonies and why there was such acrimony and indifference in 2007. He will ponder how the country’s political situation would have panned out had he honoured the pre-election pact he signed with Raila Odinga and the late Wamalwa Kijana in late 2002. The parting of ways with Odinga, which led to the compromised 2007 general election, and the subsequent post-election violence, will gnaw at Kibaki’s mind. The aftermath of the violence, which has seen the International Criminal Court (ICC) confirming charges against Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto, Joshua Arap Sang and Francis Muthaura, will also be a stark reminder to Kibaki on how Kenya almost tipped over during his tenure and the subsequent shame Nairobi had to endure internationally.
Shameful as it may be, the flipside of the post-election clashes and the ICC debacle have helped Kenya to confront, and dare to exorcise, the ghosts of inequality that have tormented this East African nation since independence. But away from the dark memories, Kibaki will take comfort in the fact that it was during his tenure that the country tore itself away from a British-midwifed dispensation to a new robust constitution that significantly watered down the presidential powers, enhanced basic freedoms, and prioritised responsive government.
Historians now have the opportunity to pore over Kibaki’s executive orders and other records to fully understand Kenya’s third president.
Politicians have opponents, even enemies, but most people will wish Mwai Kibaki a good farewell and peaceful retirement; if not for himself, it will be for Kenya and the example it sets for the whole of Africa.