Kibaki’s regional policy focused on growing the economy and less on political intrigues

Saturday April 23 2022
Yoweri Museveni and Mwai Kibaki.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni with Kenya’s former president Mwai Kibaki at an EAC summit in 2012. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


Mwai Kibaki, Kenya’s third president, had several regional credentials.

Mr Kibaki’s higher education was honed in Uganda, at the prestigious Makerere University. He would teach at the university after completing his postgraduate studies at the London School of Economics.

Later, he spent 40 years in Kenyan public service, rising to the presidency in 2002.

On Friday, President Uhuru Kenyatta eulogised Mr Kibaki as “a quintessential patriot, whose legacy of civic responsibility will continue to inspire generations of Kenyans long into the future.

“As a leading figure in Kenya’s post-independence history, Mwai Kibaki earned the abiding respect and affection of the people of this nation and other nations throughout the world.”

In his 10 years as president, Mr Kibaki was the chair of the EAC when Rwanda and Burundi were admitted, rebuilding the bloc to a community of five member states.


At the time, Mr Kibaki was in his first term as Kenya’s president and the EAC was just reconstructing itself from an earlier collapse in 1977. Mr Kibaki’s predecessor Daniel arap Moi played a major role in regrouping the original EAC of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in 1999.


Mr Kibaki then helped expand the bloc to open up trade.

This economic integration may have inspired the focus areas Kenya had in the bloc. On Friday, Peter Mathuki, the Secretary-General of the EAC, said Mr Kibaki had “served with distinction as a member and chair of the EAC Heads of State Summit”.

At a meeting of East African Legislative Assembly in Kampala in 2012, Mr Kibaki appeared to differ with host Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on whether the bloc should focus on politics.

“The focus in this area should be on ensuring adherence to the agreed commitments in the Protocol,” Mr Kibaki said in 2012.

He was referring to the Customs Union and the Common Market, which he had championed for.

These protocols remain divisive, with some countries reluctant to eliminate barriers that would enable free movement of goods and labour. The EAC had ambition for a common currency and a political federation, the latter which was championed by President Museveni.

On Friday, President Museveni described Mr Kibaki as a “great statesman.

“He was active in deepening the roots of African unity and co-operation for peace, development and security,” he said. “As he rests from his earthly responsibilities, let the young generation study his exemplary deeds and emulate this great son of Africa. He will be remembered for his faithful and excellent service to his motherland and Africa.”

Soon after he retired, Mr Kibaki told a gathering at the University of Nairobi that his legacy of establishing critical infrastructure would do Kenya and the region great good.

However, the $1.2 trillion Lapsset project has been delayed as neighbouring countries delay commitment.

On the political side, however, Mr Kibaki’s regional appearances were largely opportunistic. When South Sudan began to secede from Sudan, the mediation had been launched by Mr Moi. But it is under Mr Kibaki’s tenure that Southern Sudan inked an autonomy deal with Sudan in 2005 in Naivasha. South Sudan would eventually become independent in 2011.

Mr Kibaki was also unable to solve the Migingo island dispute with Uganda. A joint team did not present the report of their survey, reportedly because Uganda rejected their preliminary determination of who owns the island in Lake Victoria. The issue remains undetermined to date.

The former president was also unable to resolve a maritime boundary dispute with Somalia. The two countries had signed a memorandum that the Somali parliament later rejected. And after failed rounds of negotiations, Somalia decided to sue at the International Court of Justice. While the case was filed during Uhuru Kenyatta’s term in 2014, court documents accused Mr Kibaki’s officials of refusing to honour invites for talks.

“He contributed a lot for the building of his nation before he was elected president, and even during his tenure,” said Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the former Somalia president in a condolence message on Friday. “He contributed greatly in the political issues of Kenya and neighbouring countries.”

In security matters, Mr Kibaki is remembered for launching Operation Linda Nchi, which pursued al-Shabaab militants into Somalia.

On Friday, Workneh Gebeyehu, the executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development described Mr Kibaki as an “iconic leader and visionary statesman who promoted peace and unity”.