Kibaki put Kenya on track but his foot was not hard on the pedal

Saturday April 30 2022
Kenya's former president Mwai Kibaki.

Kenya's former president Mwai Kibaki. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


When a high-ranking official dies in Kenya, officialdom begins deifying the deceased. The man becomes a demi-god who dedicated his entire life to uplifting the poor. He detested corruption. Every shilling of his vast wealth was honestly acquired. Above all, he was a patriot who had no tribal bone in his body.

It is a fantastical narrative. And yet, because we are a country easily seduced by myths like how people made their wealth selling chicken on the roadside, these fantastical narratives become our history.

Mwai Kibaki, the departed former Kenyan president, was inarguably a brilliant mind. When you listen to his unscripted speeches in the 1960s, one is awed by his brilliance and eloquence. He could not only explain with clarity the problems facing the young country but also government policy interventions.

Today, we hear politicians droning on about debt in tired economics jargon. Kibaki premised his arguments on economic theory, not in a dogmatic fashion, but in a creative way in order to address Kenya’s special needs. Had he and the late Tom Mboya not joined politics, and instead dedicated themselves to finding economic solutions for Africa, we would long have had a Nobel Prize-worthy blueprint for the continent’s economic renaissance.

Politics reduces brilliant minds to mediocrity and corrupts the integrity of honest people. This is because thieving systems and their operators abhor honest, brilliant minds.

So, as vice-president under Daniel arap Moi, it was difficult to distinguish Mwai Kibaki from other sycophants singing like parrots as the president demanded. When the Moi regime outlawed democracy, Kibaki was euphoric about the speed with which the Bill making Kenya a de jure one-party state was passed in parliament. Later, when the push for democracy began, Kibaki taunted democracy activists that trying to bring down the ruling Kanu regime was akin to trying to cut down “a Mugumo tree with a razor blade”.


It was only when the push for democracy was irreversible that he abandoned the dictatorship he had served for so long. But, even then, instead of joining hands with others like Jaramogi Odinga, who had suffered greatly fighting for human rights, he formed his own party. Desperate pleas to him not to split opposition votes fell on deaf ears. So Moi won the presidency with a minority vote tally.

It is true Kibaki as president rescued the country from a rabid and rapacious dictatorship. He renewed dead institutions. He freed the economy from the grips of cartels in government. Tax revenue more than tripled. He tried — not very successfully — to fight corruption. He introduced free primary education. The economy, at comatose under Moi, grew at seven percent. Unlike his predecessor, he facilitated constitutional debate, which culminated in the 2010 constitution. No doubt Kibaki as president brought the derailed train back on track. But he failed to press his foot full throttle on the accelerator.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator