President Mwai Kibaki’s style of governance is that of a competent technocrat. Thus, public affairs are better organised since he took over in December 2002. The economy has done well despite the post-election chaos of 2008 and Kenya is much freer than during the eras of Presidents Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Moi.
The August 4, 2010, ratification of the new Constitution is another feather on the President’s cap. He galvanised the country — campaigning in all corners of Kenya — in support of the new laws and the outcome was the overwhelming victory of 67 per cent. For him, this was the realisation — as he told a local newspaper — of a 50-year desire to change the colonial laws. It was also the end of a chapter that would have been closed in 2005 if divisive politics had not clouded the issues.
Like his predecessor Moi, who as Vice-President had withstood disrespect from juniors, Kibaki took the demotion from the Vice-Presidency to Minister for Health in 1988 in his stride. Notwithstanding the tribulations he underwent as Vice-President and Cabinet minister, and even later as the Leader of the Official Opposition, he bid his time and was even accused of being a “fence-sitter”. But this did not seem to worry the veteran politician or remove his eyes from the prize.
Kibaki was elected Kenya’s third president in the December, 2002, General Election, with the support of politicians who had just rebelled from Kanu.
Born on November 15, 1931, in Othaya, Nyeri, Kibaki was the youngest son of Kibaki Githinji and Teresia Wanjiku. He was baptised Emilio Stanley by missionaries in his youth, names he no longer uses.
As a boy, Kibaki was expected to look after his father’s livestock, but a brother-in-law impressed it on his father to take him to school, where he turned out to be an exceptionally bright student. He went to Gatuya-ini and Karima Mission schools, and then attended Mathari School (now Nyeri High) between 1944 and 1946 for Standard Four to Six classes. In addition to academic studies, he learnt carpentry and masonry, as students were expected to repair furniture and maintain school buildings. Like everyone else, he grew his own food at school. During the school holidays, he worked as a conductor for the Othaya African Bus Union to earn some pocket money. At the end of primary school education, he performed exceptionally well and was admitted to the top Catholic school in the country, Mangu High, in 1947. He sat the final examinations in 1950 and passed with six points, the best possible grade.
Influenced by soldiers of the Second World War who had returned home in 1945, he considered becoming a soldier in his final year at Mangu. However, the Colonial Secretary, Walter Coutts, barred the recruitment of the Gikuyu, Embu and Meru communities into the army. This put paid to Kibaki’s military ambitions.
He went to Makerere University College, Uganda, and studied economics, history and political science, graduating at the top of the Faculty of Arts with a First Class Honours BA degree in 1955. After graduation, he got a job as an assistant sales manager at the Uganda Division of Shell Company, East Africa. But he did not stay long. His excellent performance earned him a scholarship to the prestigious London School of Economics for postgraduate studies in public finance. He graduated with a distinction and returned to Makerere in 1958 as an assistant lecturer in the Economics Department. He taught until December 1960, when he returned to Kenya to become the first Kanu Executive Officer.
In 1962, Kibaki married Lucy Muthoni, the daughter of a church minister, and they have four children: Judy Wanjiku, Jimmy, David Kagai and Tony Githinji. They also have three grandchildren: Joy Jamie Marie, Mwai Junior and Krystina Muthoni. In 1963, Kibaki was elected the MP for Doonholm constituency in Nairobi. It was later renamed Bahati and is now called Makadara.
A brilliant debater, Kibaki was appointed an Assistant Minister for Finance and chairman of the Economic Planning Commission in 1963. He played a key role in drafting the famous 1965 Sessional Paper on African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya.
An intelligent and eloquent speaker, he was promoted to Minister for Commerce and Industry in 1966 and the Minister for Finance and Economic Planning in 1969. During his time as Finance Minister, the economy was well managed and grew steadily. Kibaki was respected in the world’s economic and academic circles. World Bank president Robert MacNamara once described him as “one of the greatest economic brains to have emerged from Africa”.
When Kibaki was appointed to the ministry, he promised to use the new docket to put the economy on a sound footing so Kenyans could reap the fruits of independence. He was re-elected in Bahati in the 1969 elections. But pressure from the people of Othaya made him move his political base from Nairobi in 1974. He was overwhelmingly elected and has been re-elected to Parliament in subsequent polls — 1979, 1983, 1988, 1992, 1997, 2002 and 2007.
When Moi became President on Kenyatta’s death in 1978, he elevated Kibaki to the Vice-Presidency, but Kibaki kept the Finance docket.
In 1988, Kibaki was demoted from Vice-President to Minister for Health.
On Christmas Day 1991, however, just after the law that outlawed many political parties was repealed, he upset the political landscape by resigning from Kanu and the Cabinet. Shortly after, the Democratic Party — that was to be Kibaki’s political vehicle for a decade — was born.
Following the opposition defeats at the 1992 and 1997 elections, Kibaki and the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) — a marriage between his National Alliance Party of Kenya (NAK) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) — romped home with 62 per cent of the vote in the December 27, 2002 election. Kibaki was sworn in as the third President on a wheelchair on December 30, 2002 following a car crash on the campaign trail. He was re-elected for the second and final five-year term term in December, 2012.
In 1974, Time magazine nominated him among the top 100 people in the world who had the potential to lead.
In his 50-year political career, Kibaki has eschewed petty politics and controversy even during the one-party rule when mass condemnation of those perceived to be enemies of the State was the order of the day. He has rightly been described as the gentleman of Kenyan politics. But his detractors have interpreted the suave style as indifference.