Kibaki reminded us of a time when politics was about changing lives


Wherever he spends his time these days, Mwai Kibaki must enjoy catching up on the newspapers every morning.

Hardly a day passes without someone demanding that his successors should take lessons from his time in office.

This is especially true when it comes to the issue of managing the economy. Uhuru and Ruto, various commentators insist, should steer the nation’s financial ship much as Kibaki did.

They should take some lessons in Kibakinomics, to borrow columnist Jaindi Kisero’s phrase.

The mixed appraisals of Kibaki’s time in office penned immediately after he left State House have given way to much more glowing ones.

Yet this is not just about one man’s legacy. Kibaki certainly moved the nation from one level to another during his presidency.

Economic growth figures tend to be an arid measure of changes in life because of the controversy they attract about who gains from the growth.

But other numbers show what an impact better governance can have on people’s lives.

Between 2002 and 2011, the average life expectancy in Kenya rose from 51.97 to 57.08.

Infant mortality — the number of children that die before their first birthday — fell by 7.6 per cent every year between 2003 and 2008, the highest rate in the world, prompting the World Bank to commission a report titled: “What has driven the decline of infant mortality in Kenya?”

Basically, while 47 of the 1,000 children born in 2003 did not live to see their first birthday, by 2008 that number had fallen to 22 of every 1,000 live births.

Mr Kibaki miserably failed to unite the country. He was a mediocre politician, and the sense of ethnic exclusion fostered during his first few years in office is the main reason he is not universally loved.

On the economic front, he was a considerable success, and the huge middle class which has made Kenya one of the main places major multinationals want to set up shop on the continent is his legacy.

It is noteworthy, though, that politicians of Mr Kibaki’s stature are written about in the past tense. They are becoming extinct.


In Mr Kibaki’s first few months the Treasury was run by veterans who helped shape policy in the 1960s — David Mwiraria and Harris Mule — who reported to Mr Kibaki, himself a former minister for finance.

They just did the basic things — like cutting borrowing from commercial banks — which drove down interest rates and forced banks to run after Wanjiku, offering her loans.

Similarly decisive and clear-minded politicians are nowhere to be seen these days. It is not just about Uhuru and Ruto. At the presidential debate last year, where were the new titans to match the members of Kenya’s first Cabinet; the Kenyattas, Mboyas, Gichurus, Murumbis and Onekos?

In understanding why so many people are disillusioned by Kenyan politics, we should look not just at individuals but at the whole system. In the 1960s, all the people in society who were considered the best and brightest were expected to go into politics.

There was an element of idealism. They saw a great nation-building project ahead of them.

You didn’t need money to get elected. In the 1970s and 80s, so I hear, rival candidates for MP would hold joint rallies and debate their ideas before the crowd.

Whoever presented a better plan generally carried the day. Ethnicity was a factor but not the overwhelming one it has become today.

Kamukunji was a predominantly Kikuyu constituency, but Mboya would win his seat with ease. Imagine that happening today.

These days, most of society seems to have internalised the view that politics is a dirty game.

The brightest and most talented steer clear of politics while voters fuel this situation by viewing their MPs as walking cash dispensers and treating them as objects of hate even when they have just been elected. “They are all thieves” is the typical view, which can’t be a great recruitment strategy for a new kind of politics.

Kibaki is regarded fondly these days not just because of his legacy but because of a yearning for a time long gone when politics was about improving lives.

How to return to that golden age is the great mystery.

Source: Nation


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