Kibaki was East Africa’s ‘good thief in the night’

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Emilio Stanley Mwai Kibaki, Kenya’s third president from December 2002 till April 2013, died on April 21. He was 90. And with that, the exit of simply East Africa’s most enigmatic chief.

Warts and all, and an administration that had its justifiable share of corruption scandals, Kibaki however was essentially the most reformist and game-changing Kenyan chief of the previous 60 years.

He acquired an financial system that had all however collapsed, rising at 0.6 per cent, and he left with progress at 7.1 per cent and essentially the most thrilling expertise market in Africa. Access to monetary companies, for instance, expanded twentyfold over 10 years, and his authorities splashed on infrastructure prefer it was going out of trend.

In 10 years, he masterminded essentially the most dramatic financial turnaround any African chief has ever managed in a contentious and fractured democratic context. Yet, it wasn’t solely in Kenya that he left an imprint. He was additionally one of the important East African leaders. The distinctive factor about that’s that he didn’t look the half. Consider what occurred in early 2005. Rwandan economist and former Finance minister Dr Donald Kaberuka was elected president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), happening to serve till 2015.

I used to be an Executive Editor at Nation Media Group on the time and spoke to Dr Kaberuka shortly after his election. He informed me in a light-hearted tone that he had been “President Kibaki’s candidate,” and that partly accounted for his victory. Puzzled, I requested what he meant.

“Seriously, I was nominated by Kenya, not Rwanda,” he mentioned.


Rwanda at the moment, and nonetheless at this time, tended to set off too many individuals. A Kenyan nomination of Kaberuka was diplomatic subterfuge by Nairobi and Kigali. Yet, for Kibaki, there was additionally chilly beans-and-ugali calculation in backing Kaberuka. Some of the “economic miracle” with which Kibaki was to be credited was made potential partly by funding by the AfDB. The lion’s share of the funding for one of many jewels of the Kibaki period, the Thika Highway, was ponied up by the AfDB.

Kibaki was then simply into his second 12 months as Kenya’s president. He was considered by some as not being up to the mark, not having totally recovered from his near-fatal highway accident in December 2002, days forward of the election that was to make him Kenya’s and the outdated East African Community’s first opposition chief to beat an incumbent celebration at a democratic election.

In July 2003, Kibaki landed in Uganda on an official go to. The pink carpet was laid out, and the gun salute fired up. Uganda is a rustic that has been raised on a staple of visiting African leaders with rhetorical aptitude: Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Ghana’s Jerry Rawlings, and Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara (all of them now departed). Some sturdy anti-imperialist and spicy pan-African slogans, a dramatic waving of the arms, and wagging of the finger was at all times anticipated.

Kibaki’s efficiency, in contrast, was underwhelming. He mumbled principally technocratic phrases and talked about cash, growth and the East African Community. He didn’t clench the fist and bang the pulpit. He was thought of lifeless, and a few mentioned he was clearly nonetheless unwell. Even his private safety was thought of unimpressive; they weren’t menacing and didn’t carry large weapons.

That picture of Kibaki as a lacklustre determine, who was away with the fairies, endured to the final days of his presidency. However, it was a signature of the “below the radar” strategy of his presidency. Thus Kibaki’s fronting of Kaberuka by no means made the information and remained an obscure reality of pan-African horse-trading. Yet, he — or Kenya for that matter — cashed in.

But was Kibaki actually as absent-minded, bumbling, and hands-off as common notion had it, or was there a way to it? Was there a purpose he didn’t climb the mountain to declare his position in diplomatic manoeuvres like fronting Kaberuka and declare the glory?

Some of the very best solutions got here on the finish of 2007, after the election fiasco, and the lethal violence, the worst in Kenya’s post-independence, that adopted. That occasion was to stain Kibaki’s repute greater than all of the stumbles of his administration. The December 2007 vote was botched badly, and there have been many indicators that it had been stolen. The late-night frenzied swearing-in of Kibaki was fairly undignified too.

The outstanding factor is that whereas many thought the election was flawed, nobody ever instantly accused Kibaki of orchestrating the theft – sitting in a warroom and directing poll stuffing and ordering opposition votes to vanish, as a few of his extra dedicated friends who take rigging and energy severely do. From the skin, even that controversial swearing-in, regarded like an occasion into which he was shepherded after that they had lied to him that it was going to be a barbecue. Absent Kibaki appeared a crafty act that made it exhausting in charge him instantly for the cock-ups. It was a way that allowed him to maintain the blood off his palms.

His authorities additionally provided Kenya its ten most freedom-filled years, punctuated by the odd cracking of a journalist’s cranium right here and there, the bludgeoning of a loud civil society activist, and the turning off TV transmission. 

On the entire, it was celebration time. And, in typical Kenyan trend, even his disgruntled ministers would mouth off within the media, with few penalties.

His shut aides have been later to disclose that Kibaki was not a conviction free speech devotee. He enabled the liberty for strictly utilitarian causes; it allowed lots of his potential and actual rivals to show themselves and lowered surprises. Freedom was, in the end, a device of management.

In this atmosphere, many have been caught unexpectedly that seemingly unthreatening Kibaki despatched Kenyan troops into Somalia in October 2011 to pursue Al-Shabaab, following a string of terror assaults in Kenya. Al-Shabaab too had most likely banked on him not doing so, handing Kenya the benefit of shock when it made a beeline for Kismayu. The reverberations, and the heightened disaster across the huge refugee camps that adopted, despatched many delegations to State House.

I spoke to some members of 1 such high-powered worldwide delegation that got here to Kenya to fulfill Kibaki forward of their assembly. They had deliberate and strategised. There was a have to hold the assembly quick, and never ramble as a result of Kibaki was possible to go to sleep. He didn’t go to sleep, however he didn’t speak a lot both, past often asking his ministers and officers to talk. The shock got here on the finish when he sprang to life and provided a abstract of the assembly and the motion factors agreed upon. The guests have been shocked. He requested if everybody was in live performance and that they have been an correct illustration of the proceedings. Everyone agreed that they have been and the assembly ended.

I had dinner with them later that day. They have been nonetheless dazed. “What a surprise!” one in every of them mentioned, “Was that the sleepy Kibaki in that meeting or a body double? He was absolutely brilliant.”

Remember that supposedly underwhelming efficiency in Uganda? It was the springboard for a serious growth of Kenyan companies, particularly banks, in East Africa. Not too lengthy after, speak began about uniting East African inventory exchanges, and Kenyan corporations started cross-listing on the Ugandan and Tanzania inventory exchanges.

Uganda and Rwanda, as soon as allies, had fallen out and fought a short however bitter battle within the japanese Democratic Republic of Congo in 2000 after that they had initially backed the ouster of the corrupt strongman Mobutu Sese Seko there in 1997. The break up between Kampala and Kigali that was later to widen right into a gulf had began in earnest.

The Burundi civil battle was nonetheless raging, and Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda had turn into entangled in it. Jakaya Kikwete, Tanzania President Benjamin Mkapa’s Foreign minister from 1995 to 2005, had wrestled diplomatically to resolve it and reportedly felt annoyed that Kigali wouldn’t yield to his view of a settlement. In 2005, Kikwete was elected president. At about the identical time, Rwanda began its quest to hitch the East African Community. The outdated EAC had two leaders in Museveni and Kikwete, who considered Rwanda as pesky, and there was early uncertainty how its entry into the bloc can be shepherded. The climb would have been excessive – besides that Kibaki was president in Kenya.

In June 2007 Rwanda and Burundi have been admitted. Without Kibaki, it could have taken longer.

A 12 months after, Rwanda, with a watch on profitable fast regional credentials, eliminated permits for professionals from the EAC wishing to work within the nation. A 12 months later, the Kibaki authorities did the identical for Rwandans and adopted someday later with the elimination of labor permits for the remainder of East Africans – who didn’t reciprocate for fairly some time.

Eschewing drama and chest-thumping enabled Kibaki to push important milestones in regional integration, by stealth. But all of it added up. In all this, Kibaki by no means uttered the phrase “pan-African,” maybe considering it was facile adornment.  He was the final of the good Makerere College (University) era: proud, good males who got here to public life with a robust sense of future and an aristocratic air.  The 12 months he ascended to workplace, the East African stars aligned in a wierd means – 4 East African presidents had both studied or grown up in one other EAC nation.

In Rwanda President Kagame had been in energy for 2 years. He had gone to Uganda as a refugee, went to high school there, and fought within the battle that introduced Museveni to energy in 1986.  Benjamin Mkapa was president in Tanzania. Like Kibaki, he had gone to Makerere. Museveni was president in Uganda. He had gone to college in Dar es Salaam, lived in exile in Tanzania (and Kenya), and he and different exiles began the battle that ousted army dictator Idi Amin from energy in 1979 there.

Kibaki was the one who walked most softly of all of them however left a footprint many occasions greater than the noise he made.

If East Africa ever had a very good thief within the night time, then Kibaki was it.

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