Sunday Nation editor Eric Obino and reporter Murithi Mutiga interviewed President Kibaki on the highs and lows of his time in office. Edited excerpts…
You have invested a great deal of energy in urging Kenyans to back the proposed constitution. How important do you think a ‘Yes’ vote will be for the nation’s future?
The constitution is about the Kenyan people. Our constitution review process has been one of the most intense and consultative in the history of constitution making. It is therefore a product of the common will of the people. The enactment of a new constitution will institutionalise the many reforms that our country has sought for the last two decades. However, I must emphasise that a new constitution is not about Mwai Kibaki.
By 2012, I will have done my bit for this great republic of Kenya. The new constitution is about the future. When I read the constitution I am confident that it will take our country to that future that the Kenyan people envision. A future of great economic prosperity, greater social equity and political stability. We want a country at peace with itself and enjoying great respect among the family of nations.
Do you see a new constitution representing potentially the most enduring achievement of your time in power?
The new constitution is about the greater national interest. Personally I have been at the forefront in recreating Kenya to be a competitive nation that stands tall among the modern nations.
The proposed constitution offers Kenya a chance and a big step to greater stability, economic opportunity and social justice. It is taking responsibility to the people through devolved power to the counties.
I will be happy and proud if Kenyans give it their full support. I am confident that history will judge us well. What we have currently is a constitution that was the product of negotiation between the colonialists and our founding fathers. As President I would be happy to be associated with a new constitution that is the product of a negotiated process among the people of this great land.
You have committed yourself to presiding over reforms in the judiciary, police force and electoral commission. Are you on track with these reforms and what plans are there to implement them?
Reform is not an event but a process. The process to change the way our institutions work got under way in 2003. That process is ongoing and will be boosted with the enactment of a new constitution.
I am a great believer in institutions and have always said that institutions must outlive individuals. That is why entrenching reforms must go beyond personality change at the head of institutions.
There is more we can do to reform our judiciary so that we can get rid of the huge backlog of cases in the system. This is why we have been pushing for small claims and traffic courts that can quickly dispense with petty cases.
Police reforms are also under way with implementation of the Ransley report. In my 2002 election campaigns I promised better remuneration for the police. We intend to fulfil this promise.
In regard to the electoral commission we must see this in the wider context of electoral reforms. All Kenyans must embrace these reforms because peaceful and fair elections are the work of the electors, candidates and the managers of the electoral process.
We must also entrench a mindset that an electoral contest has winners and losers. Winners must learn to embrace victory with humility while losers should accept defeat honourably. That way democracy becomes entrenched.
What has been the finest moment of your presidency?
I recall how millions of our children swamped our schools when we introduced free primary education in 2003. I am touched when we launch development projects, especially in health and infrastructure, that have a direct bearing in bettering the lives of our people.
What has the lowest moment been?
God placed us in a beautiful country. It is no accident that we all ascribe to Kenyan nationhood. It therefore hurts me immensely when I see a Kenyan citizen rise up against another on the basis of ethnicity.
In your inauguration speech in December 2002, you promised to introduce free primary education, to end corruption and make the culture of impunity and roadside presidential declarations a thing of the past. Which of these promises do you believe you have kept?
In many ways we have travelled the path we set out to change our nation. Eight years ago, our economy had nearly stagnated. Kenyans were losing faith in their country. There were limitations in certain freedoms. Today, we are firmly on the path of national renewal.
Given the chance, what would you have done differently in your first term in office?
We would have kicked off the infrastructure upgrade and renewal projects earlier but were bogged down in unnecessary procedures and bureaucracy. Infrastructure drives economies and creates jobs and opportunities. That is now fully on track.
What lessons did you draw from the 2008 post-election crisis?
The post-election crisis was a dark blot in our nation’s history. It was disheartening to see Kenyans who had lived side by side for decades being subjected to horrendous acts in what shall always be a tragic chapter in Kenya’s history.
It was unfortunate and highly regrettable that Kenyans were subjected to one of the longest campaigns period in our history ahead of the 2007 elections. You will recall that soon after the 2005 referendum the country was placed on a campaign mode.
The long campaign period became extremely divisive and balkanising. One of my wishes is that Kenya can legislate on how long campaign periods should be and proper mechanisms be put in place to deal with those who flout this. Long campaigns get personal, but shorter campaigns enable the electorate and candidates to engage in deeper and meaningful debate. We lost over one thousand lives.
How would you like to be remembered?
The economy has always had a big part in my career in public service. A good growing economy places food on our people’s tables. It gives people jobs and a sense of belonging.
A vibrant economy brings positive change to our education and health sectors.
A growing economy has made it possible for government to collect more taxes without raising the individual tax burden. This has enabled us to have money to finance the most ambitious infrastructure programme in our nation’s history.
But, as a former educationist, I must say smiling children enjoying our free primary education gives me an extra sense of pride.
You seem to have struck a good working relationship with the Prime Minister in recent months.
I am happy that we have overcome most of the problems we had in early 2008. Then we had just come from a gruelling electioneering period and intense negotiations on the National Accord.
I have a good working relation with both the Prime Minister and Vice-President. I was with both Hon Raila and Hon Kalonzo during our days in NARC. I believe we are a strong team that especially believes in the need to give Kenyans a new constitution. This is why we are giving our full support to the document because we believe that it is in the best interests of our nation.
The presidency is a lonely job. How do you relax and unwind when you have the time?
I read a lot. It’s a discipline I have had over the years and one that has come in very handy in the management of State affairs.
I have not had the time to enjoy a round of golf but I do find some time to exercise in the gym.
Family is also very important to me and finding time to spend with them is always a great joy.