When Prof Kenneth Ingham, who taught Mwai Kibaki at Makerere, heard that his former student had been elected president, he was worried for him.
But he was confident that Kenyans had chosen a good man. In a 2004 interview, the history expert offered a short but incisive analysis of Mr Kibaki’s character that probably explains his leadership style for the past five decades.
He says that while at Makerere in 1960, young Kibaki preferred to sit at the back of the class but “seemed to stand out among other students”.
Prof Ingham says he was worried for President Kibaki because he thought there were issues which required to be tackled with a measure of ruthlessness.
“Honestly I didn’t think it was his nature. Kibaki doesn’t crave prominence,” said Prof Ingham. “He doesn’t like to push himself forward. God help him.”
Other than education, Mr Kibaki, then an orator of repute, left Makerere with an item that would be a subject of a parliamentary debate – a “Ugandan tie”.
“I am bound to congratulate the member who is wearing his Uganda tie. So impressed am I by his speech, that I believe that it is one which should be reprinted and circulated over the world to all other members of commerce and to all the government commercial bodies throughout the entire universe,” said Mr Albert Alexander in response to Mr Kibaki’s contribution on the 1963 budget speech.
After 50 years in politics, President Kibaki is on Tuesday set to take leave State House and head to his new retirement home in Mweiga, Nyeri, after handing over the presidency to his god son, Uhuru Kenyatta.
His daughter Judy says the family is eagerly looking forward to the transition.
“We are looking forward to your retirement for very selfish reasons. We and your grandchildren and friends would like to spend more time with you,” she said, adding that his father has been in politics “all my life”.
“He married my mother in 1961, then had me in 1962, then in 1963 he became Member of Parliament. His career in politics has been all my life 50 years,” she writes in Mwai Kibaki, 50 Years of National Service.
The country has recorded an unprecedented infrastructural development, considerable economic growth and improvement in provision of public service during President Kibaki’s 10 years at the helm.
The President is credited with free primary education, delivery of the 2010 Constitution and construction of key roads across the country.
This is acknowledged even by some of his harshest critics.
“Sometimes when I travel to Lamu to find an airport being built, at the same time there is an airport being built in Malindi and another in Kisumu, there are airports and airstrips being expanded and the railway networks… it tells you the situation is different,” says Siaya Senator James Orengo.
However, a number of issues would remain a blot on President Kibaki’s otherwise illustrious political career. They are the paradoxes of a presidency that promised decency in management of public affairs and in which Kenyans had placed so much faith.
There are those who feel that President Kibaki failed to take advantage of the 2002 popular mandate for a complete break with the past and fix the politics largely mobilised along ethnic interests.
It is widely acknowledged that age and the 2002 accident denied the country the witty, sporty, eloquent Kibaki of the previous years. A man who could make lengthy and flowery contributions on the floor of the House without notes was confined to reading speeches at every forum.
Probably the darkest spot of the Kibaki presidency is the 2007/8 violence over the election in which outgoing Prime Minister Raila Odinga claimed that his poll victory had been stolen.
An estimated 1,133 people were killed and hundreds of thousands others displaced from their homes.
It was during President Kibaki’s tenure that four Kenyans, including the President-elect and his deputy William Ruto, were charged in a foreign land in connection with the violence.
The Waki Commission, which investigated the cause of the violence, reprimanded President Kibaki for his decision to dishonour a 2002 pre-election power-sharing deal with Mr Odinga, a move that increased the polarisation of politics along ethnic lines.
The commission also blamed President Kibaki for failing to involve the Opposition in appointment of members of the electoral commission. This denied the team credibility.
According to the Waki report, the 2007/08 violence was a consequence of the failure by President Kibaki and his first government to exert political control over the country or to maintain sufficient legitimacy as would have allowed a civilised contest with him at the polls to be possible.
“Kibaki failed to unite the country, and allowed feelings of marginalisation to fester into what became the post-election violence. He and his Government were complacent in the support they considered they would receive in any election from the majority Kikuyu community and failed to heed the views of the legitimate leaders of other communities,” said the commission.
The other challenges that define Mr Kibaki’s tenure touch on the fight against corruption, defence of press freedom, police reforms and tribalism.
Despite an emphatic declaration in 2002 that corruption “will now cease to be a way of life” in Kenya, former PS John Githongo in 2006 shocked the country with revelations on the multi-million shilling Anglo-Leasing scandal, which involved President Kibaki’s allies.
Besides infrastructure, the media industry have experienced tremendous growth during the Kibaki era as manifested by proliferation of radio and television stations. Cartoonists have had a field day depicting President Kibaki snoring away his time at State House.
But questions remain on the motive behind the 2005 raid at the Standard Group offices by balaclava-clad police agents who disabled KTN, cannibalised the printing press and assaulted staff.
During the period, the country was treated to a spectacle in which two Armenian crooks were appointed deputy assistant commissioner of police in circumstances the Kibaki government has never explained.
The Artur brothers later confessed to having participated in the raid with the help of top government security officers.
As he leaves office, open discussion of tribalism still remains largely a taboo subject.
A report by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission indicated that President Kibaki’s government had staffed the Security, Finance and Energy sectors with individuals from his Mt Kenya backyard. He never appointed a Finance minister from outside the region throughout his two terms.
“Apart from some expanded roads with flyovers and an economic growth index, Kibaki’s legacy reflects an unacceptable institutionalisation of ethnicity,” argued Mombasa Senator Hassan Omar in his assessment of the Kibaki presidency.
According to Mr Hassan, ethnic exclusion and imbalances, perceived victimisation of some communities among a host of inequities and injustices created resentment against the Kibaki regime ahead of the problematic 2007 polls.
“You scar and bleed a nation when you willfully negate its sensitivities. To pass the microphone from one Njoroge to another, then to Nyoike and Murungi while addressing the soaring costs of energy. Or when Ndung’u passes the microphone to Kinyua then to Kenyatta to tell us why the shilling is losing ground. Or when the leadership of the country’s security apparatus is almost exclusively from Kibaki’s ethnic group...” observed Mr Hassan.
However, former Finance minister David Mwiraria and Head of Public Service Francis Kimemia consider President Kibaki a cultured person, professional and elder statesman committed to building a united country.
In an interview for a book on his legacy, President Kibaki says he detests tribalism. “Corruption, violence, irresponsible tribal talk and unconstructive criticism make me very sad,” he says.
Well, the Kibaki presidency had a good dose of good and bad.