Make no mistake: Emilio Mwai Kibaki is well inside the race for the presidency in 2007 and much as many would rather he went home, he is right now best placed to win. Okumu Bulawa examines why.
When Mwai Kibaki came into the Kenyan presidency, he was immensely popular. But then he has been extremely popular in Kenya – even in the 1970s, when his popularity effectively caused the KANU party elections to be postponed for about a decade since 1968, when it was due for them.
The story goes that before independence, James Gichuru, who founded Kenya African Union, the party that was to become KANU, stepped down in favour of Kenyatta for the leadership of the arty in 1946 and after independence, he was awarded the life chairmanship of the party. In the 1968 party elections the young Mwai Kibaki stood for the chairmanship post regardless of this fact and obstinately refused to back down, thereby causing Kenyatta to postpone the elections for many years.
Kenyatta was a tough and autocratic leader in the seventies but he too tolerated the popular minister for Finance
Kenyatta, being who he was at the time – a popular autocrat, so to speak, could easily have dimmed the political future of a young upstart who dared to show such defiance. Not so Kibaki, who was at the time very popular both with the masses and in parliament.
Kibaki’s popularity was to continue to shine when Mzee Kenyatta died and the Kiambu Mafia – Koinange, Karume and others – were trying to ensure that the then docile Vice-president Daniel arap Moi from ascending to power in 1978. Kibaki, then minister for finance and “Sir” Charles Njonjo, then the Attorney General, who has long been nicknamed the “duke of Kabeteshire” worked quickly to ensure that an announcement was made in public in support of Moi.
“The Duke of Kabeteshire” (pictured as he looked in those days, right) was instrumental with Kibaki in instaling Moi as president.
Kibaki quickly issued a press statement at a press conference, where he, on behalf of the cabinet expressed support of Moi as the leader of the nation in the three month interim as Kenya prepared for elections. This action quickly doused the Kiambu Mafia’s attempts.
It is common knowledge that Kibaki was one of the most closely watched ministers in Moi’s government primarily because he was the biggest threat to the presidency at the time and when in he resigned – around this time of the year actually – it was a complete surprise to all, including Moi himself. One week later, on the first week of January 1990, Kibaki announced the new Democratic Party, complete with national offices in every part of the country.
So he was popular and even today, people don’t really have an issue with him as a person. He remains well liked, loved even, by many Kenyans. The problem is, that on several fronts, Kibaki seems to have failed Kenya. Key among these failings is his perceived inability to maintain strong enough control of corruption – especially high end corruption which has been evident in his administration, as well as the uncertainty surrounding his ability to deliver a satisfactory constitution by election time.
This two issues are raw enough to get him to lose, but I submit to you that he will not lose.
My key reasons lie in what his administration has delivered – and it has to be said that for this term, one cannot be optimistic to see much more than that.
First, the economy has improved. The much touted 5.8% growth rate for 2005 may be contested but there has been positive movement in the curve. The key “mwananchi” sectors – agriculture, fishing, tourism and housing have been thriving so far. Goods like macadamia nuts, fruits and horticultural items are doing well, coffee and tea have been thriving and even the local investors are benefiting from these industries – take www.leavesandberries.com, an indigenous tea and coffee packer who is selling tea and coffee outside the usual coffee cartel’s reach through Kenyans in Diaspora especially in the US.
The cooperative societies have been sorted out and they are now functional, while the Kenya Meat Commission is back in the running providing good revenues for the nomadic pastoralists in North Eastern Province.
A quick glance at Nairobi city or Mombasa for example, and one can feel the change in small ways – trees on the side of the road, grass in the parks is well tended, roads are clean and so forth.
Secondly, there is no real opposition.
KANU has recently disintegrated especially with the chairmanship being taken over by much disliked and notorious, Nicholas Biwott. ODM is going strong but, who is its flag bearer? Raila Odinga is on record as running, Kalonzo Musyoka is offering “Mwelekeo Mpya” through his “Vision for a great people” and they are not alone.
The real reason for Kibaki’s win in the next election, is the lack of a true opposition. If things remain as they are, he is unlikely to have any real competition at all!