Proud Makerere Don
Despite being President Moi’s Vice President for 10 long years, it is rather obvious that Mwai Kibaki learnt very little or nothing from his long stint as VP. Very much unlike Moi before him.
One thing that was always very clear during Kibaki’s campaign for the presidency was that he thought of Moi as an uneducated fool who ran a government full of fellow illiterates who had never gone to school and there was therefore nothing to learn from him. This is the arrogant attitude that Kibaki carried with him to State House in January 2003. This was further confirmed by an insistence on CVs before any public appointments would be made. There was no doubt that the idea here was to catch people who had no university education since this appears to have been the minimum bench mark that Kibaki had set in his early months as president of Kenya. Not only that, the president had his preferences in Universities with UK universities and Makerere being at the top of his list.
The speech Kibaki made at Uhuru park on being sworn in as president was even more telling. He clearly emphasized that the era of road side directives and appointments was over.
Again one his close aides, Kiraitu Murungi put it even more bluntly when he arrogantly said in a speech;
“We want Moi to retire to his Kabarak home and look after his goats and we will show him how a government should be run.”
What must have been going through Kibaki’s mind was that he was taking over from illiterates who knew nothing and with his credentials and those he would appoint the whole mess would be magically wiped out literally overnight. It was a very simplistic view which the president no doubt regrets to this day.
In retrospect Kibaki had a lot of grand ideas for Kenya. But historians will record that virtually all of them had one thing in common they reeked of great naivety. I was at a meeting at Ufungamano house, Nairobi where Kibaki was addressing Christian professionals and he emphasized that the tax which was then being collected by the Moi government was more than enough to run government and take a lot of services to the people. In the same meeting Kibaki took time to emphasize to his audience that he lived in Muthaiga had lived there for a very long time. In all my years of following politics in Kenya I have never heard another leader emphasize their residence. You be the judge of what that was all about but in my book there is an overwhelming stench of pride and arrogance here.
It is one thing to seek to be a reformist but one needs to understand the system that they are seeking to change much more deeply than Mwai Kibaki understood the Moi prtesidency.
How could somebody be in government so long and even be Vice president for a decade and still be so naïve? I will leave that one for historians to answer but my opinion supported by a lot of evidence is that the problem is the man’s arrogance. The truth of the matter is that the more arrogant you are in this life the less you end up learning. And it does not matter if the knowledge is staring you right in the face.
Granted, people all over the world approach high office with many grand expectations that are usually quickly deflected by the cold reality on the ground. In other words the job always looks much easier than it really is. Still having said this it is obvious that Mwai Kibaki was an extreme case of a very naïve person who had to make way too many adjustments even to be able to have a stable administration.
This is the reason why very early during his administration a sizeable number of Kenyans were predicting that he would not make it to 2007 when the next general elections were due.
Even more dangerous was the man’s way of dealing with any crisis. I have a theory that a contributing factor to this attitude had to do with his first marriage. On countless occasions Kibaki got locked out of his own house at night by his wife Lucy, leaving his bodyguards and minders in an awkward position. To deal with his wife Kibaki’s approach was always to ignore the crisis at hand and pretend that all was well. He would sleep in the uncomfortable environment of the car and would then behave like nothing had happened the next morning.
This attitude clearly seeped into the former Makerere don’s personal management style when it came to making decisions and here there are many instances that clearly illustrate this.
Indeed this attitude proved to be fatal.
I will give just two examples.
Had Kibaki dealt with the crisis over the memorandum of understanding and Raila Odinga more swiftly and decisively he would have quickly gained an upper hand over Raila Odinga. Instead he let the problem simmer until it became a major crisis that almost brought his administration to its’ knees. In any case it led to unnecessarily high tension in the country that climaxed with the referendum and prepared the ground for the post election violence of early 2008.
An even deadlier case was the beginning of the post election violence when intelligence reports came in clearly showing that the country was burning and yet there was unprecedented indecisiveness on the part of the executive. This wavering cost many Kenyan lives that would have otherwise been saved. To make matters worse the whole situation had been provoked by Mwai Kibaki himself in the first place. He did this by leaving it very late in the election to rig the presidential vote (more dithering on his part) and this made his actions rather obvious to the majority of Kenyans. This is something that the ICC and Moreno Ocampo should look into more deeply as they seek to punish the main perpetrators of Kenya’s worst election-related violence ever. They should also look deeply into the Raila Odinga brand of politics shortly after the 2003 elections.
Any manager will tell you that there are some decisions that if left too late weaken the impact of any move one may end up making later. The most recent example is the crisis at the Ministry of education where billions in donor funds has been embezzled. Even if Kibaki ends up firing the Education minister and the PS later, the impact will be almost zero now after all the pressure that has been brought to bear on his government.
Good managers will also tell you that on many occasions swift decisive action even when the wrong decision has been taken is much better than indecision.
This is the crux of the problem with President Mwai Kibaki’s leadership. And when you combine this with the unfolding political reality where there is a fierce struggle over the Kibaki succession, it is a recipe for disaster and unprecedented disaster for Kenya.
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(To be continued)