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President Kibaki has a well-earned reputation for being a slow, deliberative and even indecisive leader.
But the Head of State was a man in a hurry this week. He struck the unusually urgent note when he officiated at the launch of the Lamu Port and Northern Kenya road project.
Ministers, he directed, must put their shoulders to the wheel and ensure the remaining infrastructural projects are completed in time.
Noting that the project was mooted 36 years ago, he said: “It is my hope that with the completion of consultancy studies, the project can now be implemented without further delay.
I look forward to commissioning the first ship docking at the Lamu Port next year.”
Mr Kibaki has every reason to be in a hurry.
In just over a year’s time the President hands over the reins of power to a new leader after a decade in office.
It will be the end of a political career that goes back four decades and as the competition for what is expected to be a closely contested election heats up in the months to come, President Kibaki is likely to take a backseat and fade into the background.
This realisation seems to have infused a sense of urgency in the President as he pushes ministers to complete the projects on the strength of which he hopes his time in office will be assessed.
Contractors on the Nairobi-Thika superhighway have been put on notice that the project must be completed no later than mid next year. The Finance ministry is under instructions to step up efforts to find funding for the Sh2 trillion Lamu Port and transport corridor project which will link the country to its new landlocked neighbour South Sudan.
And yesterday, the President commissioned the Marsabit-Turbi highway, part of the wider Isiolo-Moyale highway which will run up to Ethiopia and open a new export route to the landlocked country.
This flurry of activity underlines the fact that historians, journalists and political commentators are not alone in beginning to consider the legacy of Kenya’s third president.
How will history judge the Kibaki years? The picture is mixed. Some academics say the President will be viewed as a success due to the economic and political strides the nation has made. Kenya today is a freer place than it has ever been and boasts one of the most progressive constitutions in the world.
Others say that his failure to promote ethnic cohesion and national unity might come to be seen as the biggest blot on his record.
“History will deem him to have been a largely successful president,” says Dr Joshua Kivuva of the University of Nairobi’s political science department.
“The economy recovered under his watch. Large infrastructure projects have been undertaken. But above all, Kenya is freer now than it has ever been. You can say anything about the President and you can write virtually anything in the papers.
That is largely due to the President’s personality. That together with the new Constitution means that historians will give him a reasonably positive judgment.”
Veteran law professor Yash Pal Ghai takes a different view, arguing that the overwhelming mandate he received in the 2002 elections gave Mr Kibaki a historic opportunity to unite the country, a chance he says was squandered.
“What was his role in promoting national unity, a Kenyan identity transcending but not negating other, mostly, ethnic identities? No president had the opportunities he had to promote national unity,” he said.
He said victory in 2002 dealt him a wonderful hand. Yet of all the presidents, historians will judge that he was the most tribalist, reflected in the cronies and coterie of friends and advisers drawn from three tribes — the Kikuyu, Meru and Embu. The business people who have benefited most from his largesse come from the same groups, Prof Ghai says.
The ultimate verdict on his legacy is likely to fall somewhere in between.
The economic progress in many sectors is indisputable and, as journalist Nick Wachira wrote in The EastAfrican, the statistics show a record of significant progress.
“One way of judging Kibaki’s presidency is looking at social progress in health, education and general quality of life,” says Mr Wachira. “In 1998, only 44 per cent of Kenyans had access to safe drinking water. A decade later, the number had risen to 59 per cent.”
Rising revenue has meant unprecedented levels of public spending. In 2002 total annual public spending came to $3.6 billion, in 2011 it stands at $12.5 billion. Public service programmes launched on the strength of this have affected millions.
One of the most striking of these developments has been in education.
By the end of January 2003, more than 1.7 million new students had been enrolled in school, thanks to the Free Primary Education programme.
A United Nations Children’s Fund study found that by 2006, the number of children in Kenya’s 18,000 primary schools had doubled in the first three years of the Kibaki administration.
Today there are nine million pupils in primary school while universities have 200,000 students.
Under Mr Kibaki’s watch, it became much easier to borrow from banks, spurring faster expansion of the private sector and offering many in the middle class a chance to own homes or find alternative lines of income.
Yet criticism of the model of expansion pursued is that it has focused on the “high towers” of the economy such as roads, airports and telecommunications but has not created enough jobs or raised incomes to make an impact on the rural and urban poor.
On the international front, Mr Kibaki’s critics say that he has not been assertive enough in positioning Kenya as an important geopolitical force it is in the region.
But in the positive column, history will record that he chaired the sub-committee of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development dealing with the Sudan question and was President when the historic partition of Kenya’s important neighbour happened.
Further abroad, he has loosened the control traditional Western powers such as Britain and the US had over Kenya with a foreign policy geared at finding new partners.
The entry of Chinese, Middle Eastern and Indian investors has left the country in a strong position to bargain for the best options in financing major projects, a key departure from the Kenyatta and Moi years.
Yet Mr Kibaki’s time in office will be deemed to have painted him as a man of contradictions. Where his stewardship of the economy has been widely lauded, his management of the political scene has been almost entirely inadequate.
The broad coalition that brought him to power fell apart within months after he refused to respect a deal with his most important partner during the campaigns, Raila Odinga.
Throughout his first term, it was not uncommon for ministers to contradict each other in public and verbally assail each other over policy issues while the President stayed on the sidelines.
According to Prof Ghai, this approach to management helped trigger the 2007/8 post-election violence, the lowest point of the Kibaki era.
“He undermined both national unity and democracy when he carefully chose members of the Electoral Commission of Kenya for the 2007 election in disregard of an inter-party agreement that all parties would nominate their representatives,” he said.
One of the President’s advisers, Prof Peter Kagwanja, disputes this characterisation, saying Mr Kibaki’s focus on the economy at the expense of politics displayed the “developmentalist” tradition of governance that he follows.
“Throughout his career, Mr Kibaki has been a modernising economist who sees politics as a means to an end not an end in itself.
In fact his vision in the first term was to try and have a society without politics. But he refined that in the second term and reaslised you need an institutional framework that will guarantee stability, which is why he fought so hard to deliver the new constitution,” Prof Kagwanja said.
High water mark
That constitution may well be the most significant achievement of the Kibaki era. Its endorsement highlighted the contradictions of Mr Kibaki because he opposed the first review process while wholeheartedly backing the second one.
His speech at the promulgation ceremony was the undoubted high water mark of 10 years as President and he will hope historians focus on his words that day.
“This new Constitution is an embodiment of our best hopes, aspirations, ideals and values for a peaceful and more prosperous nation. It gives us renewed optimism about our country and its future ... We are on the march towards a new Kenya where there will be more opportunities for employment and business. A new Kenya where there is better housing, healthcare and education for our people.
A new Kenya where all citizens will lead productive and dignified lives. This is the promise of the new Constitution.”
PARASTATAL heads who signed the Mombasa port community charter risk being sacked if their agencies do not deliver on the contents of the new entity. The charter signed between the government and the private sector aims at improving the movement of cargo from the port into hinterland