Kibaki, Mwai

views updated May 17 2018

Mwai Kibaki


Politician, economist

Economist and politician, Mwai Kibaki was swept to power in 2002, becoming the third president of independent Kenya, ending 24 years of Daniel Arap Moi's rule, and breaking the hegemonic grip over national politics that the Kenya African National Union (KANU) had maintained since Kenya won its independence from Britain in 1963. As in other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that have, for the first time since independence, recently witnessed a handover of power through the ballot box, the elections were hailed as a historical landmark, a "second liberation." Also in common with these countries, however, the return to multiparty democracy has not borne the fruits of its promise. Under Kibaki, euphoria gave way to disillusionment as governmental corruption appeared as intractable as ever, jobs were scarce, and 20 million of the country's 30 million continued to live below the poverty line of one dollar per day in East Africa's largest economy. Dubbed by New African's Tom Mbakwe "one of the eternal faces of Kenyan politics," Kibaki has played a role in government uninterrupted since independence, rising up the ranks to prominence—before falling out with his predecessor in the 1980s, founding his own

party, and resolutely launching three bids for the presidency.

The youngest of eight children, Kibaki was born on November 15, 1931, to tobacco and cattle farmers Kibaki Githinji and Teresia Wanjiku. The family, members of Kenya's largest single tribal group, the Kikuyu, lived in Gatuyaini Village near Mount Kenya—homeland of the Kikuyu and Kenya's highest mountain and the second highest in Africa. Kibaki attended three primary schools and received his secondary education at one of Kenya's best schools, Man'gu High School, where his academic performance earned him a scholarship at Uganda's Makerere University to read economics, history, and political science. At Makerere—a prestigious institution where a significant number of those who were to play key roles in post-independence Africa were educated—Kibaki thrived. He graduated in 1955 with first class honors, and was chairman of the Kenya Students Association, and vice chairman of the Makerere Students Guild. On graduation, Kibaki accepted a job as assistant sales manager with Shell's Uganda division, but very quickly left when he was awarded a scholarship to study at the London School of Econom- ics. Equipped with a distinction in economics and public finance, Kibaki returned to Makerere in 1958 to take up a post as assistant economics lecturer.

Four Decades in the Kenyan Government

During a visit to Kenya, while he was still teaching, Kibaki helped to draft what was to become independent Kenya's first constitution—a process which according to Kibaki and others involved took just a few hours at a Nairobi bar. Kibaki left Makerere and returned to Kenya in 1960, serving as executive officer for two years in KANU, the largest Kenyan political party at the time. Kibaki left this role the same year that he married Lucy Muthoni, a pastor's daughter, with whom he was to have four children. In 1963, when Kenya won its independence, KANU, led by Jomo Kenyatta, took the helm of government and Kibaki was elected Member of Parliament. He served in Kenyatta's government in a number of positions before being made minister of finance and economic planning in 1970. On Kenyatta's death in 1978, Moi became president and appointed Kibaki as his vice-president. Under Moi, vibrant debate became stifled, culminating in a constitutional amendment in 1982 which made KANU the only legal political party. Moi and Kibaki fell out over the 1988 elections which consolidated Kenya as a one party state, and the president demoted Kibaki, granting him the ministry of health portfolio. Kibaki resigned from KANU in December 1991, days after the one-party state stipulation in the constitution was repealed, to found the Democratic Party (DP) on Christmas Day and launch a bid for the presidency.

Despite a nominal return to multi-party democracy, Moi retained his tenacious grip on power, winning the vote in 1992 and 1997 through rigged elections marred by violence and bloodshed. Kibaki ran both times, placing third in 1992 and second in 1997. Kibaki presided over the forging together of fifteen disparate groups to form the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) that would run against KANU in the 2002 elections. In the months before the elections several prominent KANU members defected to NARC due, in large part, to Moi's obstinate insistence that Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya's first post-independence president, be the presidential candidate.

Kibaki's campaign centered on four central pledges: a crackdown on corruption, rapid economic growth and the creation of 500 000 jobs, constitutional reform, and free primary education for all. With these promises, Kibaki tapped into the thirst for change, and in elections largely free from violence, was swept to victory on a wave of euphoria, winning 62.2% of the vote. Three days later, on December 30, 2002, Kibaki was inaugurated—still in a wheelchair due to a car accident he had suffered on the campaign trail. The atmosphere was jubilant, chaotic, and hopeful; people were singing a NARC campaigning slogan, "Everything is possible without Moi." Indeed, when Moi arrived, his convoy was pelted with mud and his faltering speech was booed and jeered throughout. Kibaki, on the other hand, delivered from his wheelchair, what, according to New African journalist Wanjohi Kabukuru, was one of the best speeches given in the East African region. Promising to "lead this nation out of the present wilderness and malaise onto the promised land" through "responsive, transparent and innovative leadership" and announcing that "the era of ‘anything goes’ [was] gone forever", the speech was stirring and did little to temper the enormity of the expectations of the Kenyan electorate.

At a Glance …

Born Mwai Kibaki on November December 8, 1938, in Nyeri, Kenya; married Lucy Muthoni, 1962; children: Judy, Jimmy, David, and Tony. Education: Makerere University Uganda, economics, history and political science, 1955; London School of Economics, BSc, economics and public finance, 1958. Religion: Catholic.


Makerere University, Uganda, assistant economics lecturer; 1958-60; national executive officer of Kenya African National Union, 1960-62; Central Legislative Assembly of East African Common Services Organization, representative from Kenya, 1962; Member of Parliament, 1963-; parliamentary secretary to minister of finance, 1963-65; assistant minister of economics, planning, and development, 1964-66; minister for commerce and industry, 1966-69; minister of finance and economic planning, 1970-82; branch chairman for KANU, 1974-91; minister of home affairs, 1983-88; vice president of Kenya, 1978-88; minister of health, 1988-91; National Democratic Party of Kenya, leader, 1991-; President of Kenya, 2002-.


Committee, member and chair; House Business Committee, member.


Office—Harambee House, Office of the President, P.O. Box 30510, Nairobi, Kenya.

From the Wilderness to the Promised Land?

The first move of the new government was to initiate the free primary education policy just one week after Kibaki took office. Moi had bequeathed a foundering economy isolated from the international community. Citing endemic corruption, the IMF had, apart from a few months in 2000, frozen its funding to Kenya since 1997, and other bilateral and multilateral donors had consequently done the same. Kibaki's pledge to turn the economy around meant restoring investor confidence and encouraging the resumption of international aid—and so was intimately linked to his pledge to crack down on corruption.

Towards the end of 2003, international donors resumed aid and lending, citing Kibaki's tough stance on corruption and judicial reform. In the first two months of Kibaki's rule, the equivalent of $198 million stolen from public coffers was recovered. Investigations led to the suspension of a number of judges and magistrates accused of bribery and related offences. Kibaki's government opened an inquiry into the notorious Goldenberg Affair—a high-profile scandal in the early 1990s involving non-existent companies, fabricated claims, and central bank payments of billions of dollars for fake export credits for gold and diamond. It was this investigation in particular that was meant to convey the message that the top echelons of Kenyan government would no longer be able to plunder the state with impunity.

Despite early signs of improvement, however, high-level sleaze, corruption, and mistrust continued to characterize the economic and political landscape during Kibaki's presidency. In a move that was perceived by many as proof of his commitment to stamp out corruption, Kibaki had appointed John Githongo as chief anti-corruption investigator. Less than two years later, however, in 2004, Githongo announced his resignation during a trip to the United Kingdom, days after the British High Commissioner had caused a diplomatic storm accusing Kenyan government officials of "eating like gluttons" and "vomiting on the shoes of foreign donors," as quoted by Neil Ford writing for African Business. Githongo claimed that he had been prevented from investigating the activities of high-ranking officials in Kibaki's government, and in a dossier he had prepared, exposed the Anglo-Leasing scandal, which revolved around a $20 million passport computer system, and led to the resignation of a number of Kibaki's ministers and to the suspension of some money flows from the United States and Germany.

As part of an effort to reduce Kenya's reliance on multilateral and Western donors, Kibaki's government intensified economic co-operation with China and the Asian Tigers. Perhaps more crucially, it, with Tanzania and Uganda, has sought to move forward with the establishment and institutionalization of the East African Federation, which would entail economic integration and the creation of a single market.

Troubled Leadership

Constitutional reform, one of Kibaki's central electoral pledges, was seen by many as essential to the consolidation of democracy. The process of drawing up a new constitution exacerbated and brought to the fore deep frictions and fissures within Kibaki's National Rainbow Coalition. Disagreements were particularly acrimonious when it came to the issue of how much power would be concentrated in the president. The final draft was put to a national referendum. According to critics and opponents of this draft—amongst whom were a quarter of Kibaki's cabinet—it did not place sufficient limits on the president's extensive powers. In a country where a third of the adult population are illiterate, fruits were used to represent the opposing camps. Kibaki's yes campaign used a banana, and the no campaign, an orange. After weeks of incendiary and sometimes violent campaigning, on November 21, 2005, the orange camp carried the day with 57 percent of the vote. Kibaki's immediate response to his humiliating defeat was to sack his entire cabinet, running the country for a fortnight with his vice-president, attorney general and permanent secretaries constituting his only team. After drawing up a new sympathetic cabinet, Kibaki was plunged further into crisis when several of the people he had named turned down their appointments.

Tribal affiliations and loyalties, thought to have become less politically significant since the end of the Moi-era, clearly played out in voting patterns; most dramatically, in the Kikuyu Mount Kenya region, the yes campaign took 92% of the vote. For a number of commentators, however, the results of the constitutional referendum are better understood as an indictment of Kibaki's rule. In the words of Magesha Ngwiri, opinion editor of Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper, the vote was "a countrywide protest against the fact that he seems to have retreated into some laager of his own creation." It will be in the 2007 elections—which Kibaki announced that he would contest in January 2007—that Kibaki's popularity with the Kenyan electorate will be more accurately gauged.

Whilst Moi's rule was characterized by his adept political maneuverings which played ethnic differences off against one another, Kibaki's hands-off approach has not incited ethnic tensions. Accusations, however, that Kibaki, himself a Kikuyu, has fallen under the influence of a clique of Kikuyu politicians dubbed the "Mount Kenya mafia," have stirred up fears of domination by the Kikuyu, who constituting just over a fifth of the Kenyan population, are the country's largest ethnic group. The principally Kikuyu based Mau Mau rebellion—in which Kibaki's brother fought and died—was a key part of Kenya's path to independence. Rather than celebrate it, however, independent Kenya has shied away from official commemoration for fear that it would have divisive and disruptive consequences in a multiethnic state. Kibaki has sought to reverse this trend, so that this bloody chapter in Kenya's struggle for independence can be officially remembered.

Elected on a mandate to eliminate corruption, transform the economy, and implement constitutional reform, Kibaki has, despite presiding over increased economic growth rates and an expansion of the democratic space, spectacularly failed to bring about dramatic change. The continued prevalence of corruption in high places is matched by the disappointment and disenchantment amongst the Kenyan electorate, who in 2002 had such high hopes and aspirations of Kibaki. Ugandan journalist and editor, Charles Onyango-Obbo, writing for openDemocracy, argued, however that, "When the history of Kenya is finally written in the years to come, Kibaki will probably be judged more favorably than current events suggest." Measured against realistic expectations—rather than the promises of a new dawn that would herald a complete break with the past—perhaps Kibaki will indeed be seen to have played a positive role for Kenya.



Munene, Macharia, The Politics of Transition in Kenya, 1995-1998, Quest & Insight Publishers, 2001.

Mutunga, Willy, Constitution-Making from the Middle: Civil Society and Transition Politics in Kenya, 1992-1997, Sareat, 1999.

Duel of the Decade: In perspective, Hon. Mwai Kibaki's 1997 General Election Campaign, Upmarket Solutions Ltd., 1998.


African Business, February 2003; May 2003; January 2004; March 2004; June 2005; January 2006; October 2006.

Daily Nation, November 23, 2005.

Diamond Intelligence Briefs, December 13, 2004.

Global Agenda, July 22, 2004.

New African, February 2003; December 2003; March 2005; February 2006; March 2006; July 2006.

The Guardian, December 31, 2002.

Time International, January 13, 2003.

World Press Review, March 2003.


"Kenya after Mwai Kibaki," (January 22, 2007).

"President Kibaki's Speech to the Naiton on his Inauguration as Kenya's 3rd President, 30/12/2002," State House Kenya, (January 22, 2007).

                                                                                                           —Naira Antoun

Kibaki, Mwai

views updated Jun 27 2018

Mwai Kibaki

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki (born 1931) ushered in an era of change upon his election, pledging to restore his country's economy and wipe out government corruption. Kibaki succeeded President Daniel arap Moi, under whom Kibaki served as vice–president. Moi took office in 1978 and remained in office for 24 years. Kibaki launched his campaign for the presidency in 1992, when the Kenyan constitution first allowed opposition parties to participate in the country's government. After two unsuccessful bids, Kenyans overwhelmingly elected him to the post in 2002.

Kibaki was born into a family of eight children on November 15, 1931, in Gatuyaini Village, Othaya division, Nyeri in Kenya's Central Province. He was the youngest son of Kibaki Githinji and Teresia Wanjiku. He and his family, members of the Kikuyu tribe, lived in a mud hut and supported themselves by herding cattle. Kibaki received his primary education at Gatuyaini village school and Karima mission school. In 1944, he progressed to Mathari School, now Nyeri High School, a boys' boarding school where he slept on a bed made from a wooden board and hay. There, he learned carpentry and masonry so that he and his fellow students could repair furniture and build materials for the school. He also learned to grow his own food. He continued his education at Man'gu High School, from which he graduated in 1950. During school holidays, Kibaki worked on buses operated by the Othaya African Bus Union.

Began Political Career

Kibaki's academic performance at Man'gu High School earned him a scholarship to Makerere University College in Uganda, one of the top schools in Africa, although for a time he considered becoming a soldier. At Makerere, he served as chair of the Kenya Students Association and vice–chair of the Makerere Students' Guild. He graduated with honors in 1955 with bachelor's degrees in economics, history, and political science. Following graduation, he worked briefly as an assistant sales manager in the Uganda division of Shell Company of East Africa until he received a scholarship allowing him to study at the British school of his choice. He enrolled in the London School of Economics, graduating with distinction with a degree in public finance.

Kibaki returned to Makerere in 1958 as an assistant lecturer in the economics department. At the time, many Kenyans were fighting for independence from British rule. One of Kibaki's brothers had died in a guerilla uprising, known as the Mau Mau emergency, which was part of that struggle. Kibaki returned to Kenya in 1960 to lend his own efforts to the fight for independence, taking the secret oath of the Mau Mau guerillas, though not fighting like his brother. He helped found the Kenya African National Union (KANU) political party, which began ruling the country when it achieved independence in 1963. "Some friends and I visited the African Corner Bar along Race Course Road for a drink," Kibaki recalled in a 2002 issue of the Christian Science Monitor. "During our conversation . . . one of us suggested that we draw a constitution for the future. So, we borrowed stationery from the counter and started drafting. . . . The exercise eventually led to the birth of KANU." Kibaki married Lucy Muthoni, the daughter of a pastor, in 1942. The couple have four children: Judy Wanjiku, Jimmy Kibaki, David Kagai, and Tony Githinji.

Kenya was granted independence from Great Britain in 1963 and joined the British Commonwealth the following year. KANU leader Jomo Kenyatta became the country's first president, remaining in that post until his death in 1968. Kibaki became a powerful member of the KANU party, which from 1969 until 1992 was the only political party allowed in Kenya. By the 1980s, opposition to the government was considered a capital offense. Kibaki served as KANU's national executive officer from 1960 until 1962, when he was elected to Kenya's first legislative assembly. President Kenyatta appointed him assistant minister of economics, planning, and development in 1964, and two years later Kibaki was appointed minister for commerce and industry. In 1969, Kibaki was named minister of finance and he continued in that position under President Moi, who assumed the presidency following Kenyatta's death in 1978 and remained in the post for 24 years. Moi was one of Africa's longest–standing leaders, surpassed only by Gnassingbe Eyadema in Togo, Omar Bongo in Gabon, and Colonel Muammar el–Quaddafi in Libya, all of whom assumed power in the late 1960s. Moi named Kibaki his vice–president, a position he held for ten years until he was reassigned to the Ministry of Health. Kibaki continued to serve as a member of Parliament as well during this time.

Founded Opposition Party

Kibaki left the KANU party in 1991 when it was declared that multiparty elections would be held the following year. By this time, Kenya had fallen into serious economic decline. The government had also become notoriously corrupt, with officials and bureaucrats alike routinely accepting bribes. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund suspended most of their loans to the country, alleging that President Moi had misallocated the money. "Mr. Moi's Kenya has become a land of stark contrasts: dire poverty and fabulous, mostly stolen, wealth; natural beauty and collapsing infrastructure. AIDS ravages the people, and the country's infant mortality rate is one of the highest in the world. Known for its luxury safaris in remote unspoiled regions, it is also a place where the bulk of the population gets by on less than a dollar a day," observed Marc Lacey in the New York Times. It was thought by many that changes needed to be made in the political infrastructure.

Kibaki founded the opposition Democratic Party on December 25, 1991 and, as the party's leader, began campaigning for the presidency. He placed third in the 1992 election and ran again in 1997, placing second among 15 candidates. Prior to the 2002 election, he organized a coalition of opposition parties, the National Rainbow Coalition, and pledged to improve the country's economy, wipe out corruption, and provide free primary education for all children. He gained widespread sympathy after suffering serious injuries in an automobile accident prior to the election, which required him to campaign in a wheelchair. "We don't want to be ruled anymore by those who dictate, declare orders, and issue instructions," he stated during the campaign, as quoted in a 2003 issue of New York Times Upfront. "We want to be ruled by the law."

Kibaki soundly defeated his Moi–backed opponent, Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of the first president, in the December 2002 election. "I can assure you, I will rise to the occasion," he remarked upon his victory, as quoted by Danna Harmon of the Christian Science Monitor. Kibaki was sworn into office on December 29 amid a jubilant celebration. "I am inheriting a country which has been badly ravaged by years of misrule and ineptitude," he stated at his swearing–in, as quoted by Andrew England of the Associated Press. With Moi looking on, Kibaki reiterated his pledge to end government corruption. "The era of anything goes is now gone forever," he was quoted by Marc Lacey of the New York Times as having said. "Government will no longer be run on the whims of individuals."

Spearheaded Reforms

Following his election, Kibaki began to implement a broad array of reforms. He followed through on his promise to provide free primary education to all children, and cracked down on corruption in the nation's courts. He launched an investigation of the country's banking system as well, resulting in the resignation of the chief of the central bank and the country's top tax collector. In addition, he ordered an inquiry into a complex bank scandal known as the Goldenberg affair, in which the central bank paid out money for nonexistent export credits. He replaced the chief executive of the state–operated Kenya Power and Lighting Company, which had consistently lost money despite holding a monopoly and failed to keep the lights on in much of the country, and sought a law requiring all politicians, including himself, to track campaign spending and declare their earnings.

Unlike Moi, whose portrait appeared on Kenyan treasury notes and above cash registers, Kibaki vowed to place the nation's well–being over his own profile. "What is important is that we should have a stable currency, not whose picture is there," he remarked, as quoted in the New York Times. "A president should prove himself by things he's going to do that change the life of ordinary Kenyans, not by naming every street and every corner," Some observers pointed out, however, that even though reform seemed imminent, Kibaki could not distance himself completely from the corruption of his predecessors, under whom he had served for many years. "Even if its leaders are the same politicians who once plundered the state, Kenya is considered to be changing," remarked reporter James Astill in the London Guardian.

After his first 100 days in office, with the economy still flagging and corruption curtailed but not wiped out, Kibaki faced critics who challenged his resolve. "We have made promises and are in the process of keeping them," he said in a taped speech reprinted in the New York Times. "Where there are delays, these are sincere. We are not a government that makes promises it does not intend to keep." He insisted that his administration had restored the trust of the citizens. "The most important transformation in Kenya over the last one hundred days has been in the minds of the Kenyan people," he continued. "We have seen a renewal of their confidence in the future." Kibaki has stated that he will step down when his five–year term expires. He plans to retire to his farm and pursue his avid interest in golf.


Newsmakers, Issue 4, Gale Group, 2003.

Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations: World Leaders, Gale Group, 2003.


Associated Press, December 31, 2002.

Christian Science Monitor, December 30, 2002.

Guardian (London), December 30, 2002.

New York Times, December 30, 2002; April 10, 2003; December 31, 2002.

New York Times Upfront, February 7, 2003.


"Mwai Kibaki–Profile," Official Website of State House, Kenya, (January 20, 2005).

"Profile–Kenya's New Leader," BBC News Online, (January 20, 2005).