Blunders mar Kibaki’s presidency

From downright contempt for public opinion to costly blunders, the tenure of President Mwai Kibaki will be remembered as one that pushed Kenya close to the abyss of national catastrophe.

President Kibaki (right) at a national function with the Chief of General Staff, Jeremiah Kianga.

President Kibaki (right) at a national function with the Chief of General Staff, Jeremiah Kianga.

From 2003, hundreds perhaps thousands of lives have been lost needlessly through ethnic clashes, police killings, violent crime and road accidents. Scores of businesses have shut down due to lop-sided taxation and ministerial directives aimed at benefiting pro-Kibaki merchants. Ethnic tension has increased as top government positions are filled with members of Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe. Unemployment figures in Kenya currently stand at 65%, not very far from Zimbabwe’s 80%. The latest saga involving the Grand Regency Hotel is proof that corrupt practices reign in the corridors of State power.

All these make for a very dissatisfied populace, and the Kenya of 2002 – as bad as it was – is largely forgotten amidst the problems of today. Critics say that President Kibaki’s tenure makes the 24 years of ex-President Daniel arap Moi’s administration look like a Swiss democracy.

In spite of implementing projects that had been lagging for years and thus spurring the highest rate of economic growth Kenya has seen in thirty years, President Kibaki is not exactly the most popular president. Within his Kikuyu ethnic base, Kibaki is refered to as one who avoids confrontation. Indeed, majority of the Kikuyu support Kibaki because they fear the alternative, represented by Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

President Kibaki’s administration suffers from a poor legacy because of a lingering perception that his allies in government exhibit arrogance towards other Kenyans. Cabinet ministers disobey court orders, others have unleashed the wrath of the security forces on the citizens while yet others are responsible for meddling in state corporations in an attempt at micro management.

President Kibaki’s cabinet is seen to veer between 1960s development plans on one hand and the panicky appeasement of voters on the other hand by creating new districts or dishing out land titles. Today, almost every clan of each tribe has its own district. There have been so many districts created in the past two years that few people in Kenya know the total number of districts in the country.

When Kibaki took office in 2003 on the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) party, he pledged to respect the rule of law. This was to distinguish the NARC administration from the previous 40-year administration of the Kenya African National Union (KANU) whose flouting of the constitution were among many reasons its popularity tumbled over the years. However, Kibaki’s allies generally behave as though the law does not apply to them.

Disgraced Kibaki protege, Amos Kimunya, went against government procedures by secretly selling the Grand Regency Hotel to a company whose ownership is a mystery. In the past year, Kimunya ignored public opinion as well as the views of the opposition and sold a substantial government stake in Safaricom, Kenya’s leading mobile phone company. Two years earlier, Kimunya publicly announced that he would ignore a court decision stopping the Kenya Revenue Authority from forcing traders to install electronic tax registers. When he was minister for lands, Mr Kimunya dismissed a court order obtained by residents of the Mau forest and which was supposed to stop the government from evicting them. The eviction went ahead resulting in destruction of property and several deaths when the residents were rendered homeless. Kimunya famously said that title deeds, “are nothing more than a piece of paper.”

Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta broke the law when he nominated more councilors than prescribed. In some cases, he ignored the lists provided by political parties and appointed his own people. Uhuru created a mess that the current Minister for Local Government, Musalia Mudavadi is attempting to clean up. But the damage has been done.

Amidst all these, Kibaki kept quiet and made not a few infractions of his own.

Last December, President Kibaki broke the tenets of the 1997 Inter Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) agreement that specified the manner in which political parties would appoint commissioners for the Electoral Commission of Kenya. It was a deal that even ex-President Moi, for all his tendencies, followed to the letter. Not so with Kibaki. He dismissed IPPG as a gentleman’s agreement not rooted in the constitution. True enough. But by going against IPPG, Kibaki set the stage for suspicion in the conduct of the Electoral Commission. When he was declared winner of the 2007 elections, the opposing parties cited the composition of the Electoral Commission as grounds for dismissing the results. Violence by opposition supporters left hundreds, possibly, thousands dead and close to half a million homeless.

If you thought that the Kibaki administration had learnt its lesson from the violence of early this year, then you are mistaken. Nothing has changed and the bad old ways continue. As the violence raged, Kibaki’s ministers ordered internally displaced persons to, “go home.” The refugees protested, saying that they had no homes to return to. However, police were sent to forcibly remove people from the Nairobi showground and other areas. Apparently, the sight of refugee camps in the capital city was an embarrassment to the government.

In the Rift Valley province, which bore the worst of the violence, the government launched “Operation Go Home.” Without going into the sordid details, Operation Go Home involved pushing refugees into army trucks then dumping them in isolated, violence-prone farming fields with no food supplies, no housing and no sanitation facilities. Ironically, many of these refugees are from Kibaki’s Kikuyu ethnic group. They had initially been promised some form of monetary compensation to help them rebuild but the money is yet to come. Those lucky enough to get the promised funds were given Shs10,000 (US$150) each. A few refugees who have been mobilizing resistance to the forceful closure of camps have been tortured and shot.

The most blatant flouting of the law and the most overt display of the kind of arrogance associated with Kibaki’s henchmen (and women) is the, still unexplained, presence of the Artur brothers in Kenya. The obnoxious duo introduced themselves as businessmen but it was obvious that they had powerful state connections. In the end, they were deported from the country after they over-stretched the patience of whoever was hosting them. In their lavish home at the exclusive Runda estate were found police uniforms, government issue firearms, government cars and identification documents linking them to national security apparatus. However, the Artur brothers saga was the height of public contempt that the Kibaki government has exhibited to Kenyans.

It all began in early 2006 when police raided the newsroom and printing plant of the East African Standard, Kenya’s second biggest daily newspaper. The Standard had printed several articles critical of President Kibaki. When questioned about it, the Minister for Internal Security, John Michuki, proudly boasted that he was behind the whole operation and that he was willing to do it again. “When you rattle a snake, prepare to be bitten,” were Michuki’s remarks that drove newspaper cartoonists to draw him with a snake’s tongue protruding from his mouth. Video images of the police operation indicated that it was led by foreigners. Opposition leader, Raila Odinga, claimed these were mercenaries hired by top government officials to assassinate critics of the government. It was after this that the Artur brothers came into the public limelight to deny they were mercenaries.

The Artur brothers were linked to Ms Mary Wambui and her daughter Winnie Wangui. The two women are beleived to be part of Kibaki’s family and enjoy massive state security. Mary is usually seen traversing the country campaigning for President Kibaki and dishing out large sums of money whose source is the subject of very telling speculation. At one time, Winnie was said to be President Kibaki’s daughter born out of a liaison with Mary but the President subsequently held a televised address denying the links. Winnie was an ally of the Artur brothers and almost married one of them.

How is it possible that a 77 year old politician, with close to 50 years of experience, can display such incompetence? Why does Kibaki allow such blunders to ruin his leadership? Why is Kibaki so blind to the day to day realities of his voters? The Makerere University graduate of economics is, in many ways, an intelligent man. He has very sound policies on development and economic growth.

Maybe its because of his character. Kibaki has long been cited as a man without a distinguishable position on anything – a fence sitter. Kibaki procrastinates on making important decisions. He delegates too much authority to his cronies and proteges. The result is a class of people who use the president’s authority to make dubious decisions aimed at benefiting themselves. It has nothing to do with tribe, its a matter of economic and political class. That explains why Kibaki failed to stop the massacre of his own people in Eldoret, almost 300km northwest of Nairobi. However, when violence spread to Naivasha – just 90km outside the capital – Kibaki was quick to send helicopter gunships.

Because of his failings, Kibaki’s legacy is similar to that of a tattered rag. Kibaki’s presidency is like the building whose construction stops at the foundation level, then slowly crumbles into a dust heap with bits and pieces of steel rods poking out everywhere. History provided Kibaki with the opportunity to create a memorable leadership that could be an example to the whole of Africa. Instead, Kibaki trampled on the opportunity. What folly!

Kibaki: Worst president of Kenya

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