Widely criticized for complacency, dilly-dallying and even cowardice, President Mwai Kibaki has lately come out in full force to show the people just who is in charge.
The President is touring the country and whenever he is in State House, he holds strategy meetings with leaders from across the political divide. Observers note that Kibaki is at his busiest since he took office on December 30th 2002.
Kibaki’s first term was marked by lethargy as he recovered from a near-fatal road accident he got while campaigning for the 2002 General Elections. It is widely believed that the President suffered a stroke while in office in the first few months of 2003. The affairs of government during Kibaki’s first term of office were largely run by a group of loyal aides most of whom were his buddies.
Today, Kibaki is back in his element. The Kibaki of today is the man that Kenyans knew before that disastrous accident of December 2002. He is clear minded, articulate and forceful. This was seen in Kisii last Tuesday when Kibaki pulled no punches in criticizing his own cabinet ministers.
“If you are a minister and you are dissatisfied with the Government, you either quit, be quiet or I will show you how to leave,” thundered Kibaki as the crowd watched in disbelief.
The President said he was angered by ministers who have been complaining about the Grand Coalition, without offering any solutions. “They remain silent during Cabinet meetings, but rush to complain to wananchi about the running of the Government,” said a visibly upset Kibaki.
After the rally, the Airforce helicopter carrying Kibaki to another venue almost crashed when its engine began spewing thick smoke. What did Kibaki do? He got out of the stricken chopper, got into another one then promptly went to address public gatherings elsewhere.
In the coming week, the President is expected to visit Western Province and is already making arrangements with Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi, the highest ranking government official from the province.
If Kibaki had been this energetic right from January 2003, most of the problems we are experiencing today would have been avoided. The Commission of Inquiry into Post Election Violence blames Kibaki’s weak leadership during his first term of office for the near civil war in early 2008 that left at least 1,500 dead and divided the country’s people along ethnic lines.
“The post election violence therefore is, in part, a consequence of the failure of President Kibaki and his first Government to exert political control over the country or to maintain sufficient legitimacy as would have allowed a civilized contest with him at the polls to be possible,” wrote Commission Chairman, Justice Philip Waki.
Kibaki’s predecessor, ex-President Daniel arap Moi, had been a forceful personality in the previous 24 years. There was an entire generation of Kenyans who had not experienced any other style of leadership other than what Moi showed them. Moi’s hand was everywhere, he had something to say for everything under the sun. Moi was a micro-manager who made telephone calls to government officials at anytime of the day or night.
Kibaki on the other hand delegated his authority. He gave general directions without getting involved in day to day intricacies. He left Cabinet ministers and top government officials to operate independently. Looking back in hind sight, Kibaki now realizes he should have maintained closer supervision for the sake of maintaining order in government.
As Cabinet Ministers realized that Kibaki was not supervising them, the government literally ran amok. Decisions were made with little co-ordination. In some cases, government departments stagnated as officials used to Moi’s micro-management found themselves in the unfamiliar situation of having to decide for themselves. Amidst the apparent vacuum, over-ambitious politicians sought to fill the void.
Roads Minister Raila Odinga led a rebellion in the cabinet as he sought to capitalize on Kibaki’s absence from public view. At one point in mid-2003, politicians close to Raila discussed introducing a motion of no confidence in Parliament on grounds of the President’s ill health. Had the motion passed, the country would have been forced to hold fresh elections. However, Kibaki still enjoyed public support back then and the idea was shelved.
By 2007, Kibaki’s was spending so much time at State House that he had lost much of the support he won in 2002. In the meantime, the opposition was maintaining high public visibility and presented itself as a viable alternative to Kibaki.
Kibaki managed to squeeze into a second term of office in the disputed 2007 polls. Ironically, Raila’s reckless campaign drove millions of voters into electing Kibaki. Raila promised to redistribute jobs, businesses and land, to institute ethnic federalism (Majimbo) and to repossess government shares sold at the Nairobi Stock Exchange. These statements were scary to entrepreneurs, diplomats, land owners and those investing in shares.
It is now a year since Kibaki and Raila entered a Coalition of the Unwilling. Opinion polls show that the Giant Coalition is widely unpopular, with only 30% of Kenyans giving their approval. Ministers, Members of Parliament, Judges and top civil servants engage in endless squabbling over protocol and control. The government appears clueless as 10 million Kenyans suffer from famine. Unemployment is worsening amidst the global economic crisis. The failure of rains means that hunger and water shortages will worsen.
The President’s first wife and her children engage government officials in public wars through the media. Meanwhile, the President’s second wife is busy telling Kenyans that, “her man” will be retiring soon and that she will “identify” a suitable presidential successor.
As the Grand Coalition falters, Kibaki has began reasserting his Presidency across the country. If it wasn’t for the fact that he is constitutionally barred from running for a third time, Kibaki could as well be in campaign mode!
Kibaki’s experience shows that it will take a long time to undo Moi’s 24 year legacy. Kenyans must learn that it is not necessary for a president to attend public rallies in every school or market place in Kenya. As former Subukia legislator said when Moi left the Presidency in December 2002, “Moi is gone, but Moism will be with us for a long time.”