BY KABANDO wa KABANDO
In June this year, Prime Minister Odinga led ODM luminaries in thanking President Kibaki for his practical leadership because all development activities are initiated and accomplished. Hosting the President in their backyard of Nyanza, the leaders said Kibaki is unlike the previous leaders who thrived on empty promises.
In the same month, I was present in Rongo where Lands Minister James Orengo publicly showered praise on Head of Civil Service Francis Muthaura, describing him as a fine diplomat and effective bureaucrat. “These days, we do not witness situations where residents plead with the President to bring developments in an area only for him to consent but nothing is done,” the PM said then. This accolade in burials raise questions because what these leaders say elsewhere is opposite.
In the recent past, we have witnessed a perplexing proliferation of choreographed criticism of the assumed Kibaki legacy. Koigi wa Wamwere argues Kenya has not developed since independence; while Ahmednassir Abdullahi criticises the construction of Thika Highway, arguing that it benefits one community. He further claims that “not one day has Mr Kibaki addressed” the plight of the poor. Wamwere reckons freedom fighter nationalist Tom Mboya wasn’t a great economist. Phew!
First, let us all acknowledge that the Presidency is not expired. We still have a full year ahead. But it is fine to presume.
The Kibaki Government has provided free and compulsory basic education, expanding enrolment from five to over nine million today. This is the most precious gift to a generation. This revolution has extended to secondary education. The Government’s Sh10, 265 grants to cover tuition costs for every child in secondary school means children enjoy a minimum of 12 years of basic education. The expanded bursary kitty and expansion of tertiary education means children have greatest access to an education. 0f the 413,177 KCSE candidates this year, over 55,000 are additional entrants. Yes, lets argue about standards and all, but when our kids are inside a classroom. Not some in, some out.
The Kibaki Government allowed all citizens to think for themselves, work and earn a living. The resurgent private sector – from the commanding heights of the economy across to community enterprises and co-operatives, are symptomatic of the change in Government’s role from one of a predatory bureaucracy to that of an enabling catalyst. Yes, let’s argue about corruption and all, but there’s no doubt in anybody’s mind that the ultimate success of an enterprise is today determined not by proximity to State House but by proximity to a customer’s heart. Some bureaucrats may still lurk ravenous appetites, even connive to “kill” the currency, but free enterprise will suffocate their dry appetites, eventually.
For long, Kenya was the poster-child of the global multilateral financial institutions and their cousins, the diplomatic and NGO community. Their agents were treated with deference and supplication as they cajoled, harangued, hollered, wheedled and coaxed Kenya to behave or else. Part of it helped, as it piled pressure for democratic reform. The Kibaki administration provided citizens and the civil service with the space to imagine solutions to our socio-economic needs, both planned and spontaneous. Some of us do not suffer the debilitating low self-esteem of disowning our problems.
The grand reconstruction of our roads is a marvel to be celebrated. Our Airports have swanky new upgrades, while new ones are underway. The Kenya Railways concession is finally on the mend. Liberalisation of telecoms has spawned a vibrant mobile telecoms revolution that is dazzling the world with breathtaking innovation. It is all well to criticise foreign contracts. Younger Kenyans may not have heard of an animal called ‘cowboy contractors’, so-called because they must have been tarmacking roads using cow dung, judging by the speed with which the roads they built were washed away. The only regret: is that we are driving dangerously fast on the new highways causing accidents, whilst previously accidents were caused by motorists attempting to avoid pot-holes.
Kibaki leadership personality has brought new standards and definition of leadership character. His gentlemanly mien and modesty, commonly interpreted as ‘hands-off’ leadership has indeed re-humanised the presidency. The president does have to be an all-knowing, ever-wise, mysterious, shrewd, irritable and volatile genius who has the uncanny skills of purveying blood-cuddling threats. After all, we tried it in the past, and we did not like it.
Performance contracting is tilting career mobility in public service towards a trajectory of meritocracy. We can argue about reliability of the performance rating instrument, or even the remedial measures we undertake for performance lapses. But undoubtedly no bureaucrat can retain their job today by cobbling a choir for the President, or gallivanting across the country as ‘presidential entourage!
It is contestable if Kenya is an island of peace. However, we are a force for good in the region, and our neighbours are better for it. Kenya is a model centre of excellence in specialist fields: private education, healthcare, aviation, medical, agricultural research, telecoms, legal and financial services. We remain the most hospitable base for regional solutions to intractable conflicts. The encroachment of our territory emanates lowly-esteemed neighbours aware we always preferred diplomatic means to resolve conflict.
Kibaki’s government revived the constitutional review process. For the reason that we would have placed the blame squarely on the President had the new law not been implemented, we cannot deny him full credit now that it has been done.
President Kibaki has enunciated Vision 2030, a demonstration of remarkable foresight. When the Emir of Dubai began transforming the emirate from a sleepy fishing village to a global metropolis in 1962, critics dismissed him as just another profligate prince. When Mahathir Mohammed began transformation of Malaysia, it was a distant dream to critics. The Kibaki administration shows rare eagerness for economic transformation.
Kibaki isn’t intolerant, neither is he egoistic. Mwai isn’t infallible. True, we fought for freedoms we enjoy. But good leaders nurture that spirit, bad ones take it away. We can argue this is the worst, most insensitive government we have ever seen. That’s just fine. After all, no one will come knocking at your door at night to ask you why you insulted serikali ya mzee.
Viva, Emilio Mwai Kibaki. Well, doubts exist of your courage. But we all know you have never been a portrait -on-jacket-lapel hawk!
Critics should make full disclosures, lest we sail in self-effacing contradictions, exposing unjustified entitlements.
Please give Kibaki his due.