By Juma Kwayera
When he joined politics five decades ago, President Kibaki was far-removed from the East in his worldview and ideological inclinations. It is ironical that he exits politics having distanced himself from the West, with the East now a major trading partner.
In his maiden speech to Parliament as assistant minister for Economic Planning and parliamentary secretary to the Treasury he loathed socialism and communism calling them ideologies that served other countries, and which could not be replicated in Kenya.
Parliamentary secretaries were the equivalent of chairmen of House committees, as they are known in the current set up in the National Assembly. At independence, socialism was the zeitgeist of the African struggle for freedom, but the spirit was not readily embraced by the new leadership, hence Kibaki’s cautious arrangement of the economic building blocks.
However, then as now, ‘mixed economy’ has defined his policies – letting the private sector do what it does best and the State undertaking large-scale long-term projects that take long to realise returns. This is the centerpiece of the speech made in Parliament on June 7, 1963.
A proud Kibaki declined to make a five minute-speech even at the prodding of then Speaker Humphrey Slade arguing he needed enough time to prosecute his policies.
The speech, reproduced in Mwai Kibaki in Parliament 1963-2013, a book he launched on the day he bade farewell to Parliament on December 18. In the speech when he was the late Tom Mboya’s Assistant minister for Economic Planning Kibaki moved a Motion on how the Government was going to spend 14.5 million sterling pounds (Sh196 million at the current exchange rate) on development.
“It has been found through experience in other countries that the shorter development plans are more practical, easier to execute and indeed in a country like this (Kenya) where we are so dependent on foreign money to finance our development these short-term development programmes are far more practical. Of course the longer development projects should be on our minds because we realise that various long-term projects take long to mature,” Kibaki remarked.
At independence, then as now, the country had a large population of landless and displaced people. The figure of nearly 60,000 yet to be resettled following the 2007/2008 post-election violence tallies with the figure the country inherited from the colonial Government.
In 1963, Kibaki noted, “Currently, we are resettling people to the tune of 7,000 families — that is 60,000 people altogether — on some of the forest estates.” At the time, there had been pressure on the Government to adopt socialism as a form of equalisation mechanism between the poor and the affluent.
“This is because they advised the Government should import technical planners from socialist countries because, they alleged, in socialist countries you have no unemployment.... Everybody knows that we are not committed to anybody’s ideology,” he told Parliament.
Kibaki, who had just given up a teaching job at Makerere University, was alluding to Das Kapitalis authored by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels that informs the communist economic theories. Rather than pander to the whims of capitalism and communism he began his Cabinet career by vouching for a ‘mixed economy’ model.
“This Government has already made it clear the nature of the economy we are working on and it is that of mixed economy. Any economy in which the Government will make its contribution in spheres where the Government can be most effective, in spheres where the private investor may be hesitant to come in, spheres where the project takes long to mature and show profit.”
To him the model envisaged an economy where the Government and the private sector cooperated and in which an ordinary person was free to move in the direction he preferred.
“If you look at the figures of capital formation in this country you will see that the Government share of it 40 per cent, at least it is 38.5 per cent. The rest of course, is contributed by the private sector. That is not to say that we are not aware that the bulk of the people in the country are poor and they look to the Government for provision of social services and income, which they are not in a position to provide themselves.... But we are aware the way to help them is not to grab what little exists or what little has been developed and to contribute to these people. In that way we would make them happy for one night and they would have a good meal and the following morning they would go back to their normal life of having no means at all.”
From his first speech, wealth distribution has since independence remained a major challenge the country is yet to come to terms with. There have been no attempts to get to the bottom of the matter. Kibaki pointed out, “We shall not allow our economic development to go in a way whereby the bulk of the wealth of this country could continue to be concentrated in the hands of a few people.... To move away from theoretical positions of textbooks they happen to have read or not read to move away from this position and start to study the practical problem, which faces us.”
However, he was also cognisant of the fact that true independence would never be possible when the country was still dependent on foreign aid, even for food.
“It is of no use expanding in a given line of production you have just one market for it. So this Government is laying the plans to explore the world for new markets. It will be economically and politically wise for a country such as our own to reduce its dependence on a market in one country only,” he said in reference to agricultural exports and food self-sufficiency.
Although the circumstances may have changed a great deal, Kibaki advocated for policies that resulted in domestic resource mobilisation.
“There is nothing at all in the world stopping them getting together and organising the building of a one or two mile road which would connect them with the main road... it requires very little capital. ... What is perhaps more, Mr Speaker, it is in the African tradition. It is not something new, it is not the socialism we are being asked to borrow from some country.”