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Kivutha Kibwana hangs up political boots after 30 years

Kivutha Kibwana is a former university don who has been in the trenches since the Moi era, became an MP and minister under Kibaki and served as Makueni’s first governor. [File, Standard]

Soft-spoken former Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana, 68, was a regular face during the long decade when pro-reformists were in the trenches against the regime of Kenya’s second president Daniel arap Moi.

He has published numerous books and studies on Kenya’s fledgling attempt to rekindle constitutional democracy. He and other prominent reformists established numerous lobbies to agitate for democracy. Then he became an MP and had a short-lived stint as Cabinet Minister in Kenya’s third administration under former president Mwai Kibaki.

He then capped that up with two consecutive terms as Makueni’s first governor under the new Constitution that he had worked hard to deliver.

Kibwana’s last attempt for public office when he sought to transition from governor to county senator ended disastrously in the August elections.

Running on the ticket of his Muungano Development Movement Party, he was badly trounced by Wiper candidate, former Makueni MP Dan Maanzo.

On Saturday at Kikumini in Kibwezi West during the retirement party for Father Pius Kyule, the good professor announced his exit from active politics saying time had come for him to leave the baton to others and he would instead play an advisory role to young politicians.

“I have quit elective politics after serving the people of Makueni Constituency and Makueni County and 30 years of public service. Thanks be to God, my former students, coworkers and those I served,” he said later in a message to journalists.

It is believed that his exit from active politics could have been informed by the humiliating defeat he suffered at the hands of Maanzo who garnered 177,273 against his 59,034 votes.

“When it comes to active politics where people go to seek votes, I want to announce that I have retired. I will no longer be seeking any elective seat,” Kibwana said.

He, however, said he was open to play an advisory role for the Kenya Kwanza government should he be called to do so.

“I decamped from Azimio and joined the president’s side. I am open to help the government in whatever capacity,” he stated.

Kibwana’s place in the history of the country and the democratic struggle remains well paved.

He was an intellectual pillar in that struggle leaning on his well-grounded legal education that had seen him attend George Washington and Harvard universities in the United States, University of London and earlier the University of Nairobi.

Part of the intellectual elites who bore the brunt on the 1980s crackdown on political dissidents, Kibwana would take off for further studies and academia on self-exile reemerging at the close of that decade to join the heightened clamour for political plurality.

He was among the prominent reformists who founded the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) which agitated for human rights and democracy. He will also be remembered as a prominent member of the reform caucuses that took place at Ufungamano House and the National Convention Executive Council (NCEC) from 1997-2002.

Those initiatives largely birthed a church fronted bid to reform the constitution which would later be merged with a government drive to form the Constitutional Reform Commission of Kenya (CKRC) which started work under Moi, took a divisive stride under the first Kibaki government and was finally completed after the 2007/8 post-election bloodletting.

It was perhaps befitting for a man of his stature that Kenya’s journey towards a new constitution was completed in 2010 while he was serving as Presidential Advisor on Constitutional, Parliamentary and Youth Affairs.

“Being an advisor, all I did was give my two cents worth and left it at that. I didn’t have the latitude to go out there and take credit for the things my counsel resulted in,” he has recalled in a past interview of that period when Kenya was ruled by a Kibaki-Raila Odinga collegiate branded the Grand Coaliation Government. “But as Joint Secretaries for Coalition Affairs, Miguna Miguna and myself were in the room when a lot of important decisions were made.”

Kibwana had earlier on served the Kibaki government as Minister for Lands and acted as Minister for Environment and Natural Resources though his stint in the cabinet was short lived since he had joined government past midway the five year term.

In an interview with one local newspaper last year, when he had harboured dreams of a presidential run, he had an interesting recollection on the culmination of the hard fought clamor for the constitution.

“The thing that tickled me the most was that when you looked at photos from the promulgation event on August 27, 2010,” Kibwana said with a laugh, “it is the people who had all along been against a new constitutional order who are seated at the front, while those who fought street battles in support, at least those who made it to the event, were seated at the back.”

Nevertheless, the Constitution, 2010 bought some personal benefit for him when he was elected first Makueni governor.

His first term as governor was however tumultuous afterward as MCAs rebelled against what they saw as an attempt to slight their mandate. Ugly scenes including a daytime shooting were witnessed.

In his second term, he performed much better and his projects including a mango value addition factory and a Level 4 Child and Mother wing at Wote County Hospital won national accolades.

The former governor noted that part of his duties in retirement will be to unite the Kamba community while keeping watch on elected leaders in Makueni to help them serve the wananchi well.

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