By John Njiraini
"You have asked me to lead this nation out of the present wilderness and malaise onto the Promised Land. And I shall."
These were the words of President Kibaki on December 30, 2002 soon after his inauguration as the third president of the Republic of Kenya.
In one of the most captivating and inspiring speeches, the newly elected President outlined the important goals that would define his presidency, one of which was the economy.
"The economy, which you all know has been under-performing since the last decade, is going to be my priority," he said, adding that the Government under his leadership would put in place policies geared towards economic reconstruction, employment creation and rehabilitation of collapsed infrastructure.
Nine years down the line, and as he prepares to retire, opinion is divided on whether President Kibaki managed to deliver the country to the Promised Land and in particular regarding the economy.
"President Kibaki has laid a firm foundation on economic growth and development and the expectations will be much higher for the next leader," explained Mugo Kibati, the Director General of the Vision 2030 Delivery Secretariat.
He added that during President Kibaki’s tenure, the economy has taken off, from its pre-Kibaki sluggishness whilst the formulation of the Vision 2030 blueprint offers a roadmap for structural transformation of the country in the coming years.
Granted, there is no doubt President Kibaki has presided through a period in which the country’s economy has undergone major transformations.
This is something the President made sure he reminded Kenyans during this year’s Jamhuri Day celebrations, probably on the understanding this could have been his last if the elections are held in August as stipulated in the new Constitution.
"We are marking this year’s Jamhuri Day against the backdrop of increased inflation that have seen the cost of living rise for most Kenyans. Despite the many challenges, we have witnessed significant progress in national development," said Kibaki.
It is these conflicting scenarios, whereby Kenyans can now feel the luxury of travelling in a super highway but can barely afford three meals a day that would define President Kibaki’s legacy when his presidency is finally documented.
As former legislator Koigi wa Wawere, a fierce critic of President Kibaki can attest, the Head of State’s legacy will read like a contrasting account of two people embodied as one.
"President Kibaki may boast of free education, but his is a Kenya of economic apartheid where the poor and the rich have two separate but unequal systems of health and education," wrote Koigi in an opinion piece article.
In November 2004, in an ABC Prime Time interview with Peter Jennings, former US President Bill Clinton identified Kibaki as the one living person he would most like to meet "because of the Kenyan government’s decision to abolish school fees for primary education".
The free education programme saw nearly 1.7 million more pupils enroll in school by the end of that year. Clinton’s wish was granted when he visited Kenya in the summer of 2005 and finally met President Kibaki on July 22.
When President Kibaki, a London School of Economics educated economist took over, Kenya’s economy was crawling towards stagnation.
At the time of his swearing in, economic growth stood at a paltry less than two per cent, while close to 60 per cent of the population lived in poverty.
The improved management of the economy during Kibaki’s presidency has seen Kenya’s GDP grow from a low 0.6 per cent in 2002 to three per cent in 2003, 4.9 per cent in 2004, 5.8 per cent in 2005, six per cent in 2006 and seven per cent in 2007.
In 2008, it slowed to 1.8 per cent, before climbing to 2.8 per cent in 2009 and five per cent in 2010. The slowdown is attributed to the disputed elections of 2008, but one can easily sum that the recovery was significant compared to near collapse and decay witnessed during the time of his predecessor.
Besides, over the past nine years, Kibaki has presided over a period in which revenue collection has tripled from Sh200 billion in 2002 to Sh600 billion last year, a total of 1.7 million Kenyans are today connected to the national electricity grid compared to 500,000 in 2002, 18 million Kenyans have access to financial services compared to less than one million ten years ago and more than 20 million Kenyans own a mobile phone compared to less than two million a decade ago.
It is also during Kibaki’s tenure that billions of shillings have been pumped into modernisation and development of infrastructures like roads, airports, railways, ports, energy and telecommunications.
For instance, funding for roads has increased considerably from Sh13 billion in 2003 to Sh110 billion in the current financial year. Kenya is now connected to the world through fibre-optic cables, the Port of Mombasa is now operating on a 24-hour basis, major airports and airstrips are being expanded and renovated, there have been deepening integration within East Africa Community, among others.
"President Kibaki has done a wonderful job in infrastructure development. He is creating a conducive environment for doing business," said Patrick Obath, chairman of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa).
He added that despite the infrastructural developments, the President Kibaki is a strong believer in a free and open market and has also steered away from populist policies that have been critical in propelling the economy through a vibrant private sector.
While analysts contend that Kibaki would be remembered for putting Kenya’s economy on a strong path for long-term development, critics argue that it is also under his watch that the gap between the rich and the poor has expanded significantly.
According to the Centre for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), poverty levels have decreased with just under half of the population living below the poverty line, sharp geographic and socio-economic disparities show the push for equality is still a far off dream.
"Economic gains in the past decade have been unevenly distributed and the country has faced a number of internal and external crises in recent years," states CESR on its website.
Another critical issue that would definitely cloud President Kibaki’s legacy is that while he put so much emphasis on physical infrastructure development, he has failed to dedicate his energy on the agricultural sector and fighting corruption.