Tribute: How Kibaki's bigger picture legacy separates him from the rest

Education was one of Kibaki's priorities. {File, Stndard]

 Legacy is complicated. It is never manufactured ahead of the event. It is not about visible “hardware” achievements.

It must be felt by the everyday Kenyan who deserves “software” change in the long-term. The whole point of leading a nation is to make it better, not shinier.

 Every single current standard of living issue that Kenyans face today (maize, milk, petrol, cooking gas and everything else that contributes to family and household sustenance) is the end result of politics that disdains formal rules and prefers the informality of “wink-wink” deals.

We need money excuse

 Today, every shortage or price hike in Kenya today has two explanations; “we need money” official dirges conjoined with “let’s make (not earn) money” instinct.

In technical terms, this means that our growing economy (now the third-largest in Sub-Saharan Africa) is still a fraction of the top two Nigeria and South Africa).

 Let’s put this simply. Including the Maghreb, we are the sixth-largest economy in Africa. Data allowing, this would suggest that we are one step above Lagos.

 A former schoolmate from Uganda offered in a heated WhatsApp discussion that Kenya is the clear economic leader in this part of the world. But we suffer the politics of con, not conviction.

 It is far easier in Kenya to be a politico of transactions, not a leader of policy. Individual prosperity matters far more than collective human progress. We now have a taxonomy for this.

 Think, by example, about our highest choices. Will the vote go to the one who makes money to do politics, or the one who does politics to make money? Taking this downstream, will we elect the person who does politics to make money to do politics, or the other who makes money to do politics to make money?

 Examined carefully, these are the electoral choices we have in an age – as global as it is local – where money needs politics, and politics needs money.

 Let us introduce our sadly departed former President Mwai Kibaki into this discussion. There has been more than enough press about his economic, social and political legacies. In our politically- correct African times, it is unsurprising that his feats have featured far more than his foibles.

 Indeed, as I have said before, he was the econocrat in a country that has been led by securocrats (for the edification of young readers, a Kenyan presidency has three roles: economy, security and governance/rule of law that characterises its administration. We are yet to discover the latter).

 But there is a second subtlety to this difference. Kenya is a world-class territory at the level of our transactions behaviour (think about our colonial legacy as a super-efficient outpost, or more recently, Mpesa success).

 Mwai Kibaki’s greatest strength was his excellent policy mind. Policy is the trick that translates the politics we vote for into the programmes we need and want.


Understood "little people"

 In celebratory thought about his work as a Finance Minister, Vice President and ultimately President there can be little argument that he understood the “little people”. You fix the people’s problems by good policy; not more transactions. You only get to fix policy if you do good politics (whatever that means).

 Having said all of this, the debate about Mwai Kibaki’s legacy seems a little offline. It has been dominated by the good (or bad) he did, rather than what he left for Kenya.

 Methinks he left us a vision – the overarching policy instrument known as Kenya Vision 2030 launched in 2008.

For further edification of readers, Vision 2030 was ready in the latter months of 2007. Then the PEV (post-election violence) happened. Part of the post-election settlement deal required a “joint” social contract between the protagonists that captured and consolidated the promises contained in the individual manifestos of the key parties; a German-style coalition agreement.

Resources were thrown at the idea, but, maybe by good fortune, it didn’t see the light of day. Instead, the Grand Coalition Government, after kicking and screaming, began real work in June 2008 with the launch of, guess what, Vision 2020 (who says Mwai Kibaki was not political?)

 Which brings me to the point about Mwai Kibaki’s legacy. It is not what he did, but what he left us with. Allow me to walk through Vision 2030 – the idea, not the document and its investment and infrastructure-obsessed iterations.

 As we do this, note very carefully that this vision is not on anyone’s lips on our noisy campaign trail. It is easier for our top politicos, especially at the presidential campaign level, to mouth us with all manner of promises as if the government does not exist and Kenya is the Garden of Eden.

Infrastructure is fine but ...


 To the legacy, and let’s break it down by pillar. The economic pillar pointed us to a move up the economic value chain. The actual vision document was overcooked with detail and undercooked in its focus.

 It carelessly picked “winning sectors” as though others did not exist. If we are to think about a legacy thought from Mwai Kibaki on this pillar, it must be about three words: production (back to work), productivity (work smart) and competitiveness (go to market).

 The basic economics in this thinking is that Kenya’s economic future is in tradables (like value-added, exportable agro-processing as the basis of industry that needs services), not untradeables (like over-constructed Kiambu which looks like Hong Kong with a compound). In this thinking, financialization (and Fuliza etc) is an end to national prosperity, not its means.

 That Mwai Kibaki’s first executive decision on assuming office was free primary education speaks to his concern for our social pillar. And there is a particular nuance to this – our idea, partners support. The exact opposite of our donor and per diem driven development paradigm.

 I suspect, however, that the social pillar he envisaged went beyond social services to society. That it would extend beyond school buildings and health centres to our norms, values and virtues.

 That, on the day the constitution was promulgated, he penned an article in the press on the need for a Social Vision that spoke to the latter as part of our three-legged stool says it all.

 However, it is in the politics that Mwai Kibaki’s legacy is most interesting. The conventional wisdom suggests that he was no great fan of our politics of art, not science. That he saw in us a predilection for stomach before society and unseemly “tribe and bribe” political contestation.

 So, in this vision, we should have read better politics. Kenya is probably the only country in the world that has a national vision that includes a political, and not simply governance, pillar. In the passage of the constitution as an early tick on our post-2007 Agenda 4 and Vision 2030 checklists, he pointed us to less political artistry and more problem-solving political science.

Long-term development thinking

 He also did two other things with Vision 2030. He made it an agenda point for future leadership which, by example, the current Jubilee Administration tried to resist and ignore in its first term before adjusting to it through the “Big Four Agenda” in its soon-ending second term.

 He also made Vision 2030 a basis for the long-term developmental thinking that young African countries such as Kenya as we get to grips with the complex workings of democracy, and difficult concepts like the rule of law. We have eight years to deliver on this first vision before we begin to think about a Vision 2063 that celebrates our century of post-colonial life.

 Yet mostly, Mwai Kibaki, more than any of our other leaders, established a leadership baseline for Kenya. Not the economics, social or political, but the really big picture we need today. Simply, it is not about the good deeds that he did, but the great potential that he pointed us to.

 There can be no clearer legacy for the discombobulating times of our current moment.