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Mwai Kibaki was a patient I would have paid to treat - Dr Gikonyo

Dressed in green scrubs, a blue mask and dark blue Crocs, Dr Dan Gikonyo requests warm water in the lounge room of the Karen Hospital, before recalling his years as the personal physician to the late President Mwai Kibaki.  

Dr Gikonyo had a 10-year stint with Kenya’s third president, but their friendship started much earlier.

“Kibaki comes from Othaya and it borders Tetu where I come from. As we grew up in the 50s and 60s there are people we looked up and Kibaki was one of them. My first interaction with him was in 1978,” offers Dr Gikonyo.

At the time, he and his wife, Dr Betty Gikonyo, had just had their third child who was born with a facial deformity. That needed surgery which was not easily available.

The Gikonyos were advised to seek treatment in London and the budget was unachievable.

“A friend, Mwangi Maathai, then MP for Lang’ata told me we could go see Kibaki as he would help us get to London. That was the first time I met him. He had just become the Vice President.”

 Dr Dan Gikonyo specialist in Cardiology and Vascular Diseases. He was former President Kibaki's doctor. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Kibaki promptly called his friends who raised for us enough money and “I was able to take my child to the UK. That was the beginning of a lifelong relationship with a man who did not keep receipt of favours done to people. He did not like you reminding him of what he did for you.”

Though he was paid for his services he "kept joking that this is a man that I would have paid to treat.”

He recalls often telling him “Mr President, if you allow me today, I would see you and after I have seen you, give me an invoice I will pay.”

He became Kibaki’s personal doctor after Kibaki visited his clinic with then Kiambaa MP Njenga Karume.

That was in 1991 when Karume had gone to the clinic accompanied by another man. “When I looked at him it was Kibaki. Karume said 'Hata hii mtu pima pressure' (check his pressure as well),” Gikonyo fondly recalls.

At the time, Kenya had repealed Section 2A of the Constitution enabling multiparty politics and in 1992, Kibaki formed the Democratic Party (DP).

Gikonyo, out of friendship with Karume and the newfound bond with Kibaki, became a life member of DP, and paid Sh100, 000.

“I became his secret campaigner,” he recalls. “I would go to Muthaiga Country Club and tell people that Kibaki would become the next president and they would laugh.”

Gikonyo says Kibaki was very particular with health check-ups and was very compliant with a doctor's prescription, but the nasty accident during the 2002 elections was a turning point,

“I was shaken,” says Gikonyo. “He had fractures and our candidate was injured. I must thank Raila Odinga because he stepped in straight away, with his famous statement, “'the captain is injured but the team must go on.'”

“I noticed his stoicism when we travelled to London. He would bear trauma, and pain, without self-pity. He braved through all those injuries. I was more worried about him than he was.” 

From the accident, Kibaki fractured his leg, arm, neck and ribs. It was a miracle that he would come out alive, go back to politics, and lead Kenya for a decade.

“What the accident did was it slowed down his pace, he was not at his best after the accident,” Gikonyo says. 

Kibaki loved his tipple but after the accident in 2002 and when he was sworn in “the president never drank alcohol again. State House cleaned out any form of alcohol,” says Gikonyo, adding that Kibaki loved fruits and traditional foods.

Gikonyo recalls First Lady Lucy Kibaki as a woman who protected her space.

“From the little I saw of her, she was a woman who had only one interest, to protect her man, the president and her husband which is what all wives do. Her job was her children and husband.”

Could the same be said of the late Mwai Kibaki?

“When Kibaki was elected president, he told people in Othaya that he was the president of the whole country. At no time would he favour his family for the country,” Gikonyo says

He recalls Kibaki’s nephew trying to get a job and the president told him “he had to consider thousands of people who had better qualifications because even in his first Cabinet, he gave people positions on merit.  

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