Kibaki: The part-time bus conductor who became president

President Mwai Kibaki takes the oath of office as the President of Kenya after being re-elected in 2007 at State House, Nairobi. [File, Standard]


Born on November 15, 1931, Mwai Kibaki would be Kenya’s third President (2002-2013) after Daniel arap Moi who served from 1978 to 2002.

A Vice President for 10 years from 1978 to 1988 and an economist from Makerere University, Kibaki held the finance docket from 1969 to 1981.

Between 1982 and 1988 he was the Minister for Home Affairs and later health up to 1991.

With the reintroduction of a multiparty political system in 1991, Kibaki and an old money cabal, that included Njenga Karume and the fiery John Keen, formed the Democratic Party after which he sat on the opposition side of parliament as the MP for Othaya from 1992 to 2002 having had unsuccessfully vied for the presidency in 1992.

He garnered 1.03 million votes, the third-highest after Moi’s 1.9 million and Kenneth Matibas’s 1.3 million. Jaramogi Odinga was fourth with 1.03 million.

Democratic Party founders Njenga Karume, Mwai Kibaki and John Keen in Limuru in 1992. [File, Standard]


He contested the presidency again in 1997 and lost to Moi whereupon he became a very effective leader of the Official Opposition with a secretariat in the National Assembly.

He had garnered 1.9 million votes against Moi’s 2.5 million.

In the 2002 presidential election, he was elected as President of Kenya.

Early life

Kibaki was born to Kibaki Githinji and Teresia Wanjiku in Thunguri Village, Othaya, Nyeri. Italian missionaries baptised him Emilio but he seems not to have been excited by the name.

So, it was Mwai Kibaki for the rest of his life. “Emilio” would surface in ballot papers, election petitions and swearing-in documents.

During school holidays he could be a bus conductor on vehicles belonging to Othaya African Bus Union. A bright student, he qualified for Mang'u High School where he was an “A” student between 1947 and 1950 scoring the maximum of six points in his "O" level examination.

It is possible that Kibaki would have ended up as General Kibaki but colonial authorities were not keen on having soldiers from central Kenya, the home of the Mau-Mau.

His dream of a military career, influenced by returning Second World War veterans, evaporated when he joined Makerere University, Uganda, where he read Economics, History and Political Science graduating in 1955 with a First Class Honours B.A. in Economics.

Those days there were more jobs than their seekers. With such sterling qualifications, he landed a job with oil giant Shell as an assistant sales manager for its Uganda Division.

Later, he joined the London School of Economics for a degree in Public Finance graduating with flying colours and going back to Makerere as a lecturer in 1958.

Three years later in 1961, he married secondary school headteacher Lucy Muthoni. A clergyman’s daughter.

Lucy died in April 2016 after a controversy-filled tenancy at State House. Mama Lucy Hospital in Umoja, Nairobi, is named in her honour.

 In 1961, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga persuaded Kibaki to quit teaching at Makerere to work as Kanu’s executive officer exposing the economist to politics that would see him become president in 2002.

Kibaki over the years

1963: Elected as Member of Parliament for Donholm Constituency (subsequently called Bahati and now known as Makadara) in Nairobi and appointed the Permanent Secretary for the Treasury.

1966: Minister of Commerce and Industry.

1969: Minister of Finance and Economic Planning where he served until 1982.

1974: Faces a big fight for the Donholm seat from Jael Mbogo after she almost dethroned him in 1969, moves his political base to Othaya, TIME magazine rates him among the top 100 people in the world who had the potential to lead. It wasn’t wrong: Kibaki would be the MP for Othaya until 2007 and a two-term President of Kenya.

1978: Moi names him Vice President and Minister for Home Affairs

Former President Daniel Moi is received back home from an OAU summit by vice president Mwai Kibaki at JKIA in 1980. [File, Standard]


1988: Falls out with Moi after an attempt to rig his election during the infamous Mlolongo (queue) Voting where bizarrely, the guy with the shortest line behind him could win as long as he was in the government’s good books.

Moi drops Kibaki as Vice President replacing him with former University of Nairobi Vice-Chancellor and ambassador to the UK, the historian Dr Josephat Karanja.

A gentleman and avid golfer, Kibaki took the demotion in stride and avoided confrontational politics for which he was called names.

He seemed to vindicate his critics in 1991 when, despite the reintroduction of a multiparty political system, he equated the removal of Kanu from power with the felling of a Mugumo tree with a razor blade.

Not surprisingly virulent anti-Moi critics called him General Kiguoya, Kiguoya being Kikuyu for a coward.

But he would prove the folks wrong when he resigned from the Government and quit Kanu on Christmas day 1991 to form the Democratic Party.

Matiba, who led the break-away Ford-Kenya never forgave Kibaki for splitting the presidential vote but such is the cold reality of politics.

Sometimes you win the war only for the spoils to go to the guys who saw little action on the battlefield.


1992: Kibaki loses the presidential election to Moi

1997:  He loses again because of a divided opposition among other factors, becomes The Official Leader of the Opposition in Parliament as fellow opposition giant Raila Odinga starts cooperating with Moi.

2002:  Becomes the third President of Kenya with a 62 per cent landslide win owing to the invaluable support from Raila Odinga.

It happened when it became clear that Moi had settled for Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila decamped from Kanu with other heavies who included Prof Saitoti, Kalonzo Musyoka and Joseph Kamotho under the auspices of the Rainbow Movement which now joined a new Raila party called the Liberal Democratic Party.

The Rainbow Movement/LDP would join the Kibaki-led National Alliance Party of Kenya (NAK) to form the formidable National Rainbow Alliance that kicked Kanu out of power. Raila was its chief campaigner with Kibaki hospitalised in London after his Range Rover crashed at the Chumvi junction on Mombasa Road in Machakos County.

Having won the election together, the Kibaki side of the government started sidelining LDP to the extent of naming Raila’s rivals to the Cabinet. They had forgotten how Raila’s “Kibaki Tosha” mantra had popularised Kibaki's candidature.

Few can forget the swearing-in day as Kibaki, leg in a plaster cast and the rest of him in a wheelchair took the oath of office.

Former President Daniel Moi handed over power to Mwai Kibaki at Uhuru Park in 2002. [File, Standard]


Raila saw a chance to hit back during the 2005 constitutional review referendum when he, with the support of Kalonzo Musyoka and Kanu’s Uhuru Kenyatta supported the NO side using the Orange symbol and defeated the government’s YES side with 51 per cent of the vote against 43 per cent.

In 2006, a piqued Kibaki dissolved the Cabinet and failed to name Raila, Kalonzo and other rebels in the new one. This prompted Raila to form the Orange Democratic Movement with Kalonzo and other luminaries

Kibaki the President

With Kanu out, in came a different leadership style. A throwback from his technocrat days Kibaki’s State House ceased to be the port of call for all manner of sycophantic delegations seeking political favours as he surrounded himself with a tight kitchen cabinet.

Gone were also the roadside edicts of his predecessors and you wouldn’t see his portrait in every shop or his image on banknotes and coins.

Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki displays the constitution during the promulgation of the new constitution at the Uhuru Park grounds in the capital Nairobi, August 27, 2010. [Reuters] 


But whenever his feelings and thoughts found their way into the microphones, Kenyans would have a good laugh as was the case when his bodyguard commander instructed his chauffeur to move the presidential Mercedes near the dais as it drizzled.

Wondering what the big deal was, Kibaki said the driver was kumbafu (foolish). Or when he called cattle rustlers mafi ya kuku (chicken droppings).


Had the Machakos accident not taken a huge toll on Kibaki’s health, Kenya would have relished the eloquence of the man who would make powerful speeches and contributions in parliament without notes.

So serious was the impairment that it is believed the government was largely run by his lieutenants especially civil service boss Francis Muthaura and security minister Prof George Saitoti.

2007: The disputed election

Kibaki was declared the winner amid protests by the opposition led by Raila Odinga and William Ruto sparking off the worst post-election violence in Kenya. Kibaki had 4,584,721 votes against Raila’s 4,352,993,

Opinion polls had consistently shown him trailing Raila in all regions apart from central Kenya. That results from Kibaki’s bastions in central Kenya coming in last didn’t help matters as chaotic scenes were beamed live on television.

Suspicion would be inflated when he was hastily sworn in at dusk in State House, Nairobi. 

For more than two months, Kenya was on fire as Raila refused to recognise Kibaki, who was now ruling with half the cabinet, as the President of Kenya.

A subsequent investigation by retired South African judge Johann Kriegler formed the opinion both parties had committed irregularities in various regions on a grand scale as to make it impossible to establish who had won.

Eventually, a deal christened the National Accord was brokered by one-time UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was struck in which Raila and Kibaki shared power with Raila as Prime Minister until 2013.


Kibaki inherited a battered economy but he managed a turnaround that saw the GDP pick from 0.6 per cent in 2002 to 3 per cent in 2003.

By 2007, the figure was 7 per cent as development projects popped up in areas that had been forgotten.

The communications sector grew at a dizzying speed as did infrastructural development especially road networks, the flagship project being the Thika Superhighway.

Introduction of the Constituency Development Fund in 2003 to support grass-root projects while ensuring an equitable sharing of national resources.

President Uhuru Kenyatta receives the sword of authority from outgoing President Mwai Kibaki after being sworn in in 2013. [File, Standard]

Creation of Kenya's Vision 2030 which aimed at raising GDP growth to 10 per cent annually in order to transform Kenya into a middle-income country by 2030.

Dependence on Western donor aid was reduced with development being funded with Kenya’s own resources.

Simple measures such as reducing taxes on imported motorbikes created the boda-boda economy that has generated hundreds of thousands of jobs.

President Uhuru Kenyatta who succeeded Kibaki announced his death in a televised address to the nation on Friday, April 22. Kibaki died aged 90 years.