One sunny afternoon in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, President Mwai Kibaki sat pensively as deliberations at that year’s Africa Union summit were about to start.
A ‘Mr Fix It’ in his grand coalition administration approached and handed him a hand-written note. Kibaki read it and instantly turned red. The aide, the full story would later unfold, was opposed to Kibaki’s decision to front of a certain highly educated Kenyan from the ‘wrong’ tribe for a plum international job.
The note contained names of three other Kenyans from the ‘right’ tribe that the kitchen cabinet and powerful forces around the president had recommended for the job. Kibaki, who at times shot straight from the hip in his traditional jerky Swahili, did not hide his displeasure. Moments later in front of other government functionaries, he chided aide, accusing him of blind loyalty to the tribe. Those who witnessed the tense moment say the President wondered why a bunch of people in high offices were hell-bent on using tribe as a measure of suitability for every mouth-watering appointment.
Kibaki put his feet down and in the end, the man from the ‘wrong’ tribe carried the day.
The man from Othaya was a rare gem. To many Kenyan, he fits Sixth US President Jon Quincy Adams’s description of a true leader. Adams once said if your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are worth your salt.
A leader, Adams believed, must instill hope for success and belief in a people no matter their tribe, faith and economic status. A gifted leader is felt far and wide. He can zig while others zag but touches lives and leaves lasting impressions. Kibaki did just that.
But what do you do when you find yourself in a country where most of the so-called leaders don’t inspire a slight hope? They represent doom. I mean leaders who turn a special session of Parliament convened to honour a hero into a marketplace shouting march.
The pretentious lot that spoke the loudest in Parliament on Wednesday, reducing Kibaki’s death to a campaign matter, missed the point. What sacrifices have the people they cheer-lead made for Kenyans comparable to Kibaki’s selfless service? The answer is obvious.
I have previously said in this column that the Kenyan voter long overcame the bug of ignorance. Take this for granted at your own peril. It is no longer tenable to hoodwink Kenyans.
Author Rasheed Ogunlaru says that in leadership, life and all things, it’s wiser to judge people by their deeds than rhetoric. Kibaki’s record speaks louder than mere talk. We all admit that he made Kenya a better place.
We least need leaders who deride others, steal from the left hand and use the money to bribe the right then go flat out to convince both hands to vote for them. Wealth and self-preservation is the in-thing for them. They would tell blatant lies, incite class wars and show no remorse.
The late president relied on self-confidence, personal discipline, positive attitude and the belief that Kenyans could manage its destiny. He wasn't vengeful and never engaged in display of arrogance in political rallies like the case with many of those offering themselves for high office today.
Kibaki's style of politics revolved around issues. He may have had flaws like the rest of us but his name never featured in the list of real or imagined graft lords. The veteran leader detested name-calling yet rallied people for the good cause. His death is a huge loss that can’t be a mere campaign gimmick.
The writer is an editor at The Standard