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Why Jimmy Kibaki is ready for politics now

Democratic Paryty Officials John Keen, Mwai Kibaki and Njenga Karume during a political rally in Limuru in 1992. [File, Standard]

Thirty years ago on February 15, 1992, I attended Mwai Kibaki’s inaugural Opposition rally at Uhuru Park. On Boxing Day, the previous year, Kibaki had spoiled Christmas mood for then President Daniel Moi when he abruptly resigned from government through midday breaking news to form the Opposition party Democratic Party (DP).

The remarkable thing about that inaugural rally was in its organisation. Everything went on at clockwork precision with my friend John Keen as MC. The other thing was focus. Kibaki made a keynote address that lasted over an hour but not even once did he mention President Moi by name. He only dwelled on what wasn’t right in how the Government was run and how he intended to correct it if he came to power. That was in sharp contrast to conduct of the main Opposition party, the larger FORD before it broke into pieces, and whose rallies were rowdy and dominated by personalised attacks on the person of the President.

Nevertheless, Kibaki never won that election and one that followed, but finally had his day of glory in 2002.

Three weeks ago, I had breakfast with Kibaki’s elder son Jimmy, who too was at that inaugural rally. We had reminiscences of it, a little gossip on his dad, and his plans to dabble into politics.

Here are excerpts from the chat:

Q: I saw you at the inaugural DP rally addressed by your dad 30 years ago. What is one word in which you can describe it?

Fantastic.

Q: Now some gossip on your dad: Does he carry a phone and does he pick his calls?

(Laughing) Mzee doesn’t have a phone in his pocket, and never carried one even when President. But of course there is always somebody near him with a phone. Remember he still has a government paid military ADC (aide-de-camp) though not in uniform. In absence of the ADC there is always a member of the family or any other person to deal with his calls.

Q: And does he carry a wallet?

(Laughter) Honestly, I don’t recall ever seeing my dad with a wallet…. not even when he was Minister for Finance. But I know why you are asking. It is because dad has never been associated with cash hand-outs. Never! He believes it is to belittle and dehumanise people when you throw cash at them and leave them fighting for it as done by some presidential aspirants.

Q: Some interpret that to be mean….

That is because politicians have “institutionalised” politics of hand-outs which is wrong. Dad believed in empowerment. You may remember that day early in his presidency when he told a delegation at Sagana State Lodge not to expect any hand-outs from him but go borrow money from the banks because his government had enabled banks to have so much money to lend at friendly terms. That is how you empower people.

Q: Now in retirement what occupies your dad on an ordinary day?

One, he reads a lot. Age has slowed him though, but he still reads.

Q: What is his favourite read?

First, newspapers. He may not be darling to newspapers, but where he is seated there is always the days’ newspapers placed on a stool – and not for decoration! He will go through them. Next category is magazines – Economist, Time International, and Newsweek which are his all-time favourites.

Q: How is he health-wise?

Obviously you don’t expect a man of 90 to be as fit as he was when at 50, 60, or 70.  Wear and tear is natural component of the ageing process. So you will expect occasional hospital check-ups and that sort of thing.

Q: When he was President he was fond of calling people kubafu (stupid). Why?

 (Laughing). Actually at one time ma’am asked him the question you have asked. His answer was: What else do you expect me to call a person who behaves in a stupid (kubafu) way?

Q: It is said that good brains like your father don’t easily suffer fools which is why he couldn’t tolerate people who weren’t to his standard of seeing or doing things. What do you say?

That is true.

Q: His school records right from primary school in Othaya to London School of Economics, indicate he was ever the “A” student. Did he put pressure on his children to be like him?

Not at all. He let everybody be themselves but only got concerned when he felt one had tipped the scales. I give you my own example. Like with many teens when in Form Two, I took things so easy as to get 25 per cent in one subject. One day my father had a look at my report card and asked: Is it a mistake I see here: Is 25 out of 30 or out of 100? Of course he knew it was out of 100 and remarked: Now with this kind of score why don’t I employ you as my shamba boy and pay you some wages instead of wasting my money in your school fees? That got me back to my senses and my score-card changed.

Q: How about matters of discipline?

Dad didn’t have to worry about that. My mother was a born disciplinarian, a former teacher and daughter of a priest. So you had to tow the line or face the music.

Q: Now let’s talk about you. Recently, you were identified as deputy leader of a party called The New Democrats (TND). So a Kibaki finally has joined politics?

Let me best put it as public service and not politics. This is the background to it. Just before my father’s term in office ended, he called me to State House and asked me what I intended to be doing for the people of Othaya now that he would cease to be their MP after 38 continuous years. But he didn’t want me to immediately contest the seat and have it look like it was sort of inheritance. He asked me to sleep over it and meet him the next day with a plan. I told him my intention was to work on empowering Othaya people without necessarily being their MP – at least not immediately he left office.

He agreed with me and there and then gave me list of people to work with on the ground. He particularly made emphasis that I work on empowering women groups because once you empower the woman you empower the entire family. My first task was to organise a fund-raiser for Othaya women groups. Dad was very proud when I helped raise a figure never reached when he was MP.

Q: But time is now ripe for you to go into active politics? And in that case which seat are you going for?

Ten years is enough a break since there was a Kibaki in active politics. So I am going for it not as “heir” but on my own as Jimmy. As for which seat I will go for, that is to come out soon.

Q: All indications are this election will be fought by two coalitions, Azimio la Umoja and Kenya Kwanza, which one is your party TND aligned to?

For now, we are not aligned to any. But I can tell you on a matter of history and principle I can never be associated with one of the two coalitions you have mentioned.

Q: Which one?

(Laughing). Your guess is as good as mine…