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Uhuru Kenyatta: Kibaki was a visionary who put Kenyans and the country first

 

President Uhuru Kenyatta when he received a present from former President Mwai Kibaki during a Prize giving day at St Mary's School Nairobi. [File, Standard]

 

We congregate here today, to honour one of the Founding Fathers of our beloved Nation. We are here, not only to mourn an incalculable loss but to also celebrate a magnificent life. We celebrate a man of faith, family, honour — a man who always put Kenya and Kenyans first.

Whereas President Kibaki has rested and a remarkable life ended, his service to our country will not rest until the last mile of his bold vision for Kenya is completed. We honour and salute him today for his toil in the run-up to our nation’s independence, and, most notably, as amongst the leading architects of modern Kenya. As one of the last standing heroes of our independence struggle, he had a special calling to execute the last chapters of the Vision of our Founding Fathers. And he did this with surgical precision, and a total disregard for what the naysayers thought of him. He finished the last mile of our founding vision as a nation. But he did not stop there; he helped us lay the foundation upon which future generations shall build. But to this, I must add one more thing; Kibaki was by all means a modest man and did not believe in shouting. When the limelight was shone on him, he tended to be coy and hide because he found virtue and joy by doing the ordinary things that fulfilled his purpose.

He knew that he could not fulfil his purpose in the presence of cheering crowds. He had to do this in privacy and his desire to contribute to the transformation of Kenya, in his quiet and secluded space with no one watching, is what makes him a legend – a man of purpose. Allow me to celebrate him using three frames: Kibaki the man, the leader and the visionary. I begin with Kibaki the man. And in celebrating his humanity, I want to pose an age-old question about our existence: What is the true measure of a man? How do you judge a man after he has served God, his generation and country? 

Measure of a man

If you want to know the true measure of a man, watch what he does with power.  How he handles his opponents; how he treats his wife and family and what he does with his financial influence. But fundamentally, and as Martin Luther King Jr taught us: “…The true measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience and comfort; but where he stands in times of challenge and difficulties…” The true measure of a man is how he behaves when misfortunes hit. Who was Kibaki the man? How must we measure him? How do you measure a man who was sworn in as president on a wheel chair? How do you measure a man who suffered ill health during the first year of his presidency and in his lowest moments did not give up, but soldiered on? And how do you measure a man under whose watch Kenya experienced our darkest moment in 2007! Yet at this moment, Kibaki shook the hand of his bitter opponent and invited him to form government with him on a 50:50 basis despite opposition from some of his own supporters.

Kibaki the man had an incredible gift of tolerance and the ability to take in pressure and pain without showing distress.

And this is why he was known as a man of few words. From his 50 years of active politics, he learnt not to rush into judgement and decisions. He learnt to lay in wait until the ‘swollen river had found its course’. When moments were dark, he chose to be the light; when reason was scarce, he became the voice of reason; and when hope was down, he encouraged us all to exercise the gift of longsuffering.

And if a man is not measured by what he started, but by what he finished, then the record must reflect that Kibaki finished strong.

The end of Kibaki the man can only be summarised by the words of Apostle Paul when he said this of his own life: “…I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith.” This too, must be recorded in our history books as the finishing line of Kibaki. He fought the good fight, finished the race and he, without doubt, kept the faith.

Turning to Kibaki the leader. As we have heard from the story of his life and times, as far back as July 1974, Kibaki was named by Time Magazine as one of the 150 men and women who would become new world leaders. Six years later in 1977 and 9 years later in 1981, the same magazine named him as one amongst 100 people with remarkable leadership qualities. So the world had noticed his leadership promise. But his leadership abilities were not only obvious to the Time Magazine and the world at large; they were also noticed by those close to him as well. 

His Professor at Makerere University in the 1950s, Prof. Kenneth Ingham, noted that, if the Hon. Kibaki had not joined politics, he was destined to become the first African President of the World Bank. A similar observation was made by the former World Bank President, Mr Robert McNamara who noted that Kibaki was one of the greatest economic brains produced by Africa. And this is not a wonder because President Kibaki was the first African to attain a First Class Honours degree from the prestigious London School of Economics and Political Science. 

Leading yourself

But how did his leadership abilities, celebrated by the world, translate at home? How do we measure Kibaki the leader during his 50 years of service to our country? At a very early age, Kibaki knew that the biggest challenge of a leader is ‘leading yourself’.  And to lead yourself, you have to be measured, disciplined and unwavering. He understood that a leader who does not lead himself will be driven by his difficulties, rather than his vision.  He will give in to the pressure of the crowds, rather than the chosen path appointed for him.

Such a leader will be pushed to make popular choices that please the crowds as opposed to bold choices that are good for the country, but unpopular with the public. This ability to ‘lead himself’ against the noise and buzz of the crowds, is what brought Mzee Kibaki this far.  

His ability to ‘lean in’ and deal with his darkest moments, not in public, but in seclusion, is what distinguishes him as a great leader. And if the true measure of a man is determined by how he stands in moments of challenge and difficulties, President Kibaki handled his political misfortunes with unparalleled grace. In every low moment, he acknowledged the impending danger, but chose to focus on the attendant opportunities. And two examples support my observation here. The first happened after the 1998 mlolongo election when he had served as vice president and Minister for Finance for 10 years.

After the election, Kibaki was demoted from his position as vice president and made Minister for Health. Popular voices countrywide wanted him to resign from government, but he opted for the lonely and unpopular path.

He embraced his demotion and continued to serve the country in a lesser capacity. His superior reasoning was that leadership is not a position; it is service. And he was ready to serve the country in any position the people summoned him to. With this reasoning, the demands for his resignation were put to rest.

The second demonstration of his leadership came during the post-election violence of 2007. He admitted that this was the lowest moment in his political career. But he converted this political misfortune into a constitutional moment. You cannot talk about the 2007 crisis without going back to the 2005 constitutional referendum when President Kibaki and his ‘banana team’ were defeated by the ‘orange team’. He banked the referendum loss as a ‘dream deferred’ and knew that one day, we will fulfil Kenyans’ clamour for a new Constitution.

Then the 2007 crisis presented itself.  It was devastating, but it gave him the opportunity to engage in a constitutional re-set and ceded half of his government to his arch rival and invited Prime Minister Raila Odinga to create government with him.

Highest economic growth

He needed to build consensus around his decision and he did this because he understood that: “…Leaders do not look for consensus; they build consensus…”  as Martin Luther King Jr said. In March 2008, he led to the enactment of minimum constitutional changes and established the position of Prime Minister and two Deputies, which I am proud to have served as one. With this 2008 consensus in place and an inclusive government formed, the crisis of 2007 was resolved and ‘spirited away’.  And in June that year, Vision 2030 was launched, setting the stage for better planning and the highest economic growth ever recorded in Kenya.

The other notable achievement, which is also the third re-set to our constitutional order, was the 2010 referendum which was meant to retire the Independence Constitution. In August 2010, the ‘dream deferred’ in the 2005 referendum became a reality and we got the Kenya Constitution, 2010.

If the true measure of a man is how he stands in times of challenge and difficulties, from the 2007 dark moment of our nation, President Kibaki stood tall and turned misfortune into positive change.

These examples affirm that dreams deferred can never wilt away. I will end with my reflections on Kibaki the visionary. At the age of 29, Kibaki was persuaded by Mzee Jaromogi Odinga Oginga to quit a well-paying job as a lecturer at Makerere University in Uganda; and to take up a job that offered nothing but promise.