Former President Mwai Kibaki moves from a fast-paced life to days in retirement
By MOCHUA KOINANGE
| July 21st 2013
|Former President Mwai Kibaki on the campaign trail in 2007.|
By Machua Koinange
From a frenetic pace as Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces for ten years, Mwai Kibaki’s rhythm of life has slowed down to a retirement pace.
And his friends say he is enjoying every moment of it.
And returning to the fairways playing golf is now within the realm of possibility, reveals his son Jimmy Kibaki. In the past, golf has been out of the question for the Octogenarian due to the after effects of the 2002 car accident.
Says Jimmy: “He has purchased a new golf kit and plans to be back on the course very soon.”
Since handing over the reigns of power to President Uhuru Kenyatta on April 19, Kibaki’s life has shifted to neutral gear. He enjoys his quiet time with his family and friends at his Muthaiga residence.
Kibaki became the first President to live in State House. The circumstances leading to this had more to do with his medical needs than anything else.
Says Matere Keriri, a close confidant, former comptroller of State House and a friend for over 50 years: “After the accident, it was logistically impossible to drive him from his house in Muthaiga to State House. We consulted with his doctor who advised on keeping him fully resident at State House.”
He reveals: “Kibaki has been a resident at State House from 2003 until the day he retired.”
The evening he handed over to President Uhuru Kenyatta, he was driven to his favorite home in Muthaiga where he had lived before ascending to the office.
The fast pace of the office took a toll on the man who had just survived an accident in the dying days of his campaigns.
His almost diary-free days are a stark contrast to the busy schedule he had to cope up with as Head of State. And the pressure of the highest office in the land is enormous. From a tight diary schedule, high-level meetings, and the constant need to make quick decisions on weighty matters.
As President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Kibaki was accountable for major decisions on the military and security. The biggest in his presidency may have been dealing with the post-election violence and the launch of Operation Linda Nchi when KDF forces trooped into Somalia to secure the nation’s border.
But Kibaki the technocrat was also a politician who knew how to astutely navigate the murky waters and scuttle daily attacks from his critics. He had a powerful weapon – his silence. Kibaki kept his cards close to his chest, ignored critics and kept his eyes on the ball – the economy, infrastructural growth, reviving agriculture and raising living standards.
In contrast to retired President Moi who was highly visible on the political arena, Kibaki chose a laid back style, allowed his ministers to work freely and avoided the daily kerfuffle of political theatre.
Above all, any president still has to balance between work and family. The presidency steals your own valuable social and family time. Recently, President Kenyatta revealed how he misses hanging out with his friends and having a drink at social places he frequented.
That urge to enjoy some social time pushed him to tweet on June 30 that he was heading to Impala Club in Nairobi to watch the Kenya rugby sevens team playing their semi final game in Moscow during the rugby world cup.
According to reliable sources close to the retired President, his day starts early. He is up from bed by 7.30 am and has breakfast at 8 am.
This is a wide contrast from his days that used to start early with a briefing on the nation’s security status.
Vernacular radio stations
He now enjoys sitting on the verandah of his palatial mansion overlooking the lawn and watching the sunrise and listening to the chirping of birds as he takes his breakfast. After breakfast he spends time in his personal gym training, which has become part of his recovery therapy.
“Mzee is very social with both friends and family. He will sit on the verandah and welcome his visitors and chat,” says a source. Television and radio have become part of his retirement staple diet in the evenings, especially the vernacular radio stations.
In many instances he will have lunch at home and rarely eats out.
Keriri confirms that Kibaki enjoys sitting with people and engaging in intellectual discussions.
He is a great lover of tea and is known to drive to Muthaiga Golf Club — where he has been a member for many years — just to enjoy a cup of tea with friends overlooking the 18th green.
But his close friends say Kibaki, who used to enjoy a bottle of White cap, switching to tusker then tusker export has given up alcohol and is now a tea teetotaler.
“I can confirm to you that Mwai Kibaki has not had a drink since May of 2003. He gave up drinking after the accident.”
The last time he had a drink, reveals Matere Keriri, was in January 2003.
“After the accident while he was recovering, Kibaki did not drink up to the time he moved into State House,” Keriri reveals.
So weeks after he had moved into State House, Keriri and Kibaki had dinner in State house and Keriri had Portuguese wine he had pulled out of the cabinet.
“I told him, ‘Sir, I know you have stopped drinking but please I appeal to you to have a glass of this wine with me.’”
Kibaki told Keriri he would do it only because he had persuaded him but only on one condition, “That provided I assure him that I would never try to persuade him again to ever take any alcoholic drink. I agreed. That was in January 2003.”
“Kibaki’s will power is unrivalled. He is very patient and tolerant,” says Keriri,” There are very few things that would make Kibaki panic.”
And Keriri reveals that Kibaki does not carry a smart phone around and has never operated one, preferring to leave that task to his personal assistant Prof. Nick Wanjohi.
Some of the friends known to frequent his Muthaiga residence besides Keriri include David Mwiraria, Kiraitu Murungi, and Chris Murungaru.
Kibaki’s eldest son Jimmy says retirement for his father has been refreshing as his father now has more time to spend with the entire family as opposed to when he was in office.
He told The Standard On Sunday: “As you well know the schedule for a sitting president is planned by other people and is very engaging since your attention is required by many people,” he added.
Jimmy says the former president is still active in his daily activities. Retirement does not mean he would fade away from public life.
“They are still trying to establish an office for him and once that is done he will embark on various other activities which the public will be kept abreast of,” he added.
In June, the Budget and Appropriations Committee approved Sh250 million to be allocated for the acquisition of an office block for the former President but the matter came under strong criticism and was shelved.
Jimmy reveals that since his retirement in April, his father has had time to catch up with his old friends and has also been able to visit his rural home in Nyeri several times.
“He also has time for his grandchildren whom he spends more time with now unlike before when that time was limited,” he added.
Jimmy reveals that his father continues to enjoy his traditional foods just as he used to at State house.
“For breakfast he always loves nduma (arrow roots) sweet potatoes as well as porridge and that has not really changed,” says Jimmy adding that the atmosphere was now more relaxed.
What about his love for golf? Close friends have intimated that out of the accident injuries ten years ago, the President may not return to his past time. Jimmy says: “He plans to be back and has just purchased a new kit. Mzee will playing golf again very soon.”
But does he play?
Jimmy says his father continues to exercise regularly as he also walks around the compound at his Muthaiga residence.
“The exercise machines that he had at State House were moved to Muthaiga. He continues to exercise just to keep healthy because at his age, 82, to me he looks very healthy I doubt whether some of us will even get to that age and remain as healthy as he has managed to,” he adds.
Kibaki owns three properties in Muthaiga. He has rented the other two. He spends a lot of time in his Muthaiga residence and rarely goes to either the new Sh500m Mweiga residence or his house in Othaya.
Kibaki has often showed up impromptu at Muthaiga Golf Club without elaborate ceremonies. A club source intimates that he has occasionally showed up at the restaurant overlooking the 18th green and had tea.
“He will show up with his security detail, take a table and watch the golfers coming into the club house as they finish their round.”
“But does he play?” I ask.
“He does not play and cannot in his condition. He has to be help to go down one step. That’s not someone who will swing a golf club just yet,” the source says.
On one of the occasions, he took a driver and demonstrated to guests he still had a little of what it would take to drive the golf ball down the fairway.
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