I Blame Kibaki – by Potash

Focus: Kenya view. 

On Thursday December 28th, 2007, I voted. I could have been somewhere having a beer, but no, I went out to a polling station and stood in a line waiting to cast my vote.

Yes I voted in Kenya’s last General Election. I didn’t vote because I believe in democracy; I didn’t vote because I wanted to make a difference in my country, I voted because it is both my right and civic duty. I voted because, even though I believe democracy is a sham, it is a nice ritual every couple of years that creates the impression that the power to govern – to lord it over the masses – is derived from the masses.

But I was worried that this time round, after several years of doing it right, we would get it wrong. And when nations get it wrong; when the mandate is questioned or appropriated by individuals or a group of them who have no ability to beguile the masses, anarchy takes over. And Kenya was headed that way.

The incumbent president, Kibaki had lost control over Kenya. No, Kibaki had never had control of Kenya. Kibaki was president because Raila had said: Kibaki Tosha! (Translation: Let there be President Kibaki). And there was President Kibaki. 

Granted President Kibaki had the Economy- which is something you could take to Equity, er, I mean, the bank- Raila had the masses. And in these Third World, emerging (pseudo) Democracies, the masses is what you need. Raila was the new religion.

Kibaki’s mistake wasn’t because he was corrupt. Corruption, after all, is the smallest, big issue in Kenya. And you would have expected Kibaki to know that. Having served in both the Kenyatta and the Moi governments, he must have learnt from the best that Kenyan know that the President is never corrupt, it is the President’s men who are.

Kibaki’s mistake was in the things he didn’t learn from his predecessors: have pictures of you doing manual labour like building gabions placed in text books; rename streets and roads after yourself (Mombasa Road by any other name will still congest the same); hire and fire people at random so that all of Kenya stays tuned to the same radio station only to hear that today you went to church or that you bought bananas by the roadside in Kangemi; meet the people because unlike you, they do not live in State House. But most important of all, detain an Odinga.

Because he never did these things, Kibaki lost control of this country. In the meantime, his Roads Minister, an Odinga was out there building roads, by-passes and such other fancy things that only Kenyans in the diaspora with their, “you know in America… (or wherever else Kenya’s economic exiles congregate) …” could fathom. Playing to the gallery. Raila Odinga, then Roads Minister, was working while Kibaki was nowhere that Kenyans could tell you of. That while Kibaki, from his experience in two regimes, should have known that Kenyan ministers do not work, the President works through them. 

Every day, Kenyans heard: Raila was here, Raila was there, but the only time the Kibaki name was mentioned, it was Lucy Kibaki behaving badly, again.

Then Kibaki called a Referendum on a new constitution. Kibaki lost. That was November 2005 and I knew that this country had gone to dogs.

What followed was two years of political bickering. For the first time in the history of this country, every fool with a mouth could say that President Kibaki was a *$%& so and so and live to vote again. Na hiyo ni upubaff!

Suddenly, to me, the terms President Kibaki and the Kibaki Government became an oxymoron in the league of Nairobi Water and Kenya Power. For the first time in Kenya’s post-independent history, the office of the president, that of the Head of State and Government and the man occupying them were separated; there was now the State, the Government and Kibaki . Too many centres of power.

Kibaki, in a country that was used to Rais ndio baba na mama, mwalimu namba moja… hizi mbuzi zote ni yeye na tuko nyuma ya matako yake, reduced himself to: the man who sleeps at State House; a mere mortal; fallible.

The myth of Government was shattered; the siri was yanked out of Sirikali.

What followed was Kenya’s most politically unstable reign. What was seditious and treasonable in past regimes now wore the veil of democracy and freedom of expression. The Press declared itself free and was generally seen to be so- at least on those nights when the First Lady wasn’t insomniac.

Democracy had found Kenya but a Social Contract that would have bound the Kenyan People and their leaders to it was still not there. The President, it would have been expected, would have filled this vacuum; steered Kenyans towards the enjoyment of new freedoms responsibly. But he did not. The People, ever dependent, or at least used to, strongmen cried out for leadership.

While Kibaki retired to State House, with his Old Money peers, the new faces in his government took control of the public coffers. They threw the safe doors open. They had inherited massive corrupt deals, they signed them over to themselves. This was the Government of the Noveaus Riche. The public returned to its disgruntled mumblings.

New heroes rose. Unlikely heroes. The political thieves of yesteryear, finding themselves wearing the  strange new mask of The Opposition, took it all in stride. They reinvented themselves as the new voices of probity. Our version of democracy was defined: the tyrants and the corrupt are only  found in the government in power, they become Democrats and progressives when they cross the floor and vice versa. 

In the meantime, Raila Odinga was still reading from Machiavelli. He had found himself ousted of government for revealing to Kenyans the real reason he had said Kibaki Tosha, in that October 2002, at the twilight of the Daniel Moi rule. He had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Kibaki, it was said, that would see the Kibaki presidency promulgate Raila’s preferred constitution for Kenya. Somewhere along the way, having emerged president and yet again achieving political glory without breaking a sweat, Kibaki had either suffered a massive concussion and forgotten the MOU or realised how powerful the current constitution made him to be bothered with changing it.

Raila protested. Kibaki stayed put.

Raila began to fight against Kibaki’s. Kibaki continued to ignore him. Raila was on TV every day. Nobody knew where Kibaki was. Raila began to galvanise the masses; sell himself as the real and only hero of the liberation from the tyranny of Nyayo while Kibaki was a pretender to the throne. Kibaki continued to sit on his throne- the throne Raila made him- nonplussed.

Then 2007 came. The year of the General Election. Raila had been campaigning, politicking, since 2003; Kibaki had been sitting and watching the economy grow. Raila had been all over the country and all over the media talking to people. Kibaki had been sitting at State House- a gated community of one.

2007 was the year of the Opinion Polls. Kalonzo was leading at first, but Raila worked hard to prove that Kalonzo’s appeal lay merely in looks and not substance. Sooner than later, Raila took the lead in all the polls. Kibaki did nothing. The campaign period hasn’t begun yet, Kibaki’s men said while continuing to cast aspersions at the accuracy and neutrality of the polls. The point they missed though was that this was about politics, and the one thing that matters most is not truth but perceptions; and the public perception was that Raila was in the lead. That Raila would be the next president.

As the election approached, Kibaki hit the campaign trail. He had the benefit of incumbency- which in Kenya means that he had an arsenal of political goodies to bribe the voters with: Districts were dished out, hawkers were allowed to take over the CBD and the police were warned against harassing the youth. A week to the election date, the final polls came in and Kibaki continued to trail Raila.

At this point I became immensely worried. People asked me: “do you think Kibaki will win?”

I responded, emphatically, No!

“What do you think Kibaki’s strategy is?”


“So will he hand over power?”

“Kibaki cannot hand over power… the power he has is not his to hand over, Kibaki is holding power in trust for the Kikuyu people.”

Of course by the Kikuyu people I meant, the Kikuyu elite. Those Kikuyus who amassed wealth under Kenyatta; Kikuyus who kept their wealth under Moi even as Agriculture, the lifeline of the Kikuyu, found itself crippled. Kikuyus who purport to speak for other Kikuyus even when their, economic and political realities are worlds apart.

Then came December 27th. It was clear that Kibaki had no winning plan. As the poll results came in it became increasingly obvious that Kibaki was loosing. I began to worry. Then a series of sad and dubious events transpired and Kibaki was declared the winner in the presidential election. I was angry but not because Kibaki had won. I felt that the election had been rigged, but it is not for that that I was angry. I was angry because I felt that the election had been rigged after the fact. I was mad because, for the first time in Kenya’s multi-party era, the charade of democratic elections hadn’t been well executed- the majority felt cheated and those on the winning side felt they cheated foolishly.

On Sunday 30th, December, Kibaki was sworn in as the President of the Republic of Kenya. He was sworn in a few hours before the expiry of his previous term. A term he had taken over at a glorious public ceremony was being extended behind closed gates. Kibaki came out of the bowels of State House, took his oath in the gardens, and went back in.

Outside of State House, the country exploded.

Many Kenyans, have died since then. Many more will continue to die, especially poor ones who happen to be Kikuyus living without high walls and armed guards, until Kibaki steps out of State House and speaks to Kenya.    


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