As the country escorts President Kibaki to his final resting place, many have wondered how, in a relatively short period of time, he has managed to turn around a faltering economy, overhaul infrastructure and strengthen Kenya as a destination for foreign investment and a competitive member of the business groups East African Community and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa).
As a member of his cabinet and a participant in the development and implementation of his vision, I have my impression of what is behind this success. I will share my personal reflections on this.
Kibaki was driven by the feeling that economic development and laying the foundation for the country’s future prosperity was his primary mission. For those of us who have had the privilege of working closely with him, it was perfectly clear that turning the ailing economy around and putting it on a path of sustainable growth was an obsessive priority for him.
Right from the start In cabinet meetings and other discussions with his ministers and advisers you could see that he had a clear objective. He took on the duty of mobilizing intellectual and material resources to define and realize the short, medium and long term steps and goals in this journey.
Kibaki quickly assembled a team of experts from inside and outside the government together to flesh out this agenda. The basic approach was to develop a set of approaches to stem the economic decline and chart the path to reviving the economy from per capita GDP growth of 1.1 percent in 2002 to 10 percent growth as the necessary tool for realization of a developing middle-income country.
Read:Statesman Mwai Kibaki
The result was a series of interlocking policy instruments, including the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), The Economic Recovery Strategy for Wealth and Employment Creation 2003-2007 (ERS) and the Kenya Vision 2030.
To institutionalize the inclusive and consultative spirit of national renewal, he founded the Nation Economic and Social Council and the Vision 2030 Secretariat. In addition to political alignment, his government initiated significant institutional reforms, most notably the reduction of bureaucracy, cumbersome procedures, and other regulations and practices that encouraged corruption, reduced competitiveness, and ease of doing business.
To set an epoch- Kibaki defined change in motion and saw the need to offload the negative effects of political competition. Instead of addressing past differences, he saw and demonstrated maturity against the burdens of past competition and rising to present and future challenges.
Two examples illustrate this spirit. One of the new President’s earliest acts was to submit a proposal to the Cabinet to transfer retired President Moi’s residence at Kabarnet Gardens (officially the residence of the Vice President and former Deputy Governor) to the retired President’s property. This act was a clear sign to his team that he had no ill intentions toward those who tormented him.
Similarly, Kibaki was adamant that reversing the economic decline was a priority for interventions to revitalize the Primary production sector required agriculture and livestock. A key point in this was the recapture of the public dairy KCC, which had been mysteriously grabbed and renamed KCC2000. Rather than pursue a wealth recovery strategy with the fears it would bring, he chose to seek Cabinet approval to purchase and return the company to dairy farmers.
Read: Leaders pay glowing tribute to the late Mwai Kibaki
Those in senior positions in the Kibaki government will attest to his strength. He could fight political battles with opponents. But once he achieved lodging, he embraced former competitors and gave them the confidence and assurance that they could work together for the greater national good. This was evident in the formation and functioning of his government at the beginning of his two terms. In private conversations, he frowned on petty innuendoes about the intentions of former competitors and encouraged trust among colleagues.
Kibaki ran the government with a combination of trust in his team and a rare willingness to delegate decision-making to lieutenants. Ministers in the Kibaki government were clearly given the power to run their ministries. It was explained that in carrying out their ministerial duties, they would make decisions as long as they could justify their actions.
I remember the daunting task I faced when the Uchumi supermarket collapsed and I did looking for ways to save it. After I did my background work and outlined a possible solution, the President was ready to take the bold steps I suggested. This allowed ministers and their officials to develop a sense of ownership of their work and to keep motivation high.
He lived as a president who had long experienced the futility of politics stood in the way of development. He showed that resources and human resources to drive positive change were not scarce. He envisioned creating a thriving economy to bequeath the millions of children he had given a lifeline through free education as they entered the workforce. He leaves us with a clear message that with the right leadership and sound policies, Kenyans can overcome adverse economic challenges and make progress towards the goals we set out in the Vision 2030 development plan.
dr Kituyi is a former trade minister in the Kibaki government.