Monday, August 9, 2010



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

August 8, 2010

President Kibaki is definitely retiring in bliss having undergone a complete image remake. With a failed constitution in 2005 and a violent reelection in 2007, this victory with the new constitution is a god-send. And knowing Mwai Kibaki the gentleman of Kenyan politics, one will not be surprised if he completely retired in to the golf clubs and sipped his glass of wine into his twilight. His retirement as the second living president will obviously be different from that of Daniel arap Moi, the man who has never come to terms with the fact that he is no longer the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.

When the story is finally told, history will pay a glowing tribute to a Mwai Kibaki who faltered in his first six years of rule but made up for it in his final days before bowing out of the political arena.

His sudden energetic drive for the new constitution was not without precedent. Kibaki knows when to sit back and when to roll up his sleeves and soil his hands if there is a job to be done. He did this in 2007 when he realized that his generals could not deliver his second term under Narc party. He formed an amalgamation of political parties including KANU and called it the Party of National Unity to do battle with a colossus called ODM under Raila Odinga. Once PNU was up and running, he hit the road like a latter day Napoleon, leading his PNU troops from the front. That was not characteristic of a man Kenyans had come to describe as a laid back president.

Whether Kibaki won the 2007 elections or not is for South African retired judge Kriegler to decipher. However, what is never in doubt is that Kibaki gave the 2007 campaign his all and even if he had lost, no one would have faulted him for trying. As it turned out, he ended up sharing the spoils with his main challenger, an outcome that by twist of fate, has finally delivered the elusive constitution to Kenyans.

Why did Kibaki campaign so hard for the constitution after Raila fell ill? The truth is; he didn’t have to do it because politically he had no stakes in it. He could still have ruled Kenya and retired two years later and let future leaders grapple with the sticky issue. Yet, he chose to take up the captainship of the ship when Raila was indisposed and went ahead to tax himself to the limit to get the job done.

One thing drove Kibaki to this battle. He needed to leave behind something positive that the nation’s posterity would remember him for long after he is gone.

For Raila Odinga, the new constitution is an actualization for a lifetime struggle for his reform agenda that saw him along with others incarcerated for years in various detention camps. Little wonder that when he appeared at All Saints Cathedral for his first Thanks Giving following the results, all he could say was that Kenyans had finally crossed the River Jordan into the Promised Land.

However, unlike Kibaki, the realization of the new constitution while he is still in active politics means that he stands to leave even a better legacy if Kenyans give him the mandate to midwife the document in our political system. The document as it is has an implementation schedule spanning 5 years. This means that most of the necessary enabling laws will drag on beyond 2012 when Kenyans are expected to elect a new government.

One of the challenges Raila and other presidential candidates will face in 2012 will be how to balance power at the regional and national levels. There will be need for fewer strong political parties like in Britain, the USA and France such that the competition is narrowed to fewer capable individuals.

However, for an ethnic based political culture like ours, choosing a running mate from which tribe and which region will be an uphill task for anyone thinking of being president. Coupled with the fact that the next president will have no powers to dish out public offices at will and the fact that the cabinet will be a no go area for elected leaders, spreading the executive power will be a horse trading affair between the President-elect and Parliament. And like my friend Elisha Ongoya told me recently, Kenya will need a benevolent dictator, a strong a charismatic leader for the next ten years to domesticate the benefits of the new constitution into our social fabric. Kenya will need some champion to shield it away from the culture of “business as usual.”

How will Charity Ngilu, Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi, Uhuru Kenyatta, Martha Karua, Peter Kenneth, George Saitoti, Moses Wetangula, Eugene Wamalwa and Bifuoli Wakoli navigate these new waters should they also benefit from this victory that they so generously contributed to? Will they all throw caution to the wind and plunge into the arena or will some of them bid their time for 2017 or even 2022? Will the new dispensation see at least three to four major national parties led by, Odinga, Uhuru, Kalonzo and Ruto? Will Martha Karua merge with any of the four parties or will hers be the fifth column?

Like they say, one day is a long time in the life of a politician