Evaluating the Kibaki regime: How government laid ground for current crises in Kenya

By: GABRIELLE LYNCH

In recent weeks, a number of people have told me of how they miss President Kibaki.

This is understandable. In the face of endemic corruption, stories of Anglo-Leasing increasingly appear as evidence of occasional (albeit grand) corruption scandals during an area of relatively impressive economic growth and development.

Similarly, the current government’s ongoing war with civil society organisations renders Kibaki’s more hands-off style look like the epitome of liberal openness.

While the inauguration of a popular and progressive constitution is impressive legacy, its spirit appears to be under threat.

Nevertheless, I do not look back to the Kibaki regime with rose-tinted glasses because he came to power at a time of great hope, when Kenyans were probably more united than at any other time and when there was popular support for reforms.

He left a country that was ethnically divided and a public that is highly sceptical of politicians and their trade.

I started travelling regularly to Kenya in 2003, and still remember the sense of excitement that filled the air when just months after Kibaki’s inauguration.

I also remember how, over the next few years, this optimism dissipated and was replaced with a sense of a lost opportunity such that, by 2007, the country stood divided.

On the one hand, many insisted the incumbent regime was largely from and for the Kikuyu and on the other, Opposition statements about how wealth would be redistributed by taking resources away from central Kenya understandably troubled many.

The ground had been set for the post-election crisis of 2007/8 when, in two months, over 1,000 people were killed.

I was in Kenya for the 2007 elections and its immediate aftermath.

A RAFT OF REFORMS

I remember waking up to headlines on December 27 about how Opposition candidate Raila Odinga was winning by almost a million votes.

I remember watching television the next evening as the Electoral Commission of Kenya announced – in a closed-door meeting relayed, through the state-owned Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, that Kibaki had won by just over 200,000 votes.

I remember how, within an hour, Kenyans were faced with a new image televised live to the nation, as Kibaki was re-inaugurated at State House as the sun went down and late arrivals literally shuffled around the periphery of the cameraman’s gaze.

This is not to blame the Kibaki regime alone for the violence that followed.

Others also incited and organised violence, and took the opportunity to settle scores.

The Kibaki regime wasted a moment of optimism and unity that prevailed in 2003.

Admittedly, the scale of the post-election violence and reality of approaching elections prompted a raft of reforms.

While the 2013 election was relatively peaceful, this, as I have argued elsewhere with Nic Cheeseman and Justin Willis, was the result of four main factors.

Namely: memories of 2007/8 and the emergence of a pervasive peace narrative; a new political alliance that brought together the previously antagonistic Kalenjin and Kikuyu communities; a new constitution and associated reforms that increased public confidence in key institutions; and devolution of substantial powers to county governments, which dampened the frustrations of those who ‘lost’ at the national level, but ‘won’ locally.

PROBLEMATIC LEGACY

However, these achievements – of constitutional reform and a relatively peaceful election – do not mean that the ethnic divisions or scepticism that burgeoned during the first Kibaki regime have disappeared.

On the contrary, I hear repeatedly how Kenyans are more divided than ever before.

How urban areas have become increasingly segregated as many choose not to reside in an area where they might constitute a minority.

In turn, while many are appalled by the re-emergence of endemic corruption and an air of authoritarianism, there is a feeling that there is little that can be done.

Yet, many have little faith Odinga (or any of the other alternatives) would be performing any better.

Such division and scepticism stems, at least in part, from the Kibaki era. It is time to think again about how to do away with such a problematic legacy.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION