February 6, 2023

Remembering late former Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki’s complicated and mixed legacy

Mwai Kibaki
Mwai Kibaki

Former Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki has passed away at the age of 90, as announced Friday by President Uhuru Kenyatta. He was the third President of Kenya and was in office from 2002 to 2013.

Like many politicians, Mwai Kibaki leaves behind a complicated and nuanced legacy. His political career was long and impactful, though he did not live up to all of his initial promises.

When Mwai Kibaki was elected President in 2002, he was celebrated by many as the end to decades of one-party rule. His election signified a new start and an opportunity to step away from authoritarianism and corruption.

Under President Mwai Kibaki’s leadership, the Kenyan economy saw extreme economic growth. According to data from the World Bank, Kenya had an average annual GDP growth of roughly 4.4% from 2002 to 2013.

During that time, the economy grew from a 2002 GDP of $13.15 billion to a GDP of $55.1 billion when he left office in 2013. This is a significant contrast to the relatively stagnant nature of the Kenyan economy during the tenure of Kibaki’s predecessor.

As President, Kibaki also oversaw substantial infrastructural development in Kenya. However, this also entailed deepening Kenya’s relationship with China and its financial dependence on Chinese investors.

While President Mwai Kibaki’s impact may be celebrated by some for bringing increased economic growth to Kenya, his legacy is blemished by human rights crises and his failure to live up to anti-corruption promises.

When Kibaki was elected to a second term in 2007, there was national outrage accusing Kibaki of fraud and alleging that the election was rigged. He quickly swore himself in just an hour after he was announced the victor in the highly contested election. The ruling party deployed the military to clash with opposition protestors and Kenya was consumed with horrible violence that resulted in over 1200 deaths in the following months.

When reflecting on Mwai Kibaki’s legacy as President of Kenya, his failure to tackle corruption is a defining aspect of his political career. In 2002, Kibaki was elected based on his fervent anti-corruption stance. However, very few positive steps were made during his tenure to have a significant impact on Kenya’s deeply entrenched culture of government corruption and petty bribery.

During Kibaki’s tenure as President, the Kenyan government was on multiple occasions engulfed in scandal and controversy for the misuse and grafting of public funds by public officers. Additionally, everyday bribery and corruption are pervasive throughout law enforcement and low-level government officials.

In 2014, the year following Mwai Kibaki’s resignation as President, Kenya received an anti-corruption score of just 25 out of 100 from Transparency International. Out of the 175 countries included in the corruption perception index, just 26 received a worse score than Kenya. This indicates that corruption has been an unfortunate hallmark of the Kenyan government for quite some time.

As the world mourns the death of former Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, he is remembered as an influential leader that helped to dramatically grow and stabilize the Kenyan economy. However, an unfortunate and inseparable piece of his legacy is his failure to live up to promises of ending corruption, protecting human rights, and promoting democratic values.

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