Young Kibaki’s ‘inadequacy’ in the farm landed him in the classroom

Many renowned world leaders or successful people have untold stories of their struggles during their humble beginnings.

Some of them were not even brought up -they grew up like the way trees sprout from thick and wild bushes to grow to be the tallest in the forest.

And this is the story of Kenya’s third President Mwai Kibaki.

He had no chances of being ‘discovered’ from his tiny village tucked in remote Othaya in the 1930s.

He grew above poverty – from the very dirt poor – in the most unexpected manner.

It was early in the morning of November 15, 1931, when a boy was born in Gatuyaini village in Othaya.

There was nothing unique about the baby boy born to a family with seven siblings.

More so, it was a struggling family of a polygamous father who depended on subsistence farming.

While parents worked in the farm, children were left under the care of older siblings.

In the usual culture and in those decades, John Githinji Kibaki and his wife Teresia Wanjiku left young Kibaki in the care of his elder sister, Waitherero.

Those years, blenders were alien.

Kibaki, like the rest of Kenyan children had to feed on bolus – traditional way of feeding babies.

Mothers would chew hard foods – usually roasted – mix them with their saliva to soften, and then feed their babies from their mouth directly to the baby’s mouth.

“Kibaki usually fed on roast bananas. I would chew the bananas to a bolus, and then feed him,” Kibaki’s elder sister recounted.

Growing up as a young boy in the village, Kibaki recalled his fun-filled childhood.

“I enjoyed playing with other boys in our neighbourhood while rearing cows and goats or while chasing after antelopes in the woods,” Kibaki recounted.

In those days, older children would ‘help hew wood, till the garden, milk the cows and take them to graze.’

Unlike the rest of his siblings – Kibaki was not as ‘useful in the garden.’

His ‘uselessness’ in the farm was the luck that befell him.

He was picked from harshness of working in the farm and given to the missionaries who used to walk around wooing parents to let take children to school.

At the age of 8, Kibaki started learning catechism and elementary education at a school established by missionaries in Gatuyaini village.

His father used to pay 50 cents per term.

“And thus started Mr Kibaki’s passionate with education and his catholic faith. It also launched a brilliant career in academics and politics,” an excerpt from a biography on Kibaki states.

A pair of shoes was of course a secondary want or unheard of.

He walked to school barefoot.

Later, he joined Holy Ghost Catholic Missionaries, Karima Mission School for three years.

Every day he walked a distance of ten kilometres from home to the school.

Though he was a bright student who was always at the top of his class, he did not skip the bitter canes of teachers under colonial rule by the British.

“Waking up so early to go to school- sometimes in very cold weather – and occasional caning by teachers were initially challenging. By and large, I enjoyed my days in primary and secondary school.” Kibaki stated.

The hardships and the adventures of growing up in the rural village, Kibaki recalled, shaped his successful career as an economist, politician and leader.

“My childhood was very important since many of the impressions and attitudes I internalised during this period were instrumental in shaping me into the person I am today,” Kibaki explained.

In 1944, he joined Mathari boarding school which is now the Nyeri High School.

“In the Nyeri High School register of 1930, Kibaki was entered as Pupil Number 1107: Emilio Mwai son of Kibaki Githinji,” an excerpt of his memoir ‘Mwai Kibaki 50 years of National Service’ reads.

This time, his struggling dad had to sell two goats to pay his annual fees of Sh18.

In his humbleness and thirst for education, Kibaki trained as a carpenter and masonry contractor and used the skills to repair furniture within his school.

was while he was in Karima when he was baptised as Emilio.

The baptism fee cost Sh1.

In 1947, he joined Holy Ghost College (now Mangu High School) before joining Makerere University College in 1951.

Like a rising and shining star from Kenya and out of Africa, Kibaki joined London School of Economics in 1956.

Equipped with experience from Kenya, Africa and the world, Kibaki started his political career in 1960 when he became the Executive officer of Kenya African National Union (KANU) party which ruled Kenya for about 40 years.

Soon after Kenya’s second President Daniel arap Moi took over from Kenya’s first President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Kibaki was appointed as the Vice President and Minister of Finance.

For ten years, Kibaki served as Moi’s deputy till 1988.

In 1992, he rose up to challenge his boss Moi who was the ‘untouchable’ centre of power under KANU.

Kibaki vied for the presidency on a Democratic Party (DP) ticket.

He came in third but never gave up. On second trial for the presidency in 1997 he came in second.

It was in 2002, when Kibaki finally clenched on Kenya’s top seat after toppling Moi’s longstanding era of 24 years.

He served Kenya for the next 10 years and upon his exit in 2012, he left a thunderous legacy of transformation to Kenya’s education system through free primary education, infrastructure, revival of the economy, freedom of expression and the best gift of all the 2010 Constitution of Kenya.