It is never a shocker whenever you realize that this or that prominent man or woman has that bit of untold story, chronicling their struggles and their humble beginnings. As a matter of fact, many of them were never brought up -they just popped up like the way trees sprout within thick and wild bushes to end up growing to be the tallest in the forest.
And this is more or less the same story for Kenya’s Third President Mwai Kibaki.
Mzee as we know him initially never had any chances of being ‘discovered’ at least if the tiny nature of his ancestral village tucked in remote Othaya, Nyeri was anything to go by. He grew up in abject poverty – from the very dirt poor – in the most unexpected manner.
Born one early morning of November 15, 1931 in Gatuyaini village in Othaya, there was definitely nothing unique about a baby boy born to an already struggling family of seven siblings.
If anything, it was a struggling family of a polygamous John Githinji Kibaki who depended on subsistence farming. Ordinarily, while parents worked in the farm, children were left under the care of older siblings which was the common village practice of those days; thats how young Kibaki found himself in the care of his elder sister, Waitherero as his father Githinji and his mother Teresia Wanjiku went to the farms.
Now folks, during those years, blenders never existed.
So, Kibaki, like the rest of Gikuyu children of those days, had to be feed on bolus – the traditional way of feeding babies where, mothers or care givers, usually chewed hard foods – mostly roasted – mixed them with their saliva to soften them, and then fed the babies directly from their mouth.
“Kibaki usually fed on roast bananas. I would chew the bananas to a bolus, and then feed him,” Kibaki’s elder sister once recounted in a narration.
“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.
During those days, older children would help hew wood, till the garden, milk the cows and take them to graze.
Unfortunately, unlike the rest of his siblings – Kibaki was not as ‘useful in the garden yet, it is ‘uselessness’ in the farm which turned out to be the luck that befell him.
He was eventually ‘rescued’ 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 as he was too lazy and unproductive.
At the age of 8, Kibaki started learning catechism and elementary education at a school established by missionaries in Gatuyaini. His father used to pay 50 cents per term, perhaps not to infect other hardworking children with his laziness.
“And just like that Kibaki’s passion for education and his Roman Catholic faith was born. It also gave birth to a brilliant career in academics and politics,” an excerpt from an unauthorized 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 the Holy Ghost Catholic Missionaries who ran Karima Mission School for three years. Every day he would walk 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, Kibaki did not evade 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. But by and large, I enjoyed my days in primary and secondary school.” Kibaki once recounted.
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 internalized 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 today Nyeri High School.
“In the Nyeri High School register of 1930, Kibaki was entered as Pupil Number 1107: Emilio Mwai son of Kibaki Githinji,” records indicate.
This time, his struggling dad had to sell two goats to pay his annual fees of Sh18. In his humility and thirst for education, Kibaki trained as a carpenter and masonry contractor and used the skills to repair furniture within his school.
It is while he was in Karima when he was baptized as Emilio, an event that cost Sh1!
Kibaki also grew his own food in the school and earned extra money during the school holidays by working as a conductor on buses operated by the defunct Othaya African Bus Union.
After Mathari, Kibaki joined Mang’u High school where once again, he proved to be a remarkable student with his sterling final performance earning him a scholarship at Uganda’s Makerere University to study economics, history, and political science. In his ‘O’ level examinations, Kibaki passed with a maximum of six points by passing six subjects with Grade 1 Distinction.
Also worth noting is the fact that, during his last days at Mang’u, Kibaki wanted to join the military.
A myth mostly told is that Kibaki wanted to join the military because he had been inspired by the veterans of the First and Second World Wars from his rural village. In fact, young Kibaki is on record as having inquired whether he could join the army.
But according to his Private Secretary Mr. Ngari Gituku who is leading the team currently in the process of completing putting together Kibaki’s official biography, the narrative is incorrect.
“Mzee wanted to join the military because he was deeply inspired by the order, discipline, focus and objectivity that characterizes military service, mannerisms he forever cherishes,” Gituku told me.
Unfortunately, his dream of becoming a soldier proved to be invalid at the time since a ruling by the Chief Colonial Secretary, Walter Coutts barred the recruitment of the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru communities into the army as resistance to the British rule from these communities was increasing by day.
With his military aspirations thwarted, Kibaki proceeded to Makerere University to study Economics, History and Political Science soon after his high school education at Mang’u.
Again, at Makerere, Kibaki excelled eventually graduating top of his class in 1955 with a First Class Honours. To date, Kibaki is praised as Makerere’s most illustrious and outstanding alumnus with a $50m (about Shs 138 billion) Mwai Kibaki Presidential Library being set up at the university.
After his graduation, Kibaki briefly took up an appointment as Assistant Sales Manager Shell Company of East Africa, Uganda Division, but later left the job after he earned a scholarship entitling him to postgraduate studies in any British University. He consequently enrolled at the prestigious London School of Economics for a B.Sc. in Public Finance, graduating with a distinction.
After graduating in London, Kibaki went back to Makerere where he taught as an Assistant Lecturer in the Economics Department between 1958 and 1960.
Kibaki married the late Lucy Muthoni, an Alliance High School educated church minister’s daughter in 1961 after a two-year romance.
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 clinched 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 celebrated legacy of transformation of Kenya’s education system through free primary education, infrastructure, revival of the economy, freedom of expression and the best gift, the Constitution of Kenya 2010.
Mzee Kibaki currently lives a private life, keeping off politics and concentrating on personal business. At times, he is spotted at the Consolata Shrine Church in Nairobi
EDITORIAL NOTE: The narration in this article is a mere third party snippet of the story of Mwai Kibaki, and is not by any means related to the upcoming Biography of the Kenya’s Third President. An authorized and official biography of Mzee is currently being worked on by a team led by his Private Secretary Ngari Gituku, which I shall avail first hand immediately it is published.