Mwai Kibaki's resume speaks to his considerable influence. Having served as minister in five separate ministries, as president and executive director of two political parties, a Member of Parliament since 1963, chair of an economic planning commission, and vice president and president of the Republic of Kenya, he towers above the leadership landscape. Despite the penchant of his predecessor, Daniel Arap Moi, for frequent cabinet reshufflings, Kibaki lasted 10 years as Moi's vice president, founded a party with a reputation as principle-driven, and stitched together a loose coalition of more than ten fractious parties led by several former ministers with unsavory pasts, to win the ultimate political prize in Kenya. His three attempts to claim the presidency testify to his persistence and determination.
Kibaki has been criticized as a member of the elite "country-club" set. He has also been dismissed as too much a gentleman for the rough and tumble world of African politics, but his victory in December 2002 has largely silenced his critics on that point. Admirers and detractors alike admit that his tenure as Moi's vice president was impressive, and likely the result of his intelligence, skills, and ability to conduct the business of government.
Kibaki's vision for Kenya is predicated on three campaign pledges: zero tolerance for corruption, introduction of free education, and completion of the constitutional review process. Achieving this vision and the various planks in the larger program requires Kibaki to persuade coalition partners to discard personal differences and personal ambitions and to pull together for the greater good of the nation.
It will be Kibaki's challenge to overcome deep ethnic, class, and political divisions within Kenya as a result of misrule, repression, and poverty. In his inaugural address he proffered a conciliatory tone, promising to avoid a witch-hunt. He assured Kenyans that his management style would be a consultative "chairman of the board" style, and that he would do away with his predecessor's ad hoc public policy-making. Kibaki has not allowed government to balloon. Indeed, he has reduced the number of posts from 48 to 25, mainly by cutting out the assistant ministers.
In March 2003, Kibaki was recovering from broken bones suffered in a car accident during the campaign, and from a blood clot in the leg said to have been caused indirectly by the accident. It was also rumored that he had had two strokes, and after the second had to curtail his public appearances. His vice president, Kijama Wamalwa, was recalled from London where he was receiving treatment for a kidney ailment. It remains to be seen what effect Kibaki's ailing health—and the questionable health of his vice president— will have on the government.