The death of Kenya’s third president Mwai Kibaki is sad in two ways. The country has lost a leader who was widely known as an acclaimed economist. Secondly, the late president did not write an autobiography to tell Kenyans and the world about his presidency and his chequered political career spanning decades.
Few years ago, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that Kenya would, for the first time, have a presidential library, museum and exhibition Centre. He further noted that the library will develop storylines and themes for both permanent and temporary exhibitions from the families of Presidents Jomo Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki. Having left no known literary work about himself or done by others about him with his authority, President Kibaki’s political and private life can be interesting to learn should the state live up to its promise of opening the promised libraries.
The libraries which were to also exhibit books, papers, speeches and artworks could have been a boost in opening up the lives of former heads of states to the public. Despite the late former President Daniel Moi having his biography Moi: Making of an African Statesman done by Andrew Morton, a close scrutiny of his 24-year-rule by the public can be best done when private and public collections about his illustrious, yet iron-fist tenure is kept under a public library.
The plan to create the Presidential Library, Museum and Exhibition Centre was unveiled in March 2018 but had since been renamed the Office of Presidential Libraries and Archives (OPLA) under former television reporter Munira Mohammed.
According to media reports, having the libraries has been a matter entertained by families of the former presidents except for the matters of privacy, location and accessibility being issues of contention.
President Kibaki’s life will only be learnt and read in works of his political comrades, observers and those who were close to him in public service. Kibaki’s political life and decisions are partly captured in Raila Odinga’s biography Flames of Freedom. Mr Odinga captures their opposition years and their times under the grand coalition government that was created after the 2007/2008 post-election crisis.
Former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka who worked under Kibaki in his second term also illustrates his working period with him in his Against All Odds memoir. It is former Bahari MP Joe Khamisi’s Politics of Betrayal that opens lid and excites readers on behind the curtain deals that bordered on outright betrayals and game of outwits involving players in Kibaki’s first and second administration.
In his autobiography Beyond Expectations: From Charcoal to Gold, the late veteran politician Njenga Karume, takes readers through his working relationship with Kenya’s first three presidents. Kibaki’s first term where his political opponents accused him of not honouring a pre-election agreement and a failed constitutional plebiscite can be understood in the eyes of his buddies like Karume, who earned the moniker of Mt. Kenya Mafia.
Even former Vice President Moody Awori gives accounts of his relationship with the departed former head of state as his deputy in his autobiography Riding a Tiger. Although biographies have been criticised as self-justifying, they at least attempt to tackle grey areas in the lives of politicians.
Other books done on Kibaki are Ng’ang’a Mbugua’s Mwai Kibaki: Economist for Kenya, Isaiah Kabira’s Mwai Kibaki: 50 Years of National Service and Njuguna Ngunjiri and William Okoth’s President Mwai Kibaki: The Long and Bumpy Road to State House.
There was proposal to have a single complex for all Kenyan presidents, though the Director of the Kenya National Archives approved the home of founding President Jomo Kenyatta in Ichaweri, Gatundu, Kiambu County as the permanent repository of his historical records in a Gazette notice of November 22, 2019.
Kenya currently relies on the National Archives, private libraries and yearbooks for records on past presidents and other leaders such as cabinet ministers. The Kenya Yearbook Editorial Board is tasked with production of yearbooks; an annual publication giving current information and listing events or aspects of the previous year, especially in a particular field.
Political historians and scholars agree that there is something very Kenyan about the country having presidential libraries. They can be monuments to the past, and still be there to be used as a guide on how to confront the changing needs of the present.
“In our age, not only presidents, but everyone who feels they’ve contributed something to society should tell their story to the public,” says Laikipia University Literature Lecturer Adrian Onyando.
Even with Jomo Kenyatta’s Facing Mount Kenya and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s NotYet Uhuru biographical works, more is yet to be learnt about the two founding fathers who laid foundation for the politics of betrayal and mistrust that has clouded the country’s leadership scene even today. This rich, yet controversial history should be archived in presidential libraries for the public.
America is known for its presidential libraries where lives of past presidents of the US are archived. The Presidential Library System in the US exists in a world of its own. As the name properly implies, they are research centers and also archive and museum systems. They are administered with the help of the federal government despite private support.
Hailed as a better way of preserving presidential history, even the American system has not escaped criticism from critics who justifiably poke holes on how it operates. They argue that the libraries allow the presidents to rewrite and alter histories when it does not favour their actions. From questionable decisions to withhold certain papers or sometimes, temporarily “lose” them, as happened with Chief Justice John Roberts’ files at the Reagan Library during his confirmation process to highly skewed “history” exhibits such as in the case of Nixon Library’s controversy.
This article was first published by Sisi Afrika Magazine