In a special graduation ceremony three days ago, Makerere University awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws (Honoris Causa) to one of its prominent alumni, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki for his outstanding contribution towards the public service sector.
An admirer of army service, the youthful Kibaki had spent his early childhood in fields of Gatuyaini grazing his father’s sheep and cattle as well as babysitting his little nephews and nieces for his older sister until his brother-in-law Paul Muruthi insisted he should go to school.
His love for the army which was influenced by veterans of First and Second World Wars in his native village was, however, frustrated by a chief colonial secretary, Walter Coutts who barred the recruitment of the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru communities into the army and he instead joined Makerere University to continue with his studies.
The youngest son of Kikuyu peasants, Kibaki Githinji and Teresia Wanjiku (both now deceased), studied Economics, History and Political Science, and graduated on top of his class in 1955 with a First Class Honors Degree (BA) in Economics, recording one of the first, first class degrees at the 89-year-old institution.
Unlike today when the intake is always over 40,000, with residential halls occupied by two to four people in a room and the majority of the student body pay own tuition fees, it was another case when Kibaki entered the university that still had enough facilities for a few students, and at the time when being at an institution like Makerere would sway respect to the students.
Professor Richard Bwogi Kanyerezi who joined the university at the time Mr Kibaki was a lecturer recalls that the university then had only four residential halls; Mitchel before it shifted from Makerere College School, Mary Stuart hall when it still occupied the current Makerere Guest House, University Hall and North Cote, where Dr Kibaki was a resident.
“At that time, an intake of 120 students was considered to be the highest for students in East and Central Africa. It was all a different setup. Everyone had breakfast, a three course lunch and dinner meal and everyone was entitled to sleep. What you had to do was really to study. Nothing else,” Prof Kanyerezi, a medic on top of his career, stressed.
At his time, Mr Kibaki’s contemporaries, Dr Paul Mugambi remembers the future Kenyan head of state as a bright and active star not only in class but also in debates that looked at liberating the Africans from the wrath of colonialism.
“He was always a bright and engaging young man who always liked debates,” Dr Mugambi says of the now 80-year-old statesman.
He, however, adds that the budding economist in his days very much liked to go for dances that were organised at the university.
“He liked going to dances a lot and he was just as good,” Dr Mugambi reminisces.
He would also go to political conferences organized by the university and according to Dr Mugambi, he was influenced by the then Kenyan leader, Jomo Kenyatta.
“I was shocked he went into politics but I later came to realise that Kenyatta enticed him away because there were few learned people and mostly those who were learned were considered to be replacements of the Whites who at the time were at the verge of leaving Africans to take care of their countries,” Dr Mugambi says.
Life at Makerere in Kibaki’s time
Prof. Kanyerezi remembers nothing but the respect that was put in the dances.
“You could not go to a dance without a suit and a tie,” Prof Kanyerezi says in relation to the way youths put on jeans and T-shirts and “weird” clothing when going to clubs and other happening places.
The professor says the nature of clothing was mainly because they always did the dance with high ranking officials in government and the country as well.
“How would one appear shabby when [Governor] Cohen, the university principal and sometimes the king were on the same dance floor,” he says on the dances that were always organised in the institution’s main hall
Outside the university, the students would visit New Life Bar in Katwe, White Nile, Bagatel, Kamulu, and Tabaris, among others but only self-reputed personnel would go to such dance halls.
Life after campus
After he successfully completed his studies at the University, Kibaki was recruited by Shell Company of East Africa as an assistant sales manager, Uganda division. In the same year, he also earned a scholarship entitling him to postgraduate studies in any British university.
He subsequently joined the prestigious London School of Economics for a degree in public finance, where he graduated with a distinction.
He however, after completion made a journey back to his mother university in 1958 as an Assistant Lecturer in the Economics Department until 1960 when he left to join politics as an executive officer after a request by the then Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Kibaki later helped to draft Kenya’s Independence Constitution.
Three years later, he saw the start of his political career when he was elected Member of Parliament for Donholm Constituency. Later on, when Arap Moi became president, Kibaki was one of the president’s close men and served wholeheartedly. So not long, he was appointed Minister of Finance.
Kibaki on top
When Kibaki was the Minister of Finance Kenya enjoyed a period of relative prosperity, fuelled by a commodities boom, especially coffee, with remarkable fiscal discipline and sound monetary policies.
Due to his knowledge in finance, not surprising, business people listen to him when advised the East African entrepreneurs while addressing them recently in Uganda, to see innovative projects in universities to lift them to global status.
He was speaking in relation to the Kiira EV- an automobile car that was launched by the College of Engineering, Design and Technology (CEDAT) late last year.
He said that not only should the East African institutions of higher learning take a leading position in African transformation process through inventing global competent innovations but they should be lent a hand by entrepreneurs to take such innovations away from workspaces.
“This is an example that must be emulated in the region and the whole continent and it is my hope that such ideas will not be stalled away in workshops and laboratories but instead later bolder entrepreneurs commit their capital to make sure that African scientific and to which innovation are developed I to mass production for the regional and global market,” Dr Kibaki said while addressing a last congregation of the 89-year-old institution’s 62nd graduation ceremony when he was being handed his honorary