Reviewed by Ogova Ondego
Published July 18, 2012
Many African communities, I am told, do not name children after their living relatives. Children are named only after dead relatives. Similarly, the history of great men and women is told only post-humously. Why is this so? It looks like Ng’ang’a Mbugua, the writer of Mwai Kibaki: Economist for Kenya, did not seek to find out the answer to this question. Hence he is left with a publication that not only embarrasses but also attempts to falsify history as we know it.
For failing to be informed by African wisdom in his zeal to write a book on the third president of Kenya, Ng’ang’a Mbugua’s book, Mwai Kibaki: Economist for Kenya, is likey to excite controversy among historians and social critics. The book, written for children, is said to be the first biography of the Kenyan leader.
Mwai Kibaki: Economist for Kenya may be a great reading for children interested in writing of historical subjects as it may help shape their destiny from their heroes and heroines. This 96-page book, costing Sh220 (about US$6) and written by journalist Mbugua, tackles the life of Kibaki, giving the reader a peek into the world of eight-year-old Kibaki growing up in the village and tending his parents’ livestock, how and where he acquired the names Emilio Stanley, and where he went to secondary school. It also shows how Kibaki had to raise money from working as a bus conductor due to his lowly background, his admission to Makerere University College and his journey into politics, culminating in his inauguration as the President of Kenya, complete with the speech he made on that historic day; December 30, 2002.
Mwai Kibaki: Economist for Kenya may not only provide a great role model for Kenyan children by showing how President Kibaki started out in a lowly village but is also easy to read and understand by readers in upper primary school. Such readers are likely to appreciate that even though they might start out poor and small, they–like Kibaki–can realise their dreams no matter how lofty.
In what is billed as the first published biography of Kibaki,Mbugua portrays the young Kibaki as an obedient but mischievous boy.
Mwai Kibaki: Economist for Kenya is the eleventh book in Sasa Sema Publications’ Lion Books: Junior Biographies for Africa series which presents to children stories of some of Kenya’s heroes and heroines. The author begins well, writing history as if it were fiction. Towards the middle, however, he narrates events as if they were newspaper accounts. This is hardly surprising as the author has used newspapers as his primary source of information. As one reads through the account, one cannot help faulting Mbugua for appearing to use sources selectively in order to create an almost flawless character, albeit in adulthood. Could this be a reflection of the society in which our leaders are expected to be perfect, almost like angels?
Mbugua conveniently omits the insults and humiliation Kibaki heaped on retired President Daniel Toroitich arap Moi at the former’s installation as President on December 30, 2002 but expediently shows how tolerant and caring Kibaki’s administration is for not arresting the man who fell in front of his limousine on the day of his inauguration.
Without flinching, the author adds that the man would have been whisked away in an unmarked vehicle to gnash his teeth in a dungeon had he attempted the antics during the former Kenya African National Union regime. Really? One feels author Mbugua’s partisanship has clouded out objectivity and compromised the quality of an otherwise great project. His account may mislead readers who do not know the history of Kenya. This is even more serious for child readers who are usually highly impressionable. Granted, children’s literature calls for simple, uncluttered writing. But it does not in any way accommodate simplistic falsification of history. And certainly not in non-fiction writing which must keep as close to the facts as possible.
Although Mbugua says the bus company paid Kibaki 20 shillings per day for his service, this is likely not to have been the case in the 1950s as Sh20 was a lot of money then. Could he be confusing 20 cents with 20 shillings?
What comes out in Kibaki: Economist for Kenya is a very sympathetic and misrepresented face of Kibaki who is painted as a democrat who has always fought for human dignity, freedom and prosperity.
Democrat indeed. But how does Mbugua explain Kibaki’s opposition to the introduction of multi-party politics in Kenya? Reading through his speech on the day he became President of Kenya, Kibaki left no doubt that he wanted NARC, the conglomeration party outfit that catapulted him to power, to be transformed into a single party: “NARC will grow stronger and into a single party that will become a beacon of hope not only to Kenyans but to the rest of Africa.”
Kibaki: Economist for Kenya, remains just that: a poor attempt at falsifying history