No interaction made such a lasting impact on my career as the one with the departed President Mwai Kibaki, a sharp intellectual giant.
In merging academic rigour with policy insights that transform broken economies, few economists cross the journey with the ease that Kibaki did.
From the start, he turned from discredited demand-side palliatives to supply-side transformations and a belief in Kenyans’ capabilities to fix their own problems and create wealth for themselves.
Ever a man of few words who stared down on political rubble-rousers (remember his exasperation with characters he called bure kabisa) we interacted twice in two important meetings and issues. First, on his battle to unravel the economic mess that was the legacy of the Nyayo Era after 2002. Cometh a time, cometh the man who had, in the 1970s, already distinguished himself as an outstanding finance minister.
President Kibaki started the turnaround by repairing a runaway banking system. He slashed sky-high interest rates and rebuilt broken revenues, with strong competencies at the Kenya Revenue Authority.
Second, he engaged me, almost casually at one time while twirling his glass of beer at the Muthaiga Country Club, when I was drafting the Kenya Country Strategy Paper CSP of 2005-2007 as a consultant for the African Development Bank. He talked of the battle to secure funding for the Thika Superhighway, which I then went on to write into the AfDB’s plan.
Kibaki was a sharp listener and much more adept than any existing or aspiring leader today on the economic problems at hand.