When I was in Standard 3 at Rabai Road primary School, Peter Oloo Aringo was the Minister of Education (this is before we switched prepositions, so bear with me), and Kenya had entered the uncharted waters of Bretton-Woods-prescribed Structural Adjustment Programmes. The expression "cost-sharing", which I didn't understand and still don't, entered the national discourse and my father was told to part with money so that City Hall could build a workshop at Rabai Primary School. The workshop was duly built and when I was in Standard 7 and 8, I spent many, many happy hours in it sawing, planing, sanding and hammering various bits of wood into creations that gave great, great pleasure.
Baba Moi was getting into the swing of things at Harambee House, sprinkling the public service with his favoured political pets, many in high offices where policies were made, unmade and ignored. Few Kenyans appreciated the effect of Baba Moi's version of structural adjustment and few could foresee just how bad things would get by the time Mzee was being given the rudest send-off at the relatively peaceful end of his presidency. What I do remember, even in the midst of the rapid-fire changes, is that all waziris and their senior-most mandarins were driven about in Peugeot 504s, even the Vice-President, the flashiest French import we had at the time.
Not even Mzee saw the political virtues of zipping about in helicopters and a fleet of V8 VXs (though, to be fair to the modern-day waheshimiwa, he didn't need to when Voice of Kenya spent 25 of its allotted 30 minutes singing his praises in increasingly unsubtle ways at 1:00pm, 4:00pm, 6:00pm, 7:00pm and 9:00pm. Things were predictable. My workshop was built because Baba Moi decreed that it should be built.
Mzee didn't make promises often. Which comes as a bit of a surprise when I think about it. He almost always directed something to be done and the machinery of Government swung into action. He decreed free milk and soon enough, KCC lorries were delivering orange tetrapaks of Maziwa ya Nyayo. His successors have been mightily unlucky. They couldn't decree anything without appearing foolish. It is why the wonkish Kibaki delegated the arm-twisting and head-knocking to the likes of John Michuki, Chris Murungaru and Martha Karua or charm offensives to the like of the sharp-as-a-tack Mutula Kilonzo and scandal-prone Masaa-ni-ya-Mama Charity Ngilu. Baks's successor doesn't even have a Michuki in his corner; the hard-charging Matiang'i will one day prove to be the millstone that sinks his "legacy" for all eternity.
Mzee may have bankrupted the nation, morally, politically and fiscally, but when you see him lifting rocks above his head in some rural backwater as his Government fights to reverse mmonyoko wa udongo, you remember that the gabions kept your farmhouse from being washed away one more time by raging waters and mud. When you see him set his head back and laugh uproariously at the antics of the Vitimbi cast during some public holiday at the Nyayo National Stadium, you realise that he didn't crush everything underneath his heel. But try as you might, you can't summon the same sense of occasion when you remember Baks's "superhighway" or his successor's "SGR". Instead, it is relentless torrent of bad and worse news connected to the filching of many, many billions that boggle the mind.
Mzee suppressed and oppressed and, ironically, because of his heavy hand, Kenyans and Kenyan communities had a sense of pride when one of their children stood up to him. We feared him. And we suffered for it. But we never held him in contempt even when morally dubious stories about him were whispered in bars and funerals. No one feared Baks. No one fears his successor. Baks has the respect of economists because he managed a minor miracle with the economy, even if he cocked it up in the end. But his successor? Moi gave me a workshop. Baks gave me the opportunity to say mean things about the president without fearing that I would find my gonads in a vice. This one is looking for a "legacy". I fear that he will be unluckiest of them all.