BBC Focus on Africa magazine
Hardly can two people be more different than Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki and his predecessor, Daniel arap Moi.
Kibaki (r) is perceived to be elitist unlike Moi (l)
The latter was a ravenous political animal and micro-manager who was obsessed with the tiniest of details.
Mr Moi was a populist par excellence. He was also a manipulator who clearly enjoyed the political game.
Mr Kibaki – who has been abandoned by some of his coalition partners and whose administration is at the centre of a growing controversy over corruption – is the opposite.
He is usually mute – even when a crisis is boiling. The latitude he gives his ministers would simply have been unthinkable under Mr Moi.
Mr Moi, in contrast, learned to rely on his street smarts. He was quite promiscuous in his political contacts
The perception of the president is that he is weak and indecisive, unable to offer leadership in the stern manner of the late Jomo Kenyatta or even, in his querulous way, Mr Moi.
However, his admirers reply that Mr Kibaki is a paragon of tolerance who has allowed an unprecedented degree of democratic space.
Despite Mr Kibaki having been in politics throughout his adult life, one senses a certain distance – even perhaps disdain – towards the hoi polloi.
A favourite word he uses in his speeches is pumbavu (Swahili for fool), and during one public rally he hurled the epithet at his own official driver for impatiently revving up the presidential limousine when a light rain began to fall.
Differences in background and outlook help to explain the gulf between Mr Moi and Mr Kibaki.
Protesters in Kenya have been demanding an end to corruption
Mr Moi was a humble primary school teacher when he was catapulted into politics, where he fell under the overarching shadow of Mr Kenyatta and learned to fend for himself as best as he could among political rivals who were more sophisticated and looked down on him.
Though Mr Kibaki was also a product of those times, he suffered no such complexes.
Being one of the few indigenous university graduates of the time, he was headhunted at the time of independence from Uganda’s Makerere University where he was lecturing in economics and then went on to become a star technocrat in the Kenyatta government.
Mr Kibaki’s elitist disposition certainly has something to do with that early feeling of entitlement and the conviction that he belonged to a special generation that laid the technocratic foundation of modern Kenya.
Mr Moi, in contrast, learned to rely on his street wisdom. He was quite promiscuous in his political contacts, not worried at all about what side of the social divide he interacted with.
Mt Kenya Mafia
Mr Kibaki, on the other hand, likes to surround himself with a tight group of friends he has known for a long time.
Their favourite social haunt is the exclusive Muthaiga Country Club in Nairobi where they banter about golf and their latest corporate moves
In Kenya, this circle is referred to, none too flatteringly, as the “Mt Kenya Mafia” for all of them hail from the Central Province, where the mountain that gave the country its name rises from.
Politically speaking, the closely intertwined Kikuyu, Embu and Meru people who inhabit this region are known generically as Gema.
But it is not a homogeneous clique in the sense of the real-life Cosa Nostra that meets to hatch conspiracies and plans.
Instead, it is a loose group of Gema worthies who are tied together by the memory of the community’s marginalisation during the Moi years and have vowed never to let this happen again.
On one side is a conservative wing of elderly, Catholic-school-educated businessmen who forged friendships during their Makerere days in the 1950s.
With few exceptions, they made their fortunes when Mr Kibaki was serving out his long tenure as minister for finance under Mr Kenyatta.
This group consists of corporate titans like University of Nairobi chancellor, Joe Wanjui, the head of the giant freight-forwarding firm Express Kenya, Peter Kanyago, advertising magnate Nathaniel Kang’ethe and George Muhoho, a brother of Kenyatta’s widow, Ngina.
The fact that Mr Kenyatta’s own son, Uhuru, leads the opposition Kanu party does not bother this circle.
Their favourite social haunt is the exclusive Muthaiga Country Club in Nairobi where they banter about golf and their latest corporate moves.
They have always been on hand to bankroll Mr Kibaki’s political campaigns – from when he was in the opposition.
Chris Murungaru was forced out of cabinet over corruption allegations
Having largely been frozen out during the Moi era, they made a powerful comeback under Mr Kibaki and act as his sounding boards.
They are also doing very well for themselves in business, with a number of high-profile corporate acquisitions.
Colloquially the press refers to them as the old guard.
Currently the two most powerful members of the cabinet, Security Minister John Michuki and Defence Minister Njenga Karume, are part of this old guard.
There is another batch of younger members, also Gema to the core, who did not rub shoulders with Mr Kibaki at Makerere.
These young Turks prompted the press to coin the term “Mt Kenya Mafia” because they monopolised power and access to the president soon after he took office when he was briefly hospitalised due to illness.
This is a group of newcomers, whose centre of gravity revolved, for a time at least, around two ministers, Chris Murungaru and Kiraitu Murungi, both of whom have been forced out of the cabinet following allegations of involvement in the Anglo Leasing scandal, which refers to government contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars being awarded to a phantom firm.
This team had meshed with Mr Kibaki during his days as an opposition leader. They served as his strategists and political battering rams.
In power, they soon attracted flak for being arrogant and for constantly antagonising Mr Kibaki’s coalition partners.
The young Turks are quite different from the old guard, with whom they have ferociously vied for influence.
They lack the wealth of the old guard, and face accusations – justified or not – of having feathered their nests in an obscenely short time.
More and more, it is to the older, country club crowd that Mr Kibaki has retreated into.