NAIROBI, Kenya – Mwai Kibaki, who helped transform Kenya’s economy and usher in a new Constitution as its third president, but whose tenure was marred by high-profile corruption cases and election-related violence, has died. He was 90.
His death was announced in a televised speech by President Uhuru Kenyatta, who did not specify a cause.
Mr. Kenyatta said that flags would be flown at half-mast in the country and at diplomatic missions worldwide, and that a period of national mourning would be observed until sunset on the day he is buried. He also said Mr. Kibaki would be accorded a state funeral but did not specify a date.
Mr. Kibaki was the last surviving former leader who had participated in Kenya’s struggle for independence from British colonial rule, having been preceded by Daniel arap Moi, who died in 2020, and Jomo Kenyatta, who died in 1978.
An economist by training, Mr. Kibaki worked as a university professor, lawmaker, cabinet minister, vice president and leader of the opposition before ascending in 2002 to the highest office in the land.
His election as president was a hopeful moment for Kenya, coming after Mr. Moi’s 24-year rule, which had been defined by widespread graft and repression.
As president, he helped revive the stagnated economy and began efforts to improve health care access. He also pushed widespread improvements of the country’s highways and was lauded for introducing free primary school education nationwide.
But his efforts to transform the country were quickly undermined by graft, which remained rife even at the highest levels of government. Even as corruption scandals continued to surface, Mr. Kibaki’s government failed to properly prosecute those involved. His own anti-corruption czar, John Githongo, fled the country, fearing that his life was in danger.
But it was the 2007 elections that put Mr. Kibaki’s leadership to the test. After the electoral commission declared Mr. Kibaki a winner in the tightly contested election, the country descended into a wave of violence and bloodshed that pushed it to the brink of civil war.
During the upheaval, more than 1,100 people are believed to have been killed and more than 300,000 others displaced. The violence subsided only weeks later, when the feuding political leaders settled on a power-sharing agreement.
The crisis pushed Kenya and Mr. Kibaki to revive efforts to draft a new Constitution – voters rejected an earlier effort in a 2005 referendum – to tackle longstanding imbalances in power and competition for resources. In 2010, a new Constitution, promising greater freedoms and rights for Kenyans, was approved with an almost 70 percent majority.
In a move that was a first for independent Kenya, Mr. Kibaki also sent Kenyan troops to Somalia in 2011 to protect its northeastern borders and fight the Qaeda affiliate Al Shabab.
Emilio Mwai Kibaki was born on Nov. 15, 1931, in Gatuyaini village in central Kenya. After completing high school in Kenya, he studied economics, history and political science at Makerere University in Uganda and then studied public finance at the London School of Economics.
Following independence in 1963, he served as a lawmaker with the Kenya African National Union party, which declared what it called African Socialism. He later served as finance minister for more than a decade, beginning in 1969 and leaving the post in 1981, and was vice president for Mr. Moi from 1978 to 1988.
As Kenyans agitated for multiparty democracy in the 1990s, Mr. Kibaki broke ranks with Mr. Moi and challenged him in the 1992 and 1997 elections, both of which he lost. In 2002, with Mr. Moi unable to run because of presidential term limits, he ran again for president.
He defeated Mr. Kenyatta, the current president, whom Mr. Moi had picked as his preferred successor, and stayed in office for two terms, leaving in April 2013.
An avid golfer, mr. Kibaki was a funny leader whose quips and witty remarks were repeatedly played on television and printed on the front pages of newspapers.
He was married to Lucy Muthoni Kibaki until her death in 2016. He is survived by his four children: Judy Wanjiku, Jimmy Kibaki, David Kagai and Tony Githinji.