The race for the Nairobi governor seat is, predictably, the centre of intense drama for perfectly understandable political reasons – every piece of mud must be thrown at candidates to dilute their electability or completely eliminate their participation. But even a politically savvy operator such as Johnson Sakaja could not have predicted that he could be at the centre of such a riveting conversation.
He may yet be on the ballot paper come August 9, but that again is politics. The issue is no longer whether Mr Sakaja has a degree, but the technicalities around what that piece of paper means; whether it really was issued by a university and when it was presented before the tribunal listening to the case.
Sakaja himself believes that his predicament is an orchestrated piece of political chicanery led from the very top of the Azimio political chain to cut his feet off and allow Azimio’s Polycarp Igathe to waltz through!
There are other no less intense dramas in Homa Bay, in Kisii, in Mombasa, in Kisumu, in Kakamega and a few other counties. But here, it is not necessarily a question of degrees but the weight of party interests versus what the people actually may want.
Increasingly, it is clear that what the party leader wants is what will carry the day. Certainly, in the Azimio la Umoja and the Kenya Kwanza coalitions, that is the reality aspirants have to deal with.
Except in Trans Nzoia, where the race is clearly between ideas and personalities competing in a promise to deliver for a county traumatised by 10 years of systemic abuse and neglect by outgoing governor Patrick Khaemba.
On his own account, the person that came in with a lot of chutzpah and a track record that promised performance, failed the people of a county that epitomises all that the country should aim for.
It is generally described as cosmopolitan because it is one of those very few counties with all of Kenya in it, even though the Luhya (especially Bukusu) and the Nandi (including the Sabaots) are dominant. The Luo, Kikuyu, Turkana and Kisii form sizeable minorities that can determine an election outcome depending on the splits between the dominant groups.
A burden under which that county has laboured and which has contributed to its under-development has been lack of an inclusive leadership that recognises the potential of all the communities to contribute to make Trans Nzoia great. Mr Khaemba was particularly insensitive to the need to tap into this huge opportunity.
Shambolic urban decay
The county, once the poster child of cleanliness, planning and order, is a shambolic urban decay that now thrives on nostalgia and anger about a golden chance soiled by corruption, incompetence and divisive politics of successive leadership but none so bad as during the devolved dispensation because of the very significant amounts of funds sent to the county for development.
So bad has been the CBD that it rivals the unplanned county towns of Kipsania, Kapsara and Kiminini for disorder.
Generally described as the food basket of Kenya because of its traditionally rich maize harvests, the county is now home to increasing numbers of families that cannot feed themselves. Those that have economically cultivable plots have seen harvests decline steadily over the years – thanks to unproductive farming methods, expensive inputs and a sector denied opportunities to add value to raw materials.
A county that should lead in showcasing progressive land planning policies that guarantee increase in farm productivity, environmental protection and economic viability now presents an unacceptable duality of large, unproductive farms because owners are absent or unconcerned, juxtaposed with small plots that are completely useless as productive units.
Willingness to serve
That is until now. The county has a chance to resuscitate itself by handing over leadership to a person that has demonstrated firmness tempered with compassion, experience and knowledge and a willingness to serve. Mr George Natembeya has made a name for himself as a person that is not afraid to speak his mind, whoever he is addressing.
Unlike his competitor, who is sponsored by a big party, and who has difficulty accounting for 10 years as MP, Mr Natembeya is a people’s project, running a vigorous campaign on the popular wave of the people.
He represents the best opportunity for Trans Nzoia to redeem itself by choosing someone that has served all Kenyans, has shown he can act on what is right and has shown that one does not need to be corrupt to appeal. Money is not leadership. The county will be poorer if it squanders this opportunity.
The writer, a former Editor-in-Chief of Nation Media Group, is now consulting. [email protected]; @TMshindi)