Is this the end of Balala's political career?

Najib Balala photo

Former Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala. 

Photo credit: Wachira Mwangi I Nation Media Group

After serving as Cabinet Secretary for two decades, mostly in the Tourism ministry, Mr Najib Balala’s future is now unknown after he missed out on appointments made recently by President William Ruto. 

He was the only CS from the Coast serving in the last government.

In September, he made a “strategic job application” to President Ruto, saying he was ready to serve his government if appointed.

"I am happy and humbled and I thank President Uhuru Kenyatta for giving me the chance to serve the nation and I welcome President Ruto and I am ready to serve in his government whenever it’s necessary,” he said.

But when President Ruto named his Cabinet on Wednesday, it was clear the former Mombasa mayor would not be part of the new administration unless he gets some other position.

“Congratulations to President Ruto, on unveiling your new cabinet. I am honoured to have served my country for the past 24 years, from being Mombasa Mayor, in 1998, to now serving as the Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife,” Mr Balala wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

He also welcomed the appointment of Ms Peninah Malonza as his successor in the ministry.

“You have my full support. God Bless Kenya,” he added.

After his election to Parliament for Mvita constituency under Narc in 2002, he was appointed Gender, Sports and Culture minister in Mwai Kibaki’s government.

He was later moved to National Heritage in 2004 before being sacked as President Kibaki purged politicians who campaigned against the draft Constitution in the 2005 referendum.

After the 2007 post-election violence, Mr Balala returned to the Cabinet in the Tourism docket following a political deal between Mr Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga.

In 2012, Mr Balala teamed up with retired President Uhuru Kenyatta as part of The National Alliance.

He then formed his own party, the Republican Congress Party, on which he vied for the Mombasa senator seat in the 2013 elections, but he lost to Wiper’s Hassan Omar.

He was later appointed Cabinet Secretary for Mining. In 2017, he was retained in the Cabinet when President Kenyatta won a second term.

Mr Balala's exit from the Tourism ministry elicited mixed reactions from tourism players.

Pollman’s Tours and Safaris Director Mohammed Hersi and Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers executive officer Dr Sam Ikwaye recently urged President Ruto not to appoint him to the Tourism docket.

“We are looking forward to working with Ms Malonza, a former deputy governor [for] Kitui as she has our full support to help her succeed,” Mr Hersi said. 

“We must get a good PS to support her. Alfred Mutua, who was appointed Foreign Affairs, and Kipchumba Murkomen in charge of Transport and Infrastructure are also key to tourism.” 

He urged Dr Mutua to target foreign investors and tourists, adding that Mr Murkomen ministry's will play a major role in opening the skies to allow direct flights to land at Moi International Airport.

“I am quite optimistic that he will see the bigger picture,” he added.

Tourism players also hope the incoming Tourism CS will find a way of filling the 40,000 hotel beds in Coast through the adoption of open-skies policies to allow more, direct charter flights to Mombasa.

Hoteliers say this will attract investors to set up modern Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) centres and activate Kenya’s Sh1.3 billion modern cruise ship terminal at the Mombasa port that has been lying idle for three years since it was completed.

The terminal features a three-story building and has facilities similar to those at airports, including duty-free shops, lounges, restaurants, conference facilities, and port health, logistics and immigration offices.

Other radical measures proposed by tourism players include increasing funds for the Kenya Tourism Board to market Kenyan destinations globally, and improving the ease of doing business.

Tourism players say 'too many licences' are needed to run an establishment and the 23 separate permits required to operate a hotel need to be consolidated.

Although most of the proposed ministers are political appointees and not professionals, industry players will support them, Dr Ikwaye said.

“Ms Malonza is a Kenyan and we support her. We are upbeat because we have a woman CS,” he said. 

“We welcome her to the industry. There's a full in-tray for her, starting with the linkages between her ministry, Transport, and Foreign Affairs that directly affect our sector.”

The incoming CS must work with counties, tourism associations and investors to boost the sector, he added.

Had Mr Balala been “firm enough, he would have ensured our skies are open to allow direct flights to Mombasa and Kisumu”, Dr Ikwaye said.

Industry players expect the incoming CS to complete the construction of Ronald Ngala Utalii College, which has been a subject of controversy.

The players lamented that Mr Balala had failed to deliver President Kibaki’s flagship project to boost Kenya’s tourism workforce.

“The Sh2 billion project has since gobbled up Sh8 billion and it is yet to open. It is one sad case of a white elephant,” Mr Hersi. 

“We want someone who will ensure that cruise tourism is given full attention. We cannot be building a cruise terminal but we can build and operate Makupa Bridge in under 24 months.”

For, hoteliers pushed the Jubilee administration to adopt an open-skies policy.

Their hopes were rekindled in this year’s campaigns when Dr Ruto promised to ratify the protocol that would allow international airlines to land directly at international airports.

“If [Ms Malonza] implements our proposals, she will position the sector [to do better] and fast-track a full recovery,” added Dr Ikwaye.

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