What you need to know:
- Mr Natembeya is keen on capturing the Trans Nzoia gubernatorial seat, which is being vacated by Mr Christopher Situma Khaemba.
- In 2005, Mr Natembeya caught the eye of then Interior Minister in Mwai Kibaki’s administration, the equally no-nonsense John Michuki.
Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya’s announcement on Wednesday that he had resigned at 51 years to venture into elective politics left a senior security officer in Murang’a stunned.
“I cannot dream of resigning from such a prime position with 10 years of service remaining to plunge into the uncertainties of politics... what if he fails to bag the seat?” the bewildered officer wondered aloud.
Mr Natembeya disclosed that he is keen on capturing the Trans Nzoia gubernatorial seat, which is being vacated by Mr Christopher Situma Khaemba, 66, who is in his second and final term.
Asked to respond to critics of his decision, Mr Natembeya, who holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Nairobi, said: “It is only fools who never harbour adventure in their minds... When I joined public service 25 years ago, I was ready for upsets both engineered from elsewhere and those manufactured from within me... Fear for the unknown has never affected me and the bug of fear is not in me. I know exactly what I am doing and I have the mettle to handle the outcome,” he said.
Those who know him extol his undivided loyalty to the government.
Career administrator Joseph Kaguthi describes Mr Natembeya as a “young man exercising near radicalised perfection in service to the public”.
“Natembeya is well known to me, I have seen him join us and rise through the ranks and his first loyalty is to the government,” said Mr Kaguthi.
Mr Natembeya is, however, not new to controversy.
On November 12, 2015, when he was the county commissioner for Isiolo, he ruffled feathers when he ordered security officers to shoot-to-kill armed bandits on the Meru-Isiolo border.
He further angered human rights crusaders when he added: “… I have no respect for those out to kill others and they should be killed first.”
Eight months later, he was at it again: “I reiterate that the bandits we have managed to contain, should they regroup and commence terrorising civil life, they should be shot dead.”
In 2003, when he was a District Officer in Narok County, Mr Natembeya fired a stern warning at a public baraza: “I expect that in my tenure here, no girl will be cut and if it happens, the area chief and area assistants will go to jail. Try me.”
In 2005, the tough-talking Mr Natembeya caught the eye of then Interior Minister in Mwai Kibaki’s administration, the equally no-nonsense John Michuki.
Michuki appointed him as one of his personal assistants at Harambee House, alongside now Nyandarua governor Francis Kimemia, former Principal Secretary Mutea Iringo and Meru politician George Murimi.
The star of the man who had joined public service in 1996 shone brighter under the tutelage of Michuki.
Mr Natembeya shared an incident in 2006 when a Chinese contractor visited the Interior ministry seeking to be considered for a tender for digitisation of Harambee House.
“He brought us five new computers and some internet modems, with a commitment to be maintaining them for one year. I received the items on behalf of Michuki,” he added.
The following morning, Mr Natembeya proudly updated Michuki on the trader and the offer.
“As I narrated, Michuki was very quiet and never interrupted. I took that to imply acceptance. When I was through, Michuki responded: ‘So you are telling me that you received goodies from a man who wants us to award him a tender? Can you tell an act of corruption when you see one? By this noon, I do not want to see any trace of those goodies in the entire compound of Harambee House!” the born-again Christian recalled, adding that he personally supervised the removal of the items and their return to the contractor’s office in Nairobi’s Industrial Area.
Vicious war on FGM
In 2006, at the height of the Mungiki insurgency in Murang’a, Mr Natembeya was dispatched by Michuki to quell the menace.
“I am neither here to suckle Mungiki nor to cheer it on. I am an impatient man and the soonest you reform, the better for you. I am here to prove to you the government can defeat you in killings. We enjoy monopoly of violence and soon you will realise that,” he said in his maiden speech delivered from his office.
By 2007, hundreds of youths had been killed by suspected government forces and Mungiki had been stilled.
When Michuki died in 2012, Mr Natembeya mourned him as “my true North and whose aspirations I will inherit as my working drive”.
The administrator was in 2013 moved to Kamukunji Division in Nairobi as a District Commissioner, at a time al-Shabaab militants were detonating Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in public places.
“I am here to lead a government onslaught against these cheap murderers. Probably they are used to being treated with kid gloves. I am here to unleash warfare guided by lead metal on them,” he said. Months later, the IEDs menace was no more.
When he was promoted to Isiolo County Commissioner, he was in the limelight again when he said: “We all know that life starts at inception in the womb…It is unanimous that life does not end in the hands of an armed bandit. Life is sacred and should be taken by God the creator. Anyone who attempts to hijack God’s work deserves death,” he said.
In 2017, after the guns fell silent on the Meru-Isiolo border, he was moved to Narok County where he waged a vicious war on FGM, early pregnancies and forced marriages.
He stirred a storm when he proposed that all female schoolchildren be inspected to determine if they had undergone FGM so that their parents could be held liable. He also declared that if a minor got pregnant, the area chief would foot the bills for both the mother and the child.
“Government has put you in your position to know everything including who is intending to impregnate our girls. You cannot come in front of me to say you do not know who did it. If you do not know, it is you!” he said.
When, in 2018, the administrator was tasked with reclaiming Mau forest, he had to face off with some Rift Valley leaders, led by Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen.
But Mr Natembeya did not budge, vowing to evict “every single one of the 40,000 people who have been adjudged to be illegally occupying the Mau Forest. “This is a government policy that I am enforcing. We have issued vacate notices to all squatters and mine is very simple – watch them vacate the area and if they resist I move in to get them out,” he said.
He rubbished the politicians’ calls for dialogue.
“As long as I have a circular from my line of government detailing me to reclaim the water tower; that is exactly what I will do. I do not get orders from Murkomen and his charges. He can hold as many political rallies as he wishes to bay for my blood but until I get a circular to stop the reclamation process of the water tower, everything else remains noise.”
Mr Murkomen hit back, terming Mr Natembeya “a small man who believes government programmes are not subject to provisions of the rule of law, human rights and dialogue.”
Mr Natembeya was however unfazed.
Married with three sons, Mr Natembeya, who proudly tags himself a Michuki reincarnate, says his appointment as Rift Valley Regional Commissioner in 2019 saw all the challenges he had been fighting rolled into one big package.
“Banditry, atrocities against minors and adult women, negative politics and Mau Forest were now rolled into one and placed on my table,” he says.
He, however, seemed to have touched a raw never when, in December last year, he declared that bandits were better armed than the security agencies. This was followed by rumours that he had been summoned by higher-ups and given a verbal dressing-down, before being transferred to Eastern.
“I don’t speak of my transfers since I am not the one who effects them. You will not die waiting to confirm whether that is true or false. But because you are my friend, in 40 days I will be having a press conference in Rift Valley to brief you on progress of work and to release our projections about the future of this region,” he told Nation.Africa.