Natembeya: A man not afraid of walking into storm

Narok County Commissioner George Natembeya. He is opposed to female genital mutilation. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • In 2015, Mr Natembeya was in the limelight when he gave police a shoot-to-kill order for bearers of illegal firearms in Isiolo.
  • Recently, he directed that all schoolgirls in the county must undergo Female Genital Mutilation and pregnancy tests before being allowed back to class this term.

Hands down, Narok County Commissioner George Natembeya is a newsmaker and a firebrand administrator par excellence. His statements and declarations have often stirred hullabaloo in the county and the country.

Like his second name Natembeya, which when loosely translated in Kiswahili means “I am walking”, this man is never afraid of walking right into the centre of a storm.

Natembeya, 47, has navigated murky waters throughout his career, his sheer boldness and bare-knuckled approach to issues making him the venerated and loathed administrator that he is.

Controversies around Mr Natembeya hit crescendo last year when he initiated an emotive process to kick out illegal settlers from the Maasai Mau Forest, citing massive destruction of the vast Mau Forest Complex.

EVICTIONS

Predictably, the move ruffled many feathers and caused a political firestorm that threw the security situation of the volatile region into a spin.

Some quarters claimed that the impending eviction operation was targeting a certain community, with leaders coming out in hordes to protest the move.

Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen led the charge by Kalenjin politicians against Mr Natembeya and dismissed him as “a small man” who had ignored the fact that government programmes are “subject to provisions of the rule of law, human rights and dialogue”.

Natembeya has quite the knack to emerge from claws of controversy unscathed though, and even after this pointed lunge, his response was as calculated as it was timed: He retorted by sarcastically saying that he was indeed “small”.

The government officer is not new to disputes though. In 2015, as then Isiolo County Commissioner, Mr Natembeya was in the limelight when he issued police a shoot-to-kill order for bearers of illegal firearms in the volatile county.

BANDITRY

This directive put him in the firing line of human rights activists who asked the Director of Public Prosecutions to investigate his utterances.

Controversy aside, he managed to suppress banditry and quell tribal conflicts along Isiolo’s border with Meru County while serving there.

When he was moved to Murang’a County as a district commissioner in 2007, Natembeya fought to vanquish the dreaded Mungiki sect at a time when their activities had surged in Mount Kenya region.

The battle-hardened administrator was later transferred to Nairobi’s Kamukunji to take on Al-Shabaab recruits, a threat he says was eliminated within 100 days of his service in the area.

But it is his latest order that all schoolgirls in the county must undergo Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and pregnancy tests before being allowed back to class this term that has roiled waters in the county and across Kenya.

FGM

Defending his directive, the holder of a master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Nairobi emphasised that this tough measure would deter parents who force their teenage daughters to undergo the cut.

“If we do this, it will curb the high number of teenage pregnancies being reported in this county,” Mr Natembeya said, and called for the arrest and prosecution of men who impregnate schoolgirls.

Stakeholders in education and human right groups saw the directive as a blunt abuse of school girls and an infringement into their fundamental right to privacy.

Amnesty International executive director Irungu Houghton described the move as “administratively risky, policy incoherent and patently unconstitutional in Kenya”.

He also appealed to the anti-FGM board to offer “more practical, dignified and legal options” to reduce the spike in teenage pregnancies in the county and across Kenya.

Narok County’s Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers secretary-general faulted the proposed tests, terming them as “demeaning” and a violation of privacy rights.

PREGNANCY

A defiant Natembeya, however, claimed that those opposed to the order were not in touch with the reality and the extent of the nuisance in the county.

“I will not sit down to watch girls drop out of school because of something avoidable. We need to fight this vice until we see our girls attain quality education like their boy counterparts,” he said.

At 40 percent, Narok County leads in the number of teenage pregnancies, school drop out among girls and forced early marriages.

This rate is more than two times higher than the national prevalence of 18 percent, a situation Mr Natembeya has vowed to change within two years.

Further, the county commissioner has directed that girls found to be pregnant must reveal the identity of men responsible for their pregnancy, while those who have undergone the cut must record statements with police to help identify the culprits.

CHIEFS

Mr Natembeya’s quest to end FGM is quite unparalleled. As the district officer in Mulot in 2003, he declared zero tolerance to the vice, irking many residents and causing unease within the local administration.

Chiefs under his jurisdiction are always on high alert and already, he has put some local chiefs on notice, alleging that they are bribed by perpetrators to allow FGM, teenage pregnancies and early marriages to go on unchecked.

“Be warned; your days are numbered. For every reported case that you fail to arrest the suspects, you will be held responsible,” he warned.

To him, FGM is a disaster that demands urgent intervention, and that eradicating it would also help to address high poverty levels in the county. His legacy, he says, is anchored on putting a stop to the vice.

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