Deadly â€˜makuaâ€™ is back with venom; will Makueni County survive?
Huge poisonous snakes known locally as makua were once dreaded in Makueni County for their deadly bite. And despite their decrease, they have recently resurfaced in another form; politics.
When a recent shooting in Makueni County that left five people in Governor Kivutha Kibwana’s crew injured, the reptiles that gave Makueni its name came in handy to describe those suspected to be behind the ignominy. Today, anti-Kibwana members of the County Assembly (MCAs) are nicknamed makua.
What is Makueni County today with a land mass measuring 8,000 square kilometres and a human population of approximately 884,527 was but a marginalised jungle in then Machakos District before it was hived off in 1984 with its headquarters at Wote shopping Centre, about 100 kilometres south of Machakos.
Among its numerous riches is sand, a white gold in high demand within the construction industry. Sand literally flows in the river beds.
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In fact, one of the contentious matters leading to the current political turmoil revolves around sand. The proposed Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) whose 177 kilometre stretch of the 485 kilometre thrust between Mombasa and Nairobi runs across Makueni has made sand a highly sought after treasure. The commodity has become a life and death affair as exhibited by the unprecedented poisoning of wells along the sand choked Londokwe River in Kathonzweni Division recently, ostensibly to scare away residents for uninhibited harvesting in the wake of ravenous demand by SGR.
The ban on sand harvesting by the County Executive has been ignored pending a regulatory bill that the MCAs have dithered to pass with disastrous consequences. Characters adept in cashing on confusion to make a quick buck have pulled off a court injunction allowing them to rape rivers with abandon. It is woe for the Makueni masses as their most important wealth is raped.
Once a designated livestock area where colonial authorities built countless cattle dips and sand dams to facilitate livestock keeping, Makueni is still a heaven for livestock, both big and small and wildlife from the mighty pachyderms and the big cats down to the bees that process and vomit honey in volumes unmatched elsewhere. The county has a sizeable share of the Tsavo National Park while the undulating Kyulu Hills is a prized national reserve cum water tower.
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Makueni is a land of contrasts where wholesome water bubbles in springs at Kibwezi, Makindu and Kiboko and other places after running underground from Mt Kilimanjaro yet areas such as Kitise to the East, are so water starved that children are born and grow into school age without seeing maize growing to maturity. Boreholes yield saline liquids instead of water.
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To alleviate the problem, says Governor Kibwana, the County Government budgeted Sh356 million for water projects last financial year. “Project implementation started five months late due to delay in the passing of the budget by the assembly, but works are going on. One of the four earth movers ordered arrived only days ago. The machine is already at an earth dam site,” he adds.
Prof Kibwana, now battling impeachment, says the bulk of the delayed 2012/2013 budget allocation went to health services that had remained in limbo as curable and preventable diseases took their toll on the population. “The Sh1.6 billion injected into this important sector is fast revolutionising health provision in a county where it collapsed long ago,” he says.
The governor says besides opening over 50 new health facilities, dispensaries that were falling apart, some with no staff to handle emergencies have been rehabilitated and supplied with drugs.
Says Kibwana: “We have revived efficiency as exemplified by my decision to have a surgical problem sorted out locally only last week. What would have cost as much as Sh500,000 at a private hospital in Nairobi for instance cost me only Sh5,000. What more demonstrates bringing health closer to the people?
But the road has been bumpy for Governor Kibwana’s administration, hence progress has been slow. Prior to his impeachment by disgruntled MCAs hardly a week ago, the governor was forced to play hide and seek with live bullets. Several of his aides were hit, some critically after orderlies at the County Assembly presided over by Speaker Stephen Ngelu opened fire to stop the governor and his supporters from disrupting a meeting convened to strike a middle path between the executive and the legislature besides assessing the negative impact of SGR.
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Lined up for the axe alongside the governor were the CEC in charge of Finance and Planning Alidan Mbinda, his Agriculture, Livestock and Food security Counterpart Ms Ruth Kyatha, the CEC for Water, Irrigation and Environment Jacobus Kiilu and the CEC for lands and Urban Development Ms Judith Kalinga.
Among the leaders caught in the fiery drama was Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jr who blames it on what he calls “wrong signals” reaching the executive after a prior meeting of legislators in Mombasa and a paid-up newspaper advertisement by Kibwezi West MP Patrick Musimba carried on the same day. Other National Assembly members at the meeting were Makueni MP Daniel Maanzo, Mr Musimba (Kibwezi West) Kibwezi East MP Jessica Mbalu, Kaiti MP Richard Makenga, Mbooni MP Kisoi Munyao and the County’s Women’s Representative Ms Rose Museo.
Kilonzo Jr, who describes the relationship between him and Governor Kibwana as cordial, says rumours flying around that the ouster of the governor had been contemplated at the meeting are unfounded and unfortunate. “The wrangles are but an offshoot of the general election that produced majority MCAs from Wiper party and governor from Muungano party, but MCAs ought to know it behooves them to legislate regardless of disconnect with the executive for devolution to be anchored,” notes Kilonzo adding that all has been well at planning level with execution as the stumbling block.
He urges MCAs to reconcile themselves to Governor Kabwana’s demeanor and credentials that endear him to the masses other than rush to excesses such as impeachment that ideally ought to come as a last resort. He describes the ongoing collection of signatures as constitutional adding; “the Makueni public is like a horse that has already left the stable and that is tricky even if leaders are reconciled”.
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The assembly’s leader of majority (Wiper) Francis Munyao Mutuku who sits at the bow of the anti Kibwana boat purportedly coxswained by Speaker Ngelu leads the team that accuses the governor of corruption, abuse of office and incompetence and dismisses the executive’s claims that MCAs are stalling budgets for personal gain. “These budget problems are but a creation of the governor who does not agree with our figures for reasons best known to himself,” fires Mr Mutuku.
“Why, for heaven’s sake does the governor want a whopping Sh96 million for civic education and only Sh5 million for bursaries,” he poses.
Also unaccounted for according to Mr Mutuku is money for tree seedlings, money meant people living with disability and women’s empowerment, all amounting to millions of shillings.
Governor Kibwana on his part accuses MCAs of runaway greed. “They want Sh500 million above the ceiling set by the budget controller at Sh356 million so that they can make more overseas trips and drive big cars. They are demanding Sh913 million and are against civic education because it makes people more aware of their rights,” he says.
“I will never sign off a budget that sucks money meant for the people. That extra Sh500 million they want should benefit the people at the grassroots if sunk into water,” argues Governor Kibwana.
He accuses MCAs of selfishness for the delay of the sand bill, saying some of them are involved in the harvesting.
The general mood in the County is that of disappointment with MCAs seen by most people as the engines behind the upheavals that have delayed development projects. Says Samuel Kyalo, a hardware businessman at Makindu: “Some of these MCAs who campaigned on bicycles are now driving big vehicles and demanding to have bodyguards around them. What changed their status so fast?
“It is their greed that has delayed the budget to the extent that access roads that could have been upgraded long ago remain impassable, increasing the cost of doing business. We are collecting signatures to send them home so that we can elect other people in their places who can work with our governor.
Richard Kimenyi, a middle-aged man who runs butchery at Emali in the neighbourhood of Governor Kibwana’s home scoffs at claims of corruption leveled against him. “If our governor was corrupt as the MCAs opposed to him say, his home would comprise of palaces, not the simple domicile that we know. You can go there and see for yourselves how humble our governor is.
Mzee Joel Makundi Kiseli, a small scale farmer at Mavindini South of Wote says he would be the beneficiary of a farm dam if the MCAs did not mess up the governor.
“We are waiting with a bated breath for the day the assembly will be dissolved so that we can send these people home,” he says, describing Kibwana as the people’s hero.
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Makueni Kivutha Kibwana