Perhaps it was the Nairobi cold that finally did in Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala, the impeccably dressed man from Mombasa.
Like a man who had just ruptured a vein and claims to have a solution -ninajibu- to every thing, Balala was last week firing on all cylinders to clean his own mess.
Bulking under the weight of ten dead rhinos, Balala lost his cool, and no, it was not as a result of an out-of-place strand of hair, neither was it because his cosmetologist, trichologist or colourist failed to deal with an elusive silvery hair on his face or head.
Someone in the audience had asked the CS whether he was going to resign following the botched translocation that led to the death of 10 rhinos. The question made the politician turn a cute pink with never before seen rage.
The only thing more shocking than his change in pigmentation was his response: “I am going to be right. I am going to stand with what is right. Nobody has appointed me. It is only Uhuru Kenyatta who has appointed me. I can tell them to go to hell. Nobody is going to intimidate me,” he fumed.
So firm was his statement that Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, himself no stranger to controversial remarks, cringed. Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko, who was also standing next to Balala, looked jittery. Were it not for the rolling cameras, the man from Narok would have most likely bolted.
But what spooked this well put together man out of control? What made him lose his cool and see ghosts of dead rhinos come from the bushes of Tsavo East to get him?
To understand the Kakamega High alumni’s paranoia and his moment of madness, one needs to look into the history of this self-confessed humble and dedicated civil servant who says there is more to him than flamboyant yet mighty neat flowery bowties.
Over the years, Balala has become a master at appealing to the heartstrings of those in power.
His rise in coastal politics has always been mysterious. For one, the constituency he represents in the politics of numbers symptomatic to Kenya has always been many shades lighter than his shock of eerie black hair: it is a grey area.
In 2012, after he was sacked by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Balala claimed this was betrayal of an MOU between Raila and the Muslim community which he claimed to represent.
But Muslim leaders refuted this claim. Sheikh Hamisi Banda, the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK) South Coast Chairman said that the deal between Raila and Muslims was political and had nothing to do with the appointment of Balala to the Cabinet.
“The deal was about nomination of Muslims as MPs and Councillors, which the PM honoured to the letter,” Banda said.
Perhaps Raila had spoon-fed the man for much too long. Riding on the Narc wave of 2002, Balala romped to victory as Mvita MP and straight to Mwai Kibaki’s first Cabinet.
Sharing party spoils
When Balala closed ranks with Raila’s Liberal Democratic Party as a Pentagon member, he earned his first sack and was thrown deep into Opposition politics and formation of ODM.
In the run-up to the 2007 General Election, Balala won the Mvita ODM ticket against activist Afia Rama in controversial primaries.
And in reward of the Pentagon members, Raila appointed him to the Grand Coalition Cabinet but still, the man then sporting silver hair was not satisfied. When ODM was sharing the party spoils at the National Delegates Conference in Bomas in December of 2008, he craved for a position.
That is where the rain started pounding him politically. At Bomas, a sulky Balala turned to his prayer beads, forcefully fondling them as Joho and Ramadhan Seif Kajembe shared the Coast party slots.
Later, Balala would claim that the ODM leader had warned him of “dire consequences” if he defied his advice. Things went on a downward spiral for the man leading to his sacking from the Cabinet and ultimate total eclipse by Joho.
He hedged his bet on Deputy President William Ruto, in subtle defiance of Raila. Sooner than later, he was infected with the outright rebellious bug fully adopting the ‘Raila-betrayed-me’ card.
Closer to the 2013 General Election, he wanted to be in the saddle and cobbled up a party, the Republican Congress Party, adopting the fitting elitist symbol of a horse. It is instructive to remember Balala’s triumphal entry into Mombasa politics in the 90’s when, urged by the wealthy families, he galloped through the Coastal city on horse back.
Through the equestrian party, Balala trotted his way into Jubilee’s 2013 government and later slew the beast in the run-up to the 2017 election after his offer to donate it to Coast politicians for free was rebuffed.
His comeback record is now unmatched. Some say, he is tolerated by the godfathersof politics for two reasons: his malleability and his blind loyalty.
Barely a week after Joho publicly declared that he was going to work with Ruto’s enemies to clip his influence in Coast, Balala came calling for a handshake. But what he got with the handshake, he lost with the “go to hell” remark when his true colourswere revealed.
For his longevity in tourism docket, and in government through several administrations, one would be forgiven to think he has conquered all cartels inside out, including the white conservationists at whom his latest tirade was directed.
But even with a career as colourful as Joseph’s coat, no shade of dye can camouflage his current goof. A day after admonishing the white conservationists, the man went on to appoint the same fellows in the KWS board, tripping on his own tongue.
He may have apologised to Kenyans for his go to hell remark, but his ‘weka tyre’ moment is now imortalised in history and the nine lives of the self-declared cool cat may be up.