In the run up to the 2013 elections, Nairobi seemed to be the on the mend.
Previous impenetrable streets had been rid of off waste and garbage. Street children were nowhere to be seen. Trees shaded avenues and garbage bins, a rare sight, had made a comeback to the city. So had faucets that had water cleaner than that found in many homes.
So when the time to elect a governor in the elections came, there could only be one front runner. A man who had transformed the city and rid it of the rot that threatened to choke it to death. There were murmurs about John Gakuo’s candidature. On Murang’a Road, a huge billboard had a picture of him with the words ‘A people’s Choice.”
Somehow though, his name never made it to the ballot box.
“The political class didn’t want a gentleman for that office. At the time, Nairobi was hotly contested. ODM went for the candidate with money. TNA went for the candidate who could pull crowds,” former Town Clerk John Kisia says.
“Eventually, Nairobi lost out.”
As a Town Clerk, Gakuo had been credited with revitalising a city that had lost its mojo.
For those who worked in Gakuo’s City Hall, he was the man with the solutions to the problems that plagued the city back then.
“He didn’t do anything outstanding. He just made sure everyone did their job,” Violet Maingi, an employee of the then City Council says. Legend has it that every morning, Gakuo would choose a location within the city and take a walk through it. He would take mental notes of where the garbage was, where there were no parking attendants, which buildings required a new coat of paint or where street children were spending most of their time.
Then at the weekly staff meetings, which former employees say happened every Tuesday, he would randomly ask questions about the status of what he had seen to the officers concerned.
“You had to know everything,” Violet says. “He would ask the library service why their Eastlands branch opened half an hour late on a particular day.”
He was a man who knew everything about the City Council. But somehow, this internal, intrinsic knowledge of the historical City Hall eventually came back to haunt him. As the town clerk, he had to have his hand in all the cookie jars, his ears tuned to every conversation, his eyes on all that was going on and his signature on every piece of paper that represented the city’s business dealings.
The kind of success he had while at City Hall was enough to hand him a position in the newly created county government. After passing up the chance for a life in politics, Nairobi’s first governor offered him position in the new governance structure.
In 2014, he was appointed the chief executive for Water, Energy, Forestry, Environment and Natural Resources. The position came with lots of expectations on his shoulders. But it was the deeds of his past, particularly a land deal that happened between 2008 and 2009, that was to be the poisoned chalice that led to his eventual imprisonment.
Gakuo, was jailed for his role in the cemetery land scandal, sentenced to three years in jail and fined Sh1 million for abuse of office and failure to comply with procurement rules. He was convicted for his role in the multi-million shilling scandal that rocked City Hall between 2008 and 2009.
With that, the hammer came down on the career of a man who many credited with an attempt at restoring Nairobi’s glory. Sadly though, months after his sentencing, his life too came to a sudden end at Nairobi’s Mbagathi Hospital.
“It is sad that John will not be here to clear his name,” Kisia says.
The tree-lined streets, the now broken water faucets, the return of street children on the streets and the general decline of Nairobi will always remind Nairobians of a the short period in modern day history when things worked and the man who made it all possible.
But when they wistfully remember this man, they will also be reminded of the judiciary’s conviction that John Gakuo played a leading role in the loss of Sh283 million of taxpayer money. And therein lies the paradox of John Gakuo. A man eventually killed by a city he had worked so hard to keep alive. A man who did some good for the city, but some bad too.
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