For the past one year or so, well-deserved praise has gone to Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana for his role in lifting Makueni since 2013. Makueni is undoubtedly the shining star of devolution. The massive improvements in health services—topped by the recent opening of the Mother and Child Hospital that cost only Sh135 million to construct and fully equip—are legendary and Makueni now has one of the lowest infant mortality rates. There are functioning ambulances and accessible primary health facilities in every ward.
Prof Kibwana has focused on the poorest, to improve their livelihoods by providing agricultural services at the grassroots. Artificial insemination, milk-cooling plants and mini dairy processing plants mean that even the poorest home with one or two cows can sell milk. And there are the famous fruit processing plants that add value to the small farmers with mango trees, papaya trees and passion fruit. This grassroots type of economic empowerment has been proven to be best way to uplift the lives of the poor, way better than huge infrastructural projects - like SGR- that are made for “eating”.
Title deeds have been issued throughout the county and roads upgraded to ensure that people can take their produce to markets and factories with ease. At the same time, scholarships for needy students have been given out without attracting a whiff of corruption or extortion.
The key to these successes is the governance system that Governor Kibwana has put in place. No county takes public participation as seriously, something that should be emulated throughout the country. You know a public servant is serious when s/he sits in markets, in churches and listens humbly to ordinary people, so that agreed projects are owned by everyone, which increases the utility and maintenance of the facilities.
Incidentally, Governor Kibwana’s approach is straight out of the human rights based approach to development handbook that requires transparency, accountability, participation and full information flow. It has been proven to be the key to development, even though it can be slow sometimes. The rights based framework emphasises transparency, which is amazing in Makueni. Details of all projects, from how much, to whom and how they were selected, are in the public domain, available to everyone to scrutinise and challenge. Again, this is different from the redacted information from Treasury on the Eurobond, one of the reasons for our debt and inflation.
The secret to the success of Makueni County is the fact that Governor Kibwana believes in, respects and trusts his people genuinely. This respect and trust makes it impossible to steal from the people, and no one can point to any rumour of corruption, nepotism or self-gain. It is this trust that broke the back of the first cohort of MCAs who tried to “white-mail” him into unnecessary expenditure for their personal gain in keeping with their colleagues across Kenya. The MCAs rolled over, knowing that the public had more confidence in the Governor and his humble but effective style than they did in them. The MCAs were virtually all kicked out in the 2017 elections.
The plaudits that Governor Kibwana is getting in Makueni, nationally and internationally, are all well and good. The big question however is: Are Kenyans ready for a president like him, or anyone embodying these values that we long for all the time? Will we go back to the tribal cocoons during elections, when it is all about tribal numbers and a chance to eat? Governor Kibwana is proven, not just by his stewardship of Makueni, but from before as Law Faculty Dean at the University of Nairobi, and as the brave leader of the NCEC in 1997, when he was on the streets Saturday after Saturday braving bullets, truncheons and teargas in the mass action agitation for a new constitution. He proved he was willing to die for what he believed in.
Governor Kibwana is one of a handful of current political leaders who have stood up for issues bigger than themselves and their possible positions. The others are Raila Odinga, James Orengo, Anyang’ Nyong’o and Kiraitu Murungi—but who quickly became what he had fought against after the Anglo Leasing scandal. The March “hand-cheque” created a leadership vacuum for the millions who want a Kenya that puts the people first and ensures social justice and human rights.
Governor Kibwana may well be the one to fill that vacuum, but he will need more than tweets and WhatsApp messages. There is no doubt that the current political class will oppose him hard, and refuse to back him because he is everything that they are not. The business class will work against him for he is too transparent. And the security, military and intelligence mafia who run the deep state will target him.
So, will all the social media support translate to open and transparent funding for Kibwana, for instance, so that he does not have to seek funds from the corrupt and drug dealers? How many of us will be willing to volunteer for him?
- The writer is former KNCHR chairman. [email protected]