What next for residents of president’s backyard?

Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu at defends himself against impeachment at the and by the Senate. [Boniface Okendo/Standard]

What at first looked like minor differences between Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waitutu and his deputy James Nyoro slowly snowballed to a major crisis.

With the working relationship between the two irretrievably broken and the governor facing corruption charges and possible removal from office, the county operations have literally ground to a halt.

It could be an anti-climax if Baba Yao was to be removed from office either through a court process or impeachment. Dr Nyoro, an acclaimed agricultural economist, would be elevated to governor.

Nyoro has never effectively taken over at Kiambu, with only a few executive committee members remaining loyal to him.

Courts have ruled that as acting governor, he cannot hire or fire or even reshuffle ministers. It is a free for all, with each minister running his or her own show.

Things have been at a standstill with no side willing to cede ground. The residents of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s backyard have been left just staring at the monumental problem.

For example, Josephine Muthaka’s application for a planning approval for her home in Thika town has been pending at the county’s portal since last year.

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The only sign that someone peruses her application is when the department gets in touch with her architect, asking them to resubmit a rates statement, a locality sketch map, and last week, a copy of the land search certificate.

Can’t commence

Ms Muthaka will only get an invoice to pay planning fees once her plan gets approval, meaning that while she cannot legally commence construction, the county government is also blocking itself from receiving the much-needed revenue.

“Getting planning approvals in this county is increasingly getting hard,” said a building construction consultant working in the county. “But it is mostly because people out there are looking for kickbacks.”

Such a sorry state of affairs is prevalent across the county due to the power vacuum since Mr Waititu was last August barred from accessing county offices due graft charges against him.

At the Thika law courts last week, three revenue collection clerks denied stealing large amounts from the county government by issuing counterfeit licences to matatu operators.

Across the county, provision of services is virtually at a standstill.

What worries many is that with Waititu’s case pending in court and Nyoro unable to take full control, nobody knows when there will be an effective government in place.

The crisis in the county has exposed the soft underbelly of running one of the most diverse counties in the country.

Kiambu is the second most populous county in the country after Nairobi, with the 2019 Census putting its population at 2.4 million persons. It has 12 national assembly constituencies and 60 wards and a total 92 Members of County Assembles.

The diversity of Kiambu is such that its regions range from the highly developed estates such as Runda, Fourways Junction and Kahawa Sukari to farmlands in Lari that get cut off during rains, and mud-walled shanties in Kiandutu, Thika town.

One of the accusations against Waititu in the impeachment Motion was that his reign had been characterised by allocation of land to speculators.

Waititu himself has been accused of unlawfully acquiring and occupying two prime plots within Thika municipality, which were owned by a widow named Cecilia Njoki Mbugua. The land was allegedly transferred to Esther Wamuyu Nyatu, named as the common law wife and mother of some of the governor’s children.

The governor’s conduct has been under the spotlight for some time, especially after his Nairobi counterpart and former close ally Mike Mbuvi Sonko exposed him in 2018 during demolitions of buildings found to be erected on riparian land and waterways in Nairobi.

Waititu’s wife, Susan, had been arrested in the crackdown and he called Sonko to save the situation. Sonko later leaked an audio recording of their conversation. Ironically, Sonko himself is also suspended from office after graft allegations against him.

Waititu later said he opposed the demolitions since they would not solve the problem. His fallout with the county assembly has badly exposed one of his key allies – Kiambu Speaker Stephen Ndicho, who had to take a middle ground after it appeared he would be the first collateral damage.

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Kiambu Governor Ferdinand WaitutuJames Nyoro