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Activists making a mark on how counties are run

COUNTIES
By Robert Amalemba and Micah Sali | August 23rd 2021
Joseph Simekha during a previous event in Mbale. The activist has accused Vihiga Governor Wilberforce Ottichilo of violating the Constitution. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Joseph Simekha is many things to many people. To some, he is a thorn in the county’s flesh but to others, he is the quintessential activist Vihiga needs for oversight purposes after the county assembly was accused of going to bed with the Executive.

Simekha prefers to be called a champion of good governance. He came to the limelight when he, together with County Secretary Francis Ominde, launched a bid for the dissolution of the County of Vihiga.

Simekha accused Governor Wilber Ottichilo of gross violation of the Constitution and blamed the ward reps for failing to hold the governor accountable.

He rolled out a drive of collecting 27,241 signatures which is 10 per cent of registered voters in the area, in line with the County Governments Act, 2012 to dissolve the county.

Senate leadership intervened on July 23 to put out the fire the University of Birmingham public policy graduate had lit but after he managed to garner 66,000 signatures, although the numbers have been contested.

To allow mediation

“The Senate’s Standing Committees of Devolution and Finance requested that we halt it to allow mediation, however, it looks like it was a smokescreen,” said Simekha.

He is the chair of WeFOR, a voluntary association of professionals from Western Kenya who mobilize, organize, and educate the public for informed participation in governance and civic awareness.

On July 5, he lodged another suit against Dr Ottichilo, the Assembly and the Planning docket blocking the conferring of Vihiga town with the status of a municipality.

Vihiga Governor Dr. Wilber Ottichilo. August 20, 2021. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

“Vihiga town does not exist - in law, fact, geographically or otherwise and therefore the County’s decision to confer the status of municipality as chattered and authorized by the governor is illegal, illegitimate, null and void,” he said in his court papers.

Justice William Musyoka will be giving a date for the inter-parte hearing of the case after he temporarily stopped the conferment until the case has been heard and determined.

“I think I got the heart of activism in the 1980s when I was a young boy seeing my mother telling off sub-chiefs, chiefs and District Officers (DOs) who loved to load it on the hapless wananchi,” says Simekha who is gunning for the senatorial post. 

In Bungoma, Philip Wekesa has had a rough time in playing the onerous role of a defender of the people.

Wekesa has weathered many storms in pursuit of justice for the locals. “It has been a bumpy journey spanning decades, I have suffered in my quest to defend the voiceless, but I stood firm.” 

Make it a better place

However, no amount of intimidation could deter Wekesa from doing what he believes in, which is “ensuring that there is equity in the society and making it a better place for everyone regardless of their gender, religion, sexual orientation and social class.”

The activist has been consistent in fighting for social justice and good governance in the country. He helped establish Bungoma Care Centre, a facility that takes care of people living with disabilities in the county.

Bungoma Governor Wycliffe Wangamati. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Wekesa got fully involved in public issues, particularly fighting police excesses.

“We pushed for police and political reforms in the country. I joined the Jukwaa la Katiba organization, a platform for constitutional reforms and implementation.”

He has worked with Bunge La Mwananchi and Transparency International as one of the coordinators in Bungoma county”

Wekesa’s first public petition to the County Assembly of Bungoma was on removal of members of County Public Service Board for abetting nepotism, corruption and irregular appointments.

He says he faces many challenges including threats from county leaders and their supporters.

“I have many times been abused on social media and labelled names and branded an anti-development crusader”.

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