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Why the deputy governor seat is a poisoned chalice for professionals

Mombasa Governor Hassan Ali Joho when he unveiled his running mate Dr William Kingi in the 2017 election. [File, Standard]

The deputy governor seat in the 47 counties is gaining notoriety for being a poisoned chalice for its occupiers who are left in the cold once they help governors secure wins.

Data from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) indicate that most of the governors have parted ways with their deputies ahead of the August 9 General Election.

The deputies who were lucky to serve for two terms and hoped to take over the county leadership have been left high and dry, with their bosses now backing other candidates.

But that is not all. Vihiga Deputy Governor Dr Patrick Saisi said most of the DGs who left plum jobs to serve the public are financially worse off than when they were when they joined politics.

In Nairobi, Polycarp Igathe resigned in 2020 claiming that he had failed to earn the trust of his boss, the then Governor Mike Sonko.

Not all the governors can be blamed for the fallouts, and some blame political paranoia among county chiefs and lack of laws to define the role of the deputy governors. 

At Coast, out of the six governors, outgoing or fighting for re-election, only Governor Salim Mvurya of Kwale has stood with his deputy, Ms Fatuma Achani, since 2013.

Mvurya is backing  Achani to succeed him. Mombasa’s Governor Hassan Joho and Kilifi’s Amason Kingi dropped their first term deputies in the 2017 election. Joho dropped Ms Hazel Katana for Dr William Kingi and Governor Kingi substituted the late Kennedy Kamto with Gideon Saburi.

Joho and Kingi have again parted ways with their current deputies in the runup to the August 9 polls.

On Wednesday, Mombasa DG Dr Kingi said 20 Mombasa county askaris stormed his compound demanding he hands over keys to his official car following his political differences with Joho.

Dr Kingi is vying for the Mombasa governor seat on the Pamoja Africa Alliance ticket, putting him in a collision course with Joho who is backing Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir of ODM.

“I do not believe that it is the governor who sent them. It is people around the governor who are out to frustrate me because I’m vying for the governor seat,” said Dr Kingi.

Vihiga DG Saisi, who has had a frosty relationship with his boss, Governor Wilber Ottichilo, said he left ODM because of the frustration he was subjected to.

Not backing him

He said his colleagues who enjoyed a cordial working relationship with their bosses have had been reassigned to other roles as the August 9 election approaches.

“In Kakamega, Prof Philip Kutima had a good working relationship with Governor Wycliffe Oparanya but now Oparanya is not backing him,” said Dr Saisi.

“It is the same thing with Busia Deputy Governor Moses Mulomi, Kingi in Mombasa, Saburi in Kilifi and Ms Majala Mlagui in Taita Taveta.”

Early this year, Prof Kutima who has been Governor Oparanya’s deputy for two terms, accused him of dishonesty and ditched ODM party. He also dropped his governor seat ambitions.

In Taita Taveta, the bond between Ms Mlagui and Governor Granton Samboja broke down irreparably in 2020 after she was stripped off all portfolios.

Mlagui was the Public Service Executive and Administration and Mining and Housing CEC before the position was taken away from her for allegedly “using the post to launch her political career.”

Samboja, who is defending his seat on a Jubilee ticket, has settled on his advisor and former Voi mayor Priscilla Mwangeka as his running mate. Mlagui is running for Mwatate MP seat.

In Kisii, Joash Maangi who has been Governor James Ongwae for nine years recently accused him of betrayal and dishonesty saying his boss used him to get votes then dumped him.

In Tana River, Governor Dhadho Godhana has picked former school teacher Mahad Loka as his running mate after he differed with Deputy Governor Salim Batuyu.

Their differences started six months after 2017 election, when Batuyu publicly declared that he will be in the race to unseat Godhana in 2022.

This forced the governor to write to the County Public Service Board, asking it to stop Batuyu’s salaries and allowances. But Batuyu moved to court and got the decision quashed.

In Lamu, Governor Fahim Twaha has also dropped his deputy Abdulhakim Aboud Bwana and selected Hajj Mahmoud as his running mate in the race to recapture the seat in August.

Tom Mboya, a governance expert, however, claims that most of the deputy governors were “political greenhorns” who have not studied the country’s ever-changing political landscape. He said the DGs were also victims of the “political paranoia” as most governors believe they will conspire with MCAs to impeach them if they are empowered.

“The occupiers of the seats have so many challenges. The post has destroyed many careers of professionals because of the unpredictable nature of our politics,” he said.

He said governors fear that an empowered deputy can conspire with MCAs to impeach them or become popular and challenge them in an election. 

“The DGs, especially professionals, are promised that they will be in charge of the administration of the county as governors deal with the political function but it is never the case,” said Mboya.

Nyeri Deputy Governor Dr Caroline Karuga, who is also the chair of the Deputy Governors Forum, said not all governors were frustrating their deputies and that the problem was the law.

“The situation is different in different counties. We cannot give a blanket condemnation,” said Karuga when asked about the frustrations the DGs were facing across the country.

She said there was need to amend Article 198 of the Constitution to give the deputy governors defined roles and portfolios, and budget to enable them deliver their mandate.

Create a rift

Karuga, who has also had a strained relationship with Governor Mutahi Kahiga since April 2019 when she assumed office, was on May 4 nominated to Kenya mission abroad.

She did not however appear before MPs for vetting after it emerged that her name had been withdrawn from the list forwarded to Parliament. She is not contesting any elective seat.

Ms Hazel Katana, who served as Joho’s deputy between 2013 and 2017, said most DGs suffer in silence because the 2010 Constitution does not give DGs powers.

Katana said she was given the role of heading the human resource department at the county and was in charge of overseas travel, but the portfolios were taken away after she differed with Joho.

“Its political difference. I think people who surround the governors misadvise them. The so called political, economic advisors and protocol officers feel threatened by assertive deputy governors so they create a rift between the DG and governor,” said Katana, adding that she left her job at the UN to come back to Kenya to deputise Joho in the 2013.

“Although Joho is still my friend, when I look back I’ve lost a lot.”