•On the environment front, Kibwana became president of the Climate Change Convention.
•Using his extensive knowledge of Land Law, Kibwana took advantage of his stint in the Ministry of Lands to settle as many squatters as he could.
*This is Part 3 of a three-part series on presidential aspirant and Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana
When Kivutha Kibwana became an MP in 2002, the expectation was that he would become a cabinet minister due to his popularity within the pro-reform movement. But that didn’t happen.
‘‘For the first six months after his election, Mwai Kibaki kept asking those around him where Kibwana was, but he wasn’t getting any answers,’’ Kibwana says, aware that Kibaki had a soft spot for him. ‘‘After he suffered a stroke, Kibaki wasn’t very coherent, and those around him who didn’t like my ways seemed to have blocked certain communication channels. Eventually, Kibaki and I reconnected and he made me an assistant minister in the Office of the President.’’
Like a lot of his comrades who were rookies in government, Kibwana took a minute before making the shift from activist to political bureaucrat. Within months of his appointment, Kibwana got in trouble after he and Kibwezi MP Kalembe Ndile joined agitations for land by squatters in Ukambani. ‘‘I was told this is not how a minister behaves,’’ Kibwana says with a chuckle. As if that wasn’t enough, Kibwana joined Garsen MP Danson Mungatana in critiquing the government not too long after. He was quickly moved from the Office of the President to the Office of the Vice President. Maybe Kibaki had made a mistake appointing him, Kibwana’s detractors must’ve thought. But Kibaki still had bigger plans for Kibwana, because barely a year later Kibaki made Kibwana Minister for Environment and Natural Resources, with extra duties.
‘‘Just as I was appointed in the Ministry of Environment, a vacancy arose in the Ministry of Lands, and Kibaki asked me to act as minister, a role I doubled in for 17 months straight.’’
To juggle between the two ministries, Kibwana crafted a plan where he worked in one ministry during the day and moved to the other in the evening, leaving the office at midnight on most days. ‘‘Those especially at the Ministry of Lands were lamenting,’’ Kibwana says with a laugh. ‘‘They told me, ‘‘This is not how we are used to doing things here.’’’’ Kibwana was undeterred.
On the environment front, Kibwana became president of the Climate Change Convention, and using his extensive knowledge of Land Law, Kibwana took advantage of his stint in the Ministry of Lands to settle as many squatters as he could, having come to the realization that government can be ‘exploited’ for greater good. ‘‘When you are creative in government and there is political will from the top - I had Kibaki’s blessings - and you personally commit yourself to not engage in corruption, then the focus comes naturally,’’ Kibwana says. ‘‘But if you are self serving, you cannot achieve much because you spend most of your time distracted elsewhere.’’
And yet the sole reason why Kibwana had joined politics was to push for constitutional change.
In 2005, elements within Kibaki’s government blew the pursuit of a new constitution up by attempting to shove down the country’s throat an unpopular and watered down version of the draft constitution produced by the national constituent assembly sitting at the Bomas of Kenya. Kibwana was caught in a Catch 22 situation, whether to walk out with mutinying ministers who were protesting the assault of the Bomas Draft or stay and see if anything was salvageable. ‘‘I had worked with Kibaki throughout the various opposition initiatives in the ‘90s,’’ Kibwana says, ‘‘and in 2002 I was convinced he would stay true to the ideals we had all fought for considering the collegial manner in which he had come to power.’’ Kibwana gave Kibaki the benefit of the doubt. Kibaki lost the 2005 referendum. Kibwana lost the 2007 parliamentary election.
And as Kenya was burning as a consequence of the disputed 2007 presidential election, Kibaki called on Kibwana, who worked behind the scenes during the Koffi Annan led mediation at the Nairobi Serena. Thereafter, Kibaki appointed Kibwana to be the Presidential Advisor on Constitutional, Parliamentary and Youth Affairs at the Office of the President. Kibwana may have slacked during the 2005 referendum and paid by losing his seat. He was now back in the play.
‘‘Being an advisor,’’ Kibwana says of the period which yielded the 2010 Constitution, ‘‘all I did was give my two cents worth and left it at that. I didn’t have the latitude to go out there and take credit for the things my counsel resulted in, but as Joint Secretaries for Coalition Affairs, Miguna Miguna and myself were in the room when a lot of important decisions were made.’’
Kibwana concedes that what eventually became the Constitution of Kenya 2010 wasn’t exactly what he and others had envisioned, but after the political class retreated to Naivasha under the joint chairmanship of William Ruto representing Raila Odinga’s ODM and Uhuru Kenyatta for Mwai Kibaki’s PNU, the resultant harmomized draft was what the country had to work with. The big boys of Kenyan politics had reached a compromise and no one was to stand in their way. And so much as Kibwana was desirous of a third tier of government to come in between the national and county governments so as to make devolution more impactful resource-wise - to copy Nigeria’s 36 states and South Africa’s 9 provinces - he fell in line in support.
‘‘The thing that tickled me the most was that when you looked at photos from the promulgation event on 27 August 2010,’’ Kibwana says with a laugh, ‘‘it is the people who had all along been against a new constitutional order who are seated at the front, while those who fought street battles in support - at least those who could make it to the event - were seated at the back. We didn’t mind that those who had said a new constitution could only come over their dead bodies were there celebrating. We were at peace as long as the country had a new constitution.’’
At that point, Kibwana was ready to call it a day, imagining it was mission accomplished.
‘‘I was very happy that eventually this personal life long journey with a lot of comrades who had been killed, arrested, tortured and so on, had come to fruition,’’ Kibwana says. ‘‘I felt fulfilled, and felt that even if that was the end of my public career then it was a rather good ending.’’
But then there was the little matter of the late Ndanze, Kibwana’s pauper aunt who raised him.
‘‘The reason I went to Makueni was because I remembered growing up there, seeing my aunt Ndanze and what we went through,’’ Kibwana says. ‘‘I saw a window which was that the next stage of implementation was the county, going to the grassroots and making the constitution work. When we were agitating for a new constitution, we said we wanted a people driven process, a Wanjiku constitution, and so my idea of devolution was that it was Wanjiku driven.’’
Those were Kibwana’s ideas. In Makueni, Members of the County Assembly thought differently.
When Kibwana set out budgeting for the initial 5 billion sent to Makueni, MCAs asked for a fifth of the amount to cover themselves and their staff, jointly totalling about 100 individuals. The remaining 4 billion was to cover Makueni’s 1 million inhabitants, as well as cater for operational and other county government costs. Kibwana laughed and said no. He thought the MCAs were joking. The MCAs too laughed, believing Kibwana was joking. Jokes were flying across Makueni.
‘‘You know Governor,’’ the MCAs’ emissary told Kibwana, ‘‘let me help you. We can make your work be very easy. When you want something minor done, like you want us to help you pull crowds, all you’ll have to do is give us ka-vovyaa, about 5,000 shillings each. It’s like cooling off hot porridge or tea. But then when you want to do something not so minor, like maybe get us to vouch for you when donors come around, all you’ll have to do is give us ki-vovyaa, about 10,000 shillings each. And when you want to do a big thing, like pass a bill, you’ll then give us i-vovyaa, about 50,000 shillings to each.’’ Ka-vovyaa was small, ki-vovyaa was large, i-vovyaa was extra large.
Makueni had become a factory of jokes, but Kibwana wasn’t laughing. The MCAs told Kibwana unless he complied they wouldn’t pass the county budget. Both Kibwana and the MCAs stuck to their guns, and Makueni County was off to a false start. ‘‘I went to the people of Makueni and told them it was impossible for me to continue being their governor,’’ Kibwana says, ‘‘because I could not do the things the MCAs were asking me to do. I also told the MCAs I was clearly in the wrong place because what they were asking of me wasn’t what I envisioned devolution to be.’’
A governing stalemate ensued. At one point, the MCAs passed the budget in March, three months before the end of the fiscal year. Kibwana couldn’t do any projects. Then the MCAs’ leader, the Speaker, instituted proceedings at the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) against top executives in Kibwana’s government, a move that caused administrative paralysis for almost two years. It later emerged that the allegations were false, and that perjury was committed. Then there was an attempt to impeach Kibwana, in which MPs from the fold of Kibwana’s political rival showed up with armed bodyguards who whipped out guns and fired shots, injuring a number of people including Kibwana’s Chief of Staff. Kibwana was ready to let it all go. It was at this point that the national government stepped in. President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed the Commission of Inquiry into the Dissolution of Makueni County, chaired by Mohammed Nyaoga.
‘‘I asked the people of Makueni to speak their minds to the Nyaoga Commission,’’ Kibwana says, ‘‘and all they wanted was for the county to be dissolved so that we could all go back to the ballot. Reading the unfavourable writing on the wall, MCAs now started reaching out to me in the pretext of finding an amicable solution, but the horse had bolted.’’
The Nyaoga verdict, save for one dissenter, was that Makueni County should be dissolved. But when the report was presented to President Kenyatta, the Head of State reached out to the Council of Governors and expressed his reservations against the dissolution of Makueni. Much as the provision for dissolution is contained in law, Kenyatta was worried that it would set a dangerous precedent going forward, such that governors would become targets for blackmail. The President opted to spare Makueni, and Kibwana went back and explained the dynamics to the people. ‘‘They said they had understood, but that they would deal with the MCAs come the 2017 general election,’’ Kibwana says. And deal with the MCAs they did. The entire County Assembly of Makueni, save for one MCA, was voted out. Kibwana was popularly reelected.
‘‘Those first term challenges were a blessing in disguise because they helped us lay a solid anti-corruption foundation,’’ Kibwana says, ‘‘because from that point onwards, everyone including contractors knew that all one needed to do was to do their job and get paid, and that the Governor will not send someone to come and ask for a kickback. And if someone gave out a kickback and the county found out, then we would blacklist them. It was that simple.’’
This was then followed by the creation of what Kibwana calls the People’s Government.
‘‘We have 3643 villages in Makueni, and so we decided there will be a government at that level, which is where budgeting starts,’’ Kibwana says. ‘‘The people at the village have a forum, through which they say what projects they want, and after identifying the project they elect a representative Project Management Committee (PMC), which then oversees the project to its completion. And if the PMC isn’t satisfied with a contractor’s work, then they don’t get paid.’’
Kibwana says that initially, some contractors imagined that these were simply a bunch of clueless villagers, until the PMC verdicts started affecting their pockets. The magic of the PMCs lies in their composition, Kibwana says, where they have experienced retirees, representatives from the religious sector, local professionals such as teachers, the youth, and others. But before letting the PMCs get down to work, Kibwana led a series of trainings, including empowering committee members to competently read Bills of Quantities in construction projects. If it says the project needs 100 bags of cement, the PMC will be there to count, so that as much as the county’s technical staff are oversighting, the locals too keep their eyes open. From that point onwards, the county government had a complementary twin in the People’s Government.
I ask Kibwana whether this was his own invention. He says no. It is in the law. Which law?
‘‘Article 1 of the constitution says the people are the sovereigns, and so they merely donate their power to we their leaders,’’ Kibwana says. ‘‘And when you go further, there are provisions for public participation and people’s economic rights. Of course I have found creative ways of expressing these provisions to the extent that the people benefit the most from them.’’
From the 3643 villages, the next structure of the People’s Government is Village Clusters, each of which is made up of about 10 villages. In total, Makueni has 377 Village Clusters, which work in the same way as the village committees when it comes to budgeting and oversight. It is at the Village Cluster level where bursaries are disbursed, alongside an interest free credit facility called Teleka. Here, everyone knows everyone and vouching happens communally. From the Village Cluster one goes up the ladder to 60 Sub-Wards, where final decisions are made, after which are the 30 Wards then 6 Sub-Counties. Kibwana says Makueni’s Ward Development Fund stands at 33 million shillings today, and that Makueni has allocated a second budget to the Village Clusters, which decide which projects need urgent attention and spend the money on.
The rule is that once the People’s Government has ratified a project, Kibwana and deputy governor Adelina Mwau sign on the dotted line, and the County Assembly has no choice but to approve the people’s wishes. Otherwise, if the MCAs attempt to subvert the people’s will, then they’ll have to ready themselves to face the people’s wrath come election time. It is a soft form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, where even Kibwana himself isn’t spared. ‘‘The people usually tell me that Governor, even you if you misbehave,’’ Kibwana says with a chuckle, ‘‘we shall walk to your mother and ask her what kind of son is this you raised for us?’’
It is this people-centered approach, Kibwana says, that has resulted in Makueni being one of the first if not the first counties to have universal healthcare, with individuals making an annual contribution of 500 shillings, while those over 65 are exempted from making the contribution. It was also the people’s idea for Makueni to have value-addition facilities for milk, mangoes and green grams. I ask Kibwana how such a model is sustainable, and he tells me this system of governance is in the blood of the people of Makueni, and it will be near impossible for anyone to try and reverse it. But be that as it may, the County Assembly is passing as many relevant laws as possible so as to secure a lot of the gains already made. The people are clearly winning.
For now, Kibwana wants to invite an external evaluator, so that he has an independently done report to hand over to his successor when the time comes, as Kibwana hopefully changes address from Villa Makueni in the Wote hills and planes to the serenity of State House Nairobi.
And now the big question. Does Kivutha Kibwana really want to be president?
‘‘Yes, and this candidature runs until 9 August 2022,’’ Kibwana says. ‘‘You know Moi used to say some things and we used to think he didn’t know what he was saying. Like when he used to say KANU will rule Kenya for 100 years. He may not have meant KANU the party, but he definitely meant KANU the people, those he had groomed, and the country has been beholden to them so that it is an anomaly when someone else, someone even more competent and suited for the job shows up in the scene. But if you look at these individuals, most of whom have been in cabinet or top leadership since the ‘80s, what have they done? What new thing will they do?’’
To Kibwana, this is not about him.
‘‘This is a candidature of the people of Kenya, the people’s candidature, not my own,’’ Kibwana says. ‘‘It is a candidature where everybody matters, where everybody will be mobilized for the renewal of our country. I believe the people will see the honesty, sincerity and genuineness.’’
For Kibwana, his pitch is simple. He has taught law at the university for 25 years - having taught Kenya’s Attorney Generals and Supreme Court justices; he has been in the streets fighting for Kenya’s second liberation for decades; he has been an MP, a Minister, a presidential advisor - Kibwana excuses his time serving the Kibaki government, saying there is consensus that this was the only government since independence that made an attempt to impact the people’s lives for the better - and been a governor, leading the most benchmarked county in Kenya. And now, he feels it’s time he brought all of this wrapped up in one person carrying the aspirations of 45-plus million hopefuls, as he seeks to replicate Makueni at the national stage and bring a new ethos.
I ask Mutunga what he makes of Kibwana’s performance in Makueni.
‘‘Kibwana’s leadership as Governor of Makueni has been praised by most if not by all. In my view, he has breathed life into the implementation of the Constitution in various areas: participation of the people to express their sovereignty; sharing of political power right to the grassroots; Makueni becoming a beacon of how devolution should work; mass civic education; zero tolerance to corruption; implementation of rights, values, transparency, and accountability by the county, the county has done well in various pro-people projects such as University scholarships, universal health care; and embryonic industrial pursuits,’’ Mutunga says, and goes on. ‘‘He has been a great example of how political leadership can serve the masses in a humble and honest manner. Makueni has shown how the imagination of a people can be captured to believe that progress and transformation is possible.’’
And what does Mutunga think of Kibwana’s presidential bid? Is Kibwana 25 years late since 1997 when he was the political opposition’s compromise candidate for the presidency aged 43?
‘‘Kibwana’s bid can have a lasting legacy if he is the first presidential candidate to denounce and condemn the politics of division in Kenya; to denounce and condemn the baronial narrative of organizing politics of division that has been with us for the last 58 years; and defining what he means by united front of like minded political parties,’’ Mutunga says. ‘‘This last point is critical because he has not talked of progressive political parties, which in my books must disengage from the baronial factions that occupy the political space at the moment. 2022 should, in my view, be about this movement capturing the imagination of Kenyans, where the mass grave for the baronial politics should be dug and the burials must start in 2022 going forward.’’
And finally, what’s for all intents and purposes an endorsement.
‘‘Here is a man who can lead a serious project of transformation of the Motherland with a unique strong will that belies his humble, modest, and peasant-intellectual personality,’’ Mutunga says of his one time student, colleague, comrade, and potential future president. ‘‘I believe that under his presidency, the robust politics of issues will be born.’’
The teacher and the student have spoken.
This article is a collaboration between the Star and Debunk Media whose Editor-in-chief is Isaac Otidi Amuke The Star