Kiambu is the second most populous county in Kenya after Nairobi, and the most urbanised non-city county, but the trajectory of its economic and social growth has stagnated.
Aspirant Mwende Gatabaki is committing to revive it for the better.
Gatabaki, having been recalled from the African Development Bank to come and oversee the Kenyan digital migration currently known as E-citizen, says her approach is people-focused and not populist and bossy.
She has thrown her hat into the ring for the Kiambu gubernatorial seat.
The aspirant will be competing against eight others including incumbent James Nyoro, former governors William Kabogo, Ferdinand Waititu and Senator Kimani Wamatangi.
Others vying for the seat are Patrick Wainaina, Nyokabi Gathecha, Juliet Kimemia and Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria.
She says Kiambu is now a shadow of its past even after having three governors.
The county, she said, is facing a myriad of social issues that have stagnated its growth.
Rebuilding Kiambu’s social capital is her main campaign platform.
“In its heyday, Kiambu used to lead in education, dairy, tea and coffee farming," she said during an interview with the Star.
"People would come from all walks of life across the globe to benchmark, but now I see a very weak shade of its past.”
Gatabaki said the county is ailing from a combination of social issues such as domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse and high suicide and unemployment rates.
“There also exists a social divide between the remnants of Mau-Mau and home guards."
"Party politics has also killed our social capital and deters the growth of the county. The little that is collected as revenue goes into people’s pockets instead.”
It’s for this reason, she said, that Kiambu needs a leader but not a ‘politician’ to unify the people and provide strategic direction.
“This is the area that I excel in, an area that has been totally neglected by the previous three governors," she said.
"Some are still fighting court battles for lack of integrity and misuse of public funds.”
Technology- curbing corruption
Gatabaki said Kiambu is a rich county endowed with agricultural wealth in the tea, coffee and pineapple sectors as well as other staple and horticultural products.
But the county’s progress has been hampered by poor revenue collection which is supposed to supplement the national government’s share.
She said one of her major achievements in the first 100 days in office if elected governor would be to digitise all the systems in all the 10 departments.
Gatabaki said she will use her vast knowledge in Information Technology and computer science to ensure that each of the 60 wards has a one-stop Huduma centre where these services will be offered online.
She wants to triple the daily revenue by the end of year 2024 from the current Sh3 billion.
In her reign, all the administrative operations will be digitised and monitored daily to seal graft loopholes.
“Technology is an enabler and not an end in itself. One of my key initiatives is the digital transformation of Kiambu,"she said.
"This will ensure that the county leverages technology to deliver services across all sectors as well as in management of day-to-day operations."
She said she will initiate a help desk which will ensure rapid response to emergencies during the day or night.
She said by institutionalising corporate governance in the day-to-day operations, transparency and accountability in use of public resources will be enhanced.
“This will go a long way to increase revenue collection, reduce siphoning of money out of the county and ultimately eradicate corruption.”
Gatabaki is remembered for revamping the Kenya Tea Development Authority by spearheading digital migration and transformation of more than 650,000 small scale farmers.
The initiative increased the farmers’ incomes by over 40 per cent and propelled KTDA to its rank as the first agribusiness to win a global technology award in USA.
“Agriculture is the backbone of Kiambu’s economy," she said.
"I will work to increase agricultural productivity for the 95 per cent smallholder farmers by stepping-up agricultural value chains."
She said the open air markets in Kiambu are in a sorry state and revamping them is a priority.
Establishing modern open markets with effective facilities for cold food storage and waste management is a priority in her agenda.
Gatabaki said her findings have established that Kiambu lacks adequate maternity wards while distribution of drugs received from KEMSA is allegedly marred by corruption and malpractices.
“We also lack labs for basic diagnostics. In addition, there exists several incomplete Level 4 hospitals which have been in deplorable state for the last five years," she said.
"I have a roadmap to address these issues and strategies toward universal health care for all in Kiambu.”
Gatabaki, promises to establish a National Hospital Insurance Fund kitty in her five-year budget.
It will cater for the less fortunate where the county will be paying Sh1,000 for each family.
“I want a county where nobody will ever be turned away from hospital because they do not have money. I will establish a kitty for NHIF as an insurance for all Kiambu residents,” she said.
Education and Internet
On education in particular the Early Childhood Development Centres, Gatabaki said statistics carried out by her team have established that 90 per cent are in bad state.
She wants an opportunity to develop them through proper infrastructure to make them habitable for the learners while offering lunch and 10 o’clock porridge to them.
The aspirant said with the CBC type of education which leverages use of technology, she will install computers and internet in the wards for easy access.
“CBC given that there are private ECDCs, is creating inequality in education as most parents in rural areas have no access to the internet," she said.
"I plan to establish a network of digital centres named 'My Digital Center' at the ward levels to ensure every child has basic access to a facility with internet."
Gatabaki has also lined up modernised training, equipment and enhanced facilitation of teachers in the technical institutions and establishing two in every Ward.
The governor hopeful said those elected, have run down the county with empty promises.
She said her priority is to unite Kiambu people, prioritise their well-being and quality of life.
Gatabaki aims to provide a strategic development plan that will transform Kiambu to a high income county with the highest per capita earnings in Kenya.
“I have been approached severally to drop my ambitions and deputise people, but my agenda will not be altered," she said.
"I am focussed on creating opportunities for all people across the socio-economic classes, including the excluded groups such as single mothers, disabled, Akorino sect, sex workers and minority ethnic groups."
She said Kiambu is at a crossroads with the current governor, Nyoro, coming into office after the second governor was impeached.
This, Gatabaki said created fear and mistrust between the Executive and the county assembly.
“I plan to establish an effective working relationship between the executive and the assembly, while ensuring that the different roles for each group are well understood and respected,” she said.
The mother of one said she draws her inspiration from her parents.
Peter Gatabaki, her father, rose from being a peasant farmer, a mau mau movement champion, a senior chief and ultimately became Githunguri MP.
“My parents are my greatest inspiration. My father was one of the champions of the independence movement under the Githunguri Teachers Training College,” she said.
“He would later after independence be unanimously appointed as a senior chief and later MP."
Gatabaki said her mother was a community development officer who championed various projects such as water projects.
She attributed her achievements to her father’s love for education.
If elected, the wife of the renowned economist David Ndii, will bring 25 years wealth of experience in strategy, consulting, organisational effectiveness and strengthening, digital transformation.
She is also well versed with performance management, leadership development and stakeholders’ engagement.
Gatabaki has served in over 15 countries including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, Malawi, Eritrea, Angola, Tunisia, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Italy and Belgium.
She has been a senior executive, advisor for large public and private sector organisations and possess excellent facilitation and training skills.
She said having developed extensive professional networks and personal credibility within public and private sectors globally, she will enjoys donor support in driving cross- sector initiatives.
Born at the sleepy village of Thakwa in Githunguri, on the outskirts of Nairobi, Gatabaki joined Kahunira Primary School and later Limuru Girls Secondary School.
She went on to join Kenyatta University where she attained her first-Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Computer Science.
Gatabaki furthered her studies in the United Kingdom based Salford University to attain a Post Graduate Diploma in Computer Science.
She later went to United States International University where she attained Master of Science in Management and Organisational Development.
She boasts of having worked for the most robust institutions including UNICEF & WFP (1997-2004).
Gatabaki served KTDA (2004-2010) as group general manager ICT where she spearheaded the digital transformation of the small-scale tea farming from production, manufacturing, logistics and warehousing.
She propelled KTDA to its rank as the first agribusiness globally to win a global technology award.
At AfDB where she served between year 2010-2014 in Tunisia, she was special advisor to First Vice President and chief operations officer (Deputy President).
She was the project leader where she led a multi-disciplinary team in translating the 10-years vision into strategic objectives and established the President’s Delivery Unit.
She was also involved in lobbying for Thika Road Superhighway facilitation.
Gatabaki was later recalled by President Uhuru Kenyatta and worked as director general and chairperson of Kenya Citizens and Foreign Nationals Management Service and Presidential Digital Transformation of Government (2014-2015).
“This was upon a request from the President. I spearheaded the national digital transformation of government programme," Gatabaki said.
Gatabaki later joined McKinsey and Co (2015-2016) serving Kenya, Ethiopia,Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda as senior public sector advisor, Eastern Africa (Partner-Level).
She led the development of high-impact public sector growth strategy aligned with each country’s development plans.
Gatabaki also served Lattice Consulting (2018-2020) Practice Leader for Public Sector.
She is the founder and managing director of Africa Aquaculture Resource Center, which aims at developing a scalable, sustainable and commercially viable aquaculture value chain to maximise the incomes for the smallholder fish farmers.
Gatabaki said political parties affiliations has been a tall order leading Kiambu to get the wrong leaders.
“Luckily, there is a wind of change in Kiambu. People have learnt from their past mistakes. They are now ready to elect people because of their understanding of the current issues affecting them," she said.
"I will therefore not join UDA or Jubilee, but join a neutral party where I can focus on issue-based politics that will improve the lives of people in Kiambu.”
She said her greatest challenge is leaving a legacy rather than being affiliated to other people.
“What I struggle with in my political career is being referred to either as Gatabaki’s daughter or wife to Ndii,"
"Even when people talk about my professional achievements it's linked to being Gatabaki’s daughter or Ndii’s wife. I hope I will finally be recognised as Mwende, first woman Governor of Kiambu.”
Gatabaki said her relationship with her husband who is a close ally to the Deputy President William Ruto has always been cordial and founded on friendship.
“We believe that we have a role to play in the development of the socio-economic and political arena. Often we are aligned on the choices we make especially on serious issues affecting the country,” she says.
"He is more than a husband to me, he is the wind beneath my wings, he is my biggest critic, fun and supporter. We talk politics throughout at home and my daughter has gotten used to it.”
When not in the campaigns, Gatabaki goes for dancing classes. She believes dancing is food to the soul.
“Ndii and I walk for at least 8kms, at least four times a week. In addition, Kiambu has the highest number of golf clubs – I’m not Tiger, but I hit the course every so often,” she said.
(Edited by Francis Wadegu)