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October 22, 2018

Jubilee Could Face A '47 Vs 1' 2017 Contest

President Uhuru Kenyatta at Marikiti Market Mombasa. Photo/Andrew Kasuku
President Uhuru Kenyatta at Marikiti Market Mombasa. Photo/Andrew Kasuku

When President Uhuru Kenyatta spent a month working from State House in Mombasa and touring various parts of the Coast region, Siaya Governor Cornel Rasanga suggested the President was on ‘holiday’ in Mombasa.

At the same time media reports quoted a ‘furious Mombasa Governor’ explaining his frustrations in being ‘sidelined’ during the President’s stay in Mombasa.

He claimed he was just seeing “Uhuru walking around”. He then went on to equate this ‘bad treatment’ he was receiving to what he called a ‘hatred for Mombasa’.

One would be forgiven if they assumed that this has everything to do with Cord governors. However the motivations behind the ridiculous statements by the Mombasa and Siaya governors are the same as those driving the rebellion from Meru Governor Peter Munya and Bomet Governor Isaac Rutto against Jubilee.

To understand the concerns of these governors and every other governor we need to look at another political event that happened in Mombasa immediately after the President ended his coastal working visit.

During the unveiling of the controversially renamed Fidel Odinga Street Cord leader Raila Odinga sensationally claimed that Uhuru had taken credit for the Mwangaza Mitaani street lighting project, while it was actually a World Bank-funded programme!

Raila was telling the Mombasa electorate that the new electricity connections in Mombasa and other parts of the country have nothing to do with the (national) Jubilee government.

This is an utterly ridiculous claim from someone who has been a co-leader of the national government, and still wants to be President.

It is like claiming that because you built your home with a mortgage from the National Bank of Kenya, credit for that achievement should be given to the bank and not you!

However, Raila was leveraging the fears that all governors have as we head into the next general election. They are scared that the national government will benefit from the developments implemented in their respective counties, at the governors’ expense.

To push back against this we must expect a lot more effort by county governments to limit national government influence to Nairobi and aggressive attempts by the respective county administrations to own any development projects implemented in their counties by the national government and where that fails, pass it on to a third party who does not threaten their political supremacy, like the World Bank.

This fight between national and county governments will also not follow party lines; each governor will exert his ‘independence’ so as to convince his electorate that all the projects in the county are due to his efforts alone.

This introduces a unique challenge to the Jubilee administration as it is the first time in Kenya’s history when a national government risks not getting credit for work it has done.

This historical perspective means the national government is not structured to ‘sell’ its achievements; it expects that any development seen will be attributed to its work.

However they now must go up against wild assertions at county level as county governments attempt to run away with the national government’s achievements in land, education, healthcare, economic growth or even security.

The national government should not get surprised even if some governor somewhere claims that whatever portion of the Standard Gauge Railway his local electorate sees crossing his county was built by his county government.

As I said when this year began, the silly season is here with us.

An interesting area will be in the energy sector. In 2013 Kenya had one million electricity connections. Today Kenya has over 3.4 million households connected to the national grid.

Essentially Jubilee has done twice the work done by all previous administrations combined over the last 50 years, in three years. However the reality is that every single one of the 2.4 million new connections has been made in one county or the other.

The national government must get smart, devolve its achievements, personalise them at very local level, and then aggressively own them.

People in Taita Taveta county who have never had electricity in their entire life must know that when they now press a switch and a light bulb goes on it is because the national government is working.

Limuru parents whose children can now stay in school during heavy mist because there is electricity must understand that it is the national government behind it.

The Kenyans who will benefit from the three million title deeds this administration will have issued by next year must give credit where it is due — the national government.

In short the Jubilee national government must understand that in addition to the normal political competition it expects, it must prepare for a ’47 versus 1’ contest in 2017.

Ngunjiri is a director of Change Associates, a political communications consultancy.

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