Governor Kivutha Kibwana takes the business of running Makueni county so seriously he makes some of his peers look like leadership toddlers. The governor knows nothing less than superlative service is expected from an elected leader.
The responsibility is greater for those who won free and fair elections with a popular vote. Those who bought their way through parties and handouts can enjoy for now, as they indulge in corruption and murderous passions.
Kibwana approaches devolution with such a high sense of responsibility. The law professor demonstrates a V8, with a robust engine and technological precision, cannot compete on the road of devolution with feeble Vitz-size posturing of some of his colleagues.
The non-starters should have been recalled. But recall is only possible if the electorate had a consciousness that values public participation, interrogates performance, costs, results, and regularly demands value for public money. Counties need this consciousness to make devolution work. This consciousness enhances public participation, through real time audit of public resources
Do not ask where Kibwana gets the money to leave a mark where others wobble. Do not ask where he gets the time to interact with village-level audiences. While other governors yodel in illusions of grandeur, suffer constipation of their self-importance, or seek leisure and pleasure in faraway towns, Kibwana remains a public servant. He works, talks, and weeps with the people.
During the turbulent era of rising demands for change in the mid-1990s, Kibwana was always available for consultation. A chick that would grow into the cock of the homestead is known on the day it is hatched.
I once called him out. He asked me to pick a venue - not so far from the University of Nairobi. He was the first to show up for the appointment, with Supreme Court judge Justice Smokin Wanjala. Wanjala was learning at the feet of then Dean of the Faculty of Law at UoN. Kibwana was a quintessential activist of the change movement.
The face of Wote, the Makueni county headquarters, is changing, as other towns that host county headquarters, like Homa Bay, suffer criminal neglect. Public infrastructure is worse off than it was before devolution, now in its seventh year.
Some governors from dysfunctional counties do not understand how Kibwana gets it right when they cannot even pay salaries, provide water, build classrooms for early childhood education, buy drugs, and attract and retain medical doctors.
Kibwana is adding value to agricultural produce, as other counties are stuck at the promise gate. He is creating jobs for the youth, as other counties engage their relatives and goons-for-hire as ghost workers.
Some governors cannot even conspire competently, leaving smoking guns at every turn. A bank account of one governor’s secretary has been frozen, with Sh400 million. The secretary’s monthly salary is Sh60,000.
Expect nothing much from sleeping counties when you hear a grieving mother of a murdered university student say, “we were promised a tender”. Some of these tenders are known to conscientious residents.
The 47 counties rely on the National Treasury for up to 95 per cent of their funding. The rest comes from partnerships with development partners, and local revenue. In some counties local revenues are eaten at source. Executives are eating. Small people are also fiddling with the money they handle.
Do not ask where Kibwana gets ideas to fly when others are crawling. The man went to the right schools for his academic work. But he has also attended the best local school: The one serious leaders need to understand community development.
The man knows Makueni and understands. He knows the development priorities and the potential of Makueni. But Kibwana has added value to the knowledge. He has a system of assessing county priorities by subcounties, wards, locations, and sublocations.
The donkey is tired. You mount a mule only if it cooperates by leaning backwards.