It almost always comes as a surprise when a Kenyan will robustly defend under-performers in the public service with a roster of excuses that a child of five will see for what it is: arrant nonsense. My latest encounter is with a man (I will assume it is a man because men will walk through fire for other under-performing men) who can only marvel at the challenges the general in charge of the Nairobi Metropolitan Service has faced as he seeks to bring water services closer to the people.
In response to my observation that the good general is utterly useless due to the image of mikokoteni-borne water vendors plying their trade in the Central Business District, the man could not hold himself back and had to remind me that the general has sunk 300 boreholes in informal settlement. I didn't have the heart to tell him that he had missed the point, especially when we limbered up and declared, "Nairobi cannot be overhauled in two years", completely forgetting that rapid results was what the general promised when he took up this additional duty.
If the general had bothered to ask, he would have been told that water services are not for the unprepared. The redoubtable Martha Karua faced entrenched resistance from cartels and vested interests when she initiated reforms in the water sector. If for nothing else, Ms karma is remembered in Government for the preparations she made for the water reforms, and the skills she demonstrated when she overcame resistance to her form agenda. The general does not have Ms Karua's skills. He may be a hotshot over at the Airforce, but he is woefully out of his depth when it comes tot he delivery of efficient, effective and affordable water services.
It is not unpatriotic to point this out. He is simply not qualified to manage water services. He isn't trained to do so. He has not worked int he water sector. He didn't have a plan to improve water services when he was appointed to his current post. All he had to go on were his prejudices - which are, in fact - the appointing authority's prejudices - when to comes to how residents of Nairobi access water services. It is why the general celebrates - and is celebrated for - the sinking of boreholes in informal settlements as opposed to being celebrated for ensuring water services are provided at the lowest cost possible to the widest number of city residents without having to rely on expensive boreholes or contend with the environmental damage caused to water tables and wetlands.
Further, merely reminding me that Mr Sonko, the recording artist formerly known as Governor Bling Bling, was worse is not proof that the general is better at anything to do with municipal services. It is only proof that Nairobi's residents have been ill-served by its elected and appointed officials, and that there are no shortcuts to good service. Had the general been asked to modernise Kenya's Airforce, no one would have batted an eyelid; he is, after all, general in the airforce, where he has trained professionally for decades to rise to his current rank. Unfortunately, he came to municipal services without training, experience or a plan. Nairobi continues to pay the price for his ineptitude. His temporary duty assignment cannot end soon enough.