Some of us have very specific ideas about how our Government should be run, ideas that, when given the opportunity, we share with the world in sometimes insistently strident tones. Some of us have been christened by the news media and punditocracy as "governance experts" and we bring our views to the masses through media interviews and commentary panels. But despite all the expertise we share with the world on the inner workings of the Government, public service, parliament and county assemblies, we seem to have ignored the most important stakeholder: ourselves.
The shenanigans in the Meru County Government and the shambolic way in which public sanitation is managed in Nairobi City County offer a window into the reasons why these failures have come to pass. First, to Gov. Kawira Mwangaza, her musician husband, and the dodgy grounds for her impeachment by the members of the Meru County Assembly. From the news reports, Gov. Mwangaza, a minister of faith and owner of a TV station, used her faith ministry and TV station to gain popularity and, at the 2022 general election, defeated Kiraitu Murungi to become Meru's third Governor. She did this as an independent candidate no less.
She appointed her husband to a non-remunerative county government position soon after. He attended County Executive Committee meetings where he appears to have made robust interventions. He participated in Meru County Government public events, as an entertainer, at the behest of the Governor. He has made public statements regarding county government matters that have affected the relationship between the Governor and the county assembly. This has created a schism between the two offices, and led to the Governor's impeachment. In this drama, the views of the residents of Meru County have not been solicited and if they had any views at all, only the sensational and salacious parts have been shared by the news media.
All in all, it appears as if Gov. Mwangaza's claim to fame was her Christian ministry and TV station. She had parlayed both into election, first as Woam Representative and thereafter as Governor. She appears to have done little of renown in terms of governance as a Woman Representative and, if the MCAs have their way, she won't get the chance to do anything as governor, and the residents of Meru will carry on as if this kind of situation is normal.
Nairobi offers a different kind of dysfunction. Four successive governors have failed to solve the solid waste management problem. Dr. Evans Kidero, despite his apparent academic and managerial credentials, was an abject failure. His promises went unmet. So too were Mr. Mike Sonko and his successor Ms. Anne Kananu. Gov. Johnson Sakaja seems to be well on his way to abject failure on that front as well. The way the national executive is determined to undercut his authority will not help matters.
Just like in Gov. Mwangaza's case, Gov. Sakaja did not distinguish himself in the Senate during the ten years that he was a member. His popularity as a talking head on TV notwithstanding and some Bills that were enacted into law, he proved to be just as lacklustre as the majority of his fellow-parliamentarians, incapable of articulating the problems that plagued the nation's Capital or propose any lasting solutions beyond throwing good money after bad. No wonder the national executive sees no reason to refer to him when appointing task forces to solve the county's problems.
Gov. Sakaja came close to centring the residents of Nairobi in his thinking when he declared a war on noise, but the way he has ignored the law, the administrative process and the affected bar owners tells me that he thinks that he is the incarnation of Mussolini and he only need bark for everyone to cower and obey. He will fail in his endeavours because he will make compromises to protect the city's revenue base and give a free pass to religious places, especially Christian churches. His failures, though, will be starkly demonstrated as the mountains of garbage that Kidero, Sonko and Kananu (and not to forget the hapless Gen. Bad of the unwanted, unnecessary Nairobi Metropolitan Services) failed to shift.
We are not absolved or blameless. We make excuses for why we are not engaged in the civic matters of our counties. We shift responsibility for our civic failures to others. We only engage in political activity in the narrowest possible way: political party nominations (in political parties we are not members of) and general elections (which he have a so-so faith in). We don't nominate people we think we need; we nominate (and elect) people who come from our "communities". And so legislative and administrative failures like Mr. Sakaja and Ms. Mwangaza, whose fame is their only credential, end up in suzerainty over us. And we wonder why we don't have all-day piped water or why garbage continues to choke our public drains and block our public thoroughfares.