For close to a week now, no other story has dominated local news headlines, social media conversations and even bar talk than the swearing in of the second batch of governors elected under the Constitution of Kenya 2010.
But perhaps, this once-in-five years event wouldn’t have created so much hysteria were it not for the manner in which, the newly elected first term county CEOs are handling the seemingly too much power that comes with one being referred as ‘Your Excellency,’ even before they settle in their new offices.
The latest Council of Governors’ members appear determined to not just throw their predecessors (also potential future opponents) into the political dustbin for good, but are also keen to sink into the ever receptive brain of Wanjiku, their ‘transformation agenda’ by all means.
Sadly, in their bid to fulfill the above mission, a good number of them are getting it all wrong.
It all began with Ferdinard Waititu (Kiambu) whose first order of business after taking the oath of office, was to send on compulsory leave, dozens of county employees who served in the outgoing William Kabogo administration.
Initially, most Kenyans including me, assumed that the move by the controversial Punjab educated political survivor was just another copy and paste maneuver many of his kind are addicted to. After all, his counterpart and arguably Kenya’s most celebrated governor, Dr Alfred Mutua had not long earlier, sent home albeit temporarily, more than 400 of his finance officers pending an audit, immediately he was sworn in for a second term.
But everything took an interesting turn on Monday and Tuesday when two more new governors, Kiraitu Murungi of Meru and Muthomi Njuki of Tharaka Nithi suspended not just top officials in their counties but also staff as junior as town administrators!
Garissa’s Ali Korane has also initiated a crackdown on the employees of his predecessor’s administration.
This worrying pattern now appears more like the rule than the exception among the new county bosses. More such arbitrary firing of county workers seems to be on the way.
So, what is this firing, suspending and compulsory leave euphoria all about?
I will explain my interpretation using an analogy.
Not very many years ago, after appearing on the golden list of the select few high school students who had successfully cracked the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) mystery to gain entry into public universities under the then Government Sponsored Programme (popularly referred to as JAB), I was admitted as a freshman at the University of Nairobi.
Now, for the millennial who might not understand what that coveted JAB admission meant, here is a brief overview.
Back then, each village across the country eagerly waited for the release of the KCSE results by the Education Minister (not a CS) around the end of February of each year; to know if any of their sons had acquired a B+ grade (in the previous year’s national exam) that was the JAB pass mark.
And when the results were finally out, any fellow who had successfully weathered the Paul Wasanga-led KNEC storm would instantly become the celebrity of the village. Even your githeri lunch would make it as breaking news in the village 411, freely peddled by the ever talented Mama Wanjiku News Network. Overnight, you became the child to be emulated across the ridges.
From that point, your life became much easier.
With that victory came an almost automatic teaching job at the local day secondary school to enable you pass time as you waited to get the university admission letter that came two years later. I personally taught History and Kiswahili for one full year.
But the climax of it all would come when you joined campus and then came back home for holiday, two semesters later.
One usually made sure that their first homecoming was memorable enough.
Armed with some savings from the HELB loan disbursements, you would go back home in a new oversize suit, a briefcase, a sophisticated communication gadget and above all, a brain full of incomprehensible Harold Lasswell & Emile Durkheim jargon with which, you would terrorize clueless villagers with, to no end.
A campus freshman in the village back then, alikuwa ndiye kusema.
Of course, to maintain your new status, you would dismiss and avoid anyone who dared challenge you or posed any risk of bewitching you (out of envy), so that you could not complete your degree.
But as the years progressed and the freshman was finally able to demystify campus, he eventually realized how childish his initial behaviour was. Respect for the shoeless villagers who you had shamelessly despised before would slowly creep back.
By the time you graduated and got your first job, you would be very conversant with how important it was, to consult the village fundi you previously considered worthless, before constructing your first house. All over sudden, his wisdom now seemed invaluable.
Similarly, just like the village campus freshman, our new governors are currently blinded by a temporary sense of victory. After all, their KNEC (read IEBC) released their impressive results not long ago and they are now in power.
Like the freshman who had just returned to the village, they are trying to shine by all means and the most popular way to make that happen seems to be showing the contempt card to any soul that may disagree with them in the future. That’s why they are on a firing mission; firing everyone to no end!
In addition, the fellows appear unnecessarily threatened by those employees who served their predecessors as if the innocent workers might bewitch (read betray) and consequently disrupt the new governor’s term midway.
So will this haphazard firing make these new governors any better?
Me thinks no. In fact it might hurt them more.
Because of one simple reason.
The entire county staff overhaul process is more emotion rather than reason driven. Just like the excited freshman, the governors are firing even blameless employees, either to prove to Wanjiku that they are real change agents or they are simply trying to get rid of perceived moles from the previous administration.
But honestly speaking, even if it is getting rid of moles, what has it to do with town administrators, nurses, and casual employees?
Yes, a Chief of Staff, County Executive Member (CEC) or a czar (say Political Affairs Director) of the outgoing governor may do you harm politically but even the dumbest political scientist will tell you that those other folks in the lower cadres are simply harmless.
Sooner or later, those poor souls will involuntarily shift their loyalty to your administration because they have a family to feed, loans to pay and a retirement plan to think about.
Otherwise, the Moi era Assistant Chiefs and Chiefs, who run into thousands and still serve to date, would have toppled President Kenyatta’s if not Kibaki’s regime, a long time ago.
So, will these new governors realize soon enough, how childish it is to fire peanut-earning yet hardworking Kenyans simply because they look like they might disagree with you?
Will the new county chiefs realize on time how much they need the experience and structures set up by the rank and file of the first devolved government, to implement their ambitious development agenda?
Or, will they continue with their sacking expedition and end up with nothing in 2022?
Only time will tell.