Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu hit the ground running after her inauguration on August 21st, rolling out health, water and wealth creation programmes to tackle poverty among residents of her county.
Having inherited a government whose development priorities were poles apart from the manifesto that propelled her to office, Mrs Ngilu embarked on radical changes to align the county’s plans with her five-point agenda.
In the first 100 days she has been in charge, Mrs Ngilu has pursued trade treaties with lucrative foreign markets for local produce with the aim of empowering Kitui farmers and has also launched an ambitious overhaul of the county’s health sector.
Last month, in a partnership with Kenya Red Cross Society, the governor distributed 400 tons of green gram seeds worth Sh108 million to more than 200,000 households in the county.
Each household got 2kgs of free seeds as part of the capacity building programme, from which they are expected to harvest at least 200 kilos for the export market in January.
“If each kilo of seeds yields a minimum of 100 kilos of produce, this will give our county a total of 40,000 metric tons of green grams,” Mrs Ngilu explains, adding that if the harvest was sold at a conservative price of Sh100 per kilo it will earn the county an estimated Sh4 billion in one season.
The seeds subsidy, she says, is in addition to what the farmers themselves will buy from shops and that the initiative will improve the livelihoods of residents and reduce poverty by putting money in their pockets.
According to Red Cross Secretary General Abass Gullet, the society has set aside Sh500 million to facilitate the export of the green grams – Ndengu in Swahili – from local farmers to shield them from exploitation by middle men.
Mr Gulet said the demand for Kenyan green grams in Asian countries including India, China, Japan, and Pakistan and also Saudi Arabia, among others, is inexhaustible.
The programme dubbed the 'Ndengu revolution', has seen the county government engage more partners like Kephis, South Eastern Kenya University and First American Bank to offer research and financial support.
Mrs Ngilu wants the Kitui County Assembly to enact strict legislation to protect farmers from brokers who exploit them with poor prices, saying her administration has secured good overseas markets for the anticipated harvest.
“We must refocus our development agenda with the knowledge that devolution was not just about putting up concrete structures – brick and mortar – but about developing people’s capacities to unshackle them from poverty,” she says.
During campaigns leading to the August 8 elections, Mrs Ngilu promised to exploit her international networks to make Kitui a model county in the provision of quality and affordable healthcare within her first 100 days in office.
And in her first week in office, she secured donor support from Jhpiego, an international non-profit health organisation affiliated with United States’ Johns Hopkins University, to recruit 60 nurses.
In the midst of the nurses’ strike, the American donor also provided four mobile clinics and gave Kitui County funds to renovate dilapidated hospitals.
This month, 35 specialised medical staff comprising of 27 doctors and eight pharmacists were seconded from the Ministry of Health to ease staff shortage, while the United States government donated medical equipment worth Sh99 million.
The equipment, comprising gynaecological head lumps, digital thermometer guns, metabolic cabinets and theatre rotating stools among others, were donated by Aphia Plus health programme funded by Usaid.
However, Governor Ngilu is facing hurdles in harmonising her ambitious programmes with the county’s budget plans formulated by her predecessor, Dr Julius Malombe.
The governor argues that the current budget does not address the social and economic challenges facing the county and therefore needs major adjustments.
“The county budget passed by the previous assembly in March this year had misplaced and wrong priorities and must be aligned and geared towards [our] poverty reduction manifesto,” Mrs Ngilu said in her inaugural address to the county assembly.
Unlike most governors who defeated incumbents, Mrs Ngilu surprised many when she avoided sacking senior county officers and retained county executives and chief officers until last week.
She has demystified the governor’s office by ordering staff not to roll out red carpets and other trappings of power during her public functions saying she is only interested in effective service delivery and not personal gratification.
If she is not driving herself from home to the office, the governor is at ease holding public meetings under trees or tilling rural farms using tractors.