From a distance, Kilifi Deputy Governor Gideon Saburi appears like a serious, no nonsense person who rarely smiles or laughs. But those who have interacted with him paint a picture of a charming and jovial person.
But this week, Saburi was neither charming nor jovial when he was on the receiving end of Kenyans on social media after he refused to self-quarantine after returning from a trip in Germany.
He later tested positive for coronavirus. Since then, 17 police officers who arrested him have been placed under quarantine.
Other people in contact with the DG are still being identified. Those who know the politician say dodging isolation did not come as a surprise.
He has always been stubborn and sticks to his guns, they say.
He shocked many when he quit the county government, where he served as minister of roads in 2015, to go back to lecturing at Technical University of Mombasa.
This followed his transfer to the ministry of trade during the first term of Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi.
Henry Mwakoyo Lewa, Saburi’s personal assistant, describes him as a polite man with a sense of humour who avoids confrontation.
“He is a generous person, always ready to listen and assist where possible,” he said, adding that “although he is still new in politics, he mingles easily with people irrespective of their background, race, political affiliation and economic status”.
Saburi joined active politics in 2017 after Kingi settled on him as a replacement for slain Kenneth Kamto.
A gang of three masked men shot Kamto dead inside his house in the upmarket Nyali Estate, Mombasa, in December 2018.
The two had fallen out paving the way for Saburi to become second in command.
Earlier, the governor had opted to defend his seat on an ODM ticket while Kamto defected to Jubilee Party, where he became the running mate of Kingi’s political opponent Gideon Mung’aro.
Analysts say that Kingi opted for Saburi as a running mate to win over the vote-rich Rabai community.
Having worked with Kingi as roads and infrastructure executive between 2013 and 2015, Saburi was delighted when the governor approached him to become his running mate during the 2017 elections.
“I have a good working relationship with the governor; I have never been in a dispute with him since I discharge my duties diligently. Sometimes I even use my own resources to deliver my mandate,” Saburi said. When asked why he quit his job as roads executive to go back to the lecturing, he said he was unable to offer his best service.
“When I saw that I wasn’t giving what wananchi deserved, I opted to quit than continue drawing a salary,” he said.
Critics, however, associated his exit with King’s move to transfer him to the trade and tourism portfolio, which had nothing to do with his profession.
Although some people have criticised him for being a selfish and a self-centred politician, Saburi said he is a mentor who is ready to dedicate his time and expertise to people.
“I dedicate my time to the people, sometimes I might not satisfy them materially but I always dedicate my time and offer advice, many have benefited from it,” he said.
Saburi, who has not openly declared his interest to succeed Kingi in 2022, has got a lot of flak for his perceived poor public speaking skills.
“He has not mastered the art of public speaking to appeal to people’s emotions. His speeches are flat and boring. He speaks to locals as if he is delivering a lecture,” said a political rival who sought anonymity.
Saburi was even accused of failure to wow the crowd during the hotly contested Ganda by-election after Kingi tasked him with the responsibility of leading the campaign against Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa’s preferred candidate.
“He had all the resources - the stage and the crowd - but failed to utilise the chance to the maximum to prepare the ground for 2022 politics.
“Were it not for the other ODM legislators backing him, Jumwa’s candidate could have won the by-election,” the source said.
During the by-election, Saburi portrayed an image of a loyal and hard working person who followed up on every detail to an extent of being thrown out of a tallying centre.
His bachelor and master's degrees are in engineering.
He is a former chairman of the Building and Civil Engineering Department at the Technical University of Mombasa.
Earlier, he worked as an engineer in the Public Works ministry and the Kenya Wildlife Service department until 2013 when he joined the Kilifi County government.
He is a patron of Bahari Cultural Expo in Malindi, which is organised by Mseto Africa Ltd to promote culture and tourism in the resort town.