Nyeri Governor Wahome Gakuru, who died in a freak road crash on Tuesday, was a man with big dreams for Kenya and his county.
An academic and former director of Vision 2030 – the national development blueprint – Dr Gakuru’s last public engagement was a summit on Friday with his colleagues from central Kenya whose agenda was to revive the dilapidated railway line from Nairobi to Nanyuki.
Under the plan, each of the eight counties would contribute Sh100 million to start the Sh25 billion project.
Afterwards, there would be plans to build a line from Nanyuki to Kenya’s border with Ethiopia through Isiolo.
“Infrastructure is key to growing our regions and none is more crucial than this railway,” Dr Gakuru said at the meeting.
As a director of Vision 2030 in the Mwai Kibaki administration, Dr Gakuru was one of the brains behind the big infrastructure projects whose aim was to make Kenya a middle income economy in two decades.
And, having won the Nyeri governor’s seat in the second attempt, his bid to put into reality the big dreams he had ended tragically on a notorious stretch of Thika highway.
He becomes the second Nyeri governor to die in office after Nderitu Gachagua died of illness earlier this year.
Dr Gakuru, 51, died after his official vehicle hit a rail guard at Makenji near Kabati in Murang’a County.
Witnesses said the vehicle swerved off the road following a tyre burst.
“I was walking to the farm when I heard a loud bang on the highway. On checking, I saw a car sandwiched between guard rails with the driver trying to pull out one of the occupants of the wreckage.
"The guard rails tore into the Mercedes Benz and pierced through the governor’s lower limbs,” Ms Lydia Muthoni said.
Dr Gakuru was heading to Kameme TV studios in Nairobi for a morning show.
The governor’s personal assistant, Mr Albert Kaguru, and his bodyguard, Corporal Ahmed Abdi, sustained serious injuries on their legs and arms and were rushed to Aga Khan Hospital.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, his Deputy William Ruto and Opposition leader Raila Odinga led leaders in eulogising the governor as a gallant leader whose contribution to Kenya’s economy was outstanding.
Dr Gakuru was a visionary with tough administrative skills to match.
He eschewed trappings of power, preferring to sit in the front seat of his car and having lunch at random restaurants in Nyeri.
But, once in a while, he let his competitors know he had a sharp mind.
When the Nyeri gubernatorial debate was held in 2013, candidates were asked about their qualifications and each went on about their first degrees and masters.
Dr Gakuru was the last and he calmly replied: “I am the teacher of their teachers.”
Born in Kirichu, a sleepy often cold village in Nyeri Town constituency, Dr Gakuru had said in an earlier interview that he knew that only education could pull him out of poverty.
“It was my trump card,” the governor said.
And he seized it with both hands, first earning a degree in Business Administration from the University of Nairobi and a Masters from the same institution.
Dr Gakuru won scholarships to the US to study at the Willamette University and later attained his PhD at Arizona State University.
He was a member of the prestigious Harvard Business School Institute of Competitiveness and Strategy.
Although he served in different organisations, including at Equity Bank and as an adviser at the UN, he was best known for his role in formulating the Vision 2030.
But his success in academics and the corporate world was at first difficult to replicate in politics.
On January 2013, as President Kibaki was preparing to retire, the Nyeri elite met to discuss the future of the country’s politics.
They needed candidates who could continue Kibaki’s legacy at the national stage and locally.
They agreed to back then Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta for President and Dr Gakuru as Nyeri’s first governor.
President Kibaki bought the idea.
With the President’s backing, Dr Gakuru won the nominations of TNA, then the most popular party in the region, and was set to face GNU’s Nderitu Gachagua, a battle-hardened former Mathira MP with a knack for hard-tackle politics.
Dr Gakuru had the money, backing from the elite and a good CV. The momentum was on his side.
But a few weeks to elections, the tide started turning against him. Rumours started flying around that he was not from Nyeri.
Leaflets suggesting that he did not have a home in the county were also dropped in shopping centres.
Hawkers were told he would evict them if he won. A few days to the March 4, 2013 elections, most of Gakuru’s campaigners defected to the Gachagua camp, costing him the election.
Dr Gakuru managed 126,776 against Gachagua’s 137,469 votes. Real politics had triumphed over grand plans.
“I learnt my lesson. I will always work with people I trust,” he told the Nation in July this year.
Gachagua lost his battle for life to pancreatic cancer on February 24 after he succumbed at a London hospital.
During his second attempt on August 8 this year, Dr Gakuru was elected with a landslide after garnering 242,919 votes, defeating incumbent Samuel Wamathai who got 76,055.
Though soft spoken, Dr Gakuru was a strong-willed person.
After the reign of the abrasive Gachagua, Dr Gakuru promised a different kind of leadership.
And he did — mostly projecting an image of a soft-spoken but resilient man.
Before his death, he had spent time with one of his three sons, who is a candidate at Alliance Boys’ High School.
He was with his wife, Catherine Wahome.
“Live a life full of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us …” was one of his last tweets on Sunday.
Every time he took the mic to address the locals, he would start off with “Nii nio governor wanyu Dagitari Wahome wa Gakuru” (It’s me your governor Dr Wahome Gakuru).
During his swearing-in, he discouraged leaders and locals from calling him “Your Excellency” until he proved he was worthy of the title.
He had promised to revamp agriculture, encourage value addition and crack down against corrupt officers.
Additional reporting by Mary Wambui