The quarrel over Machakos satelite city is a clash between past and future

Thursday November 14 2013

President Uhuru Kenyatta is taken on a tour of

President Uhuru Kenyatta is taken on a tour of the proposed New Machakos Recreation Park by Governor Alfred Mutua during the official launch of the City and Investment Programme in Machakos County on November 8, 2013. PHOTO: Jennifer Muiruri 

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The clash between Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua and the local senator, Mr Johnstone Muthama, is a classic case of the future-meets-past.

The two are in court and I would not want to get in trouble by commenting on the issues being litigated, but based on their public statements, a stark picture of leadership in devolved Kenya emerges.

Dr Mutua is, I think, my contemporary. He started his career here in the Daily Nation as a travel columnist. But it is as Government Spokesman that he came to public attention.

He did not always come across as a paragon of gravitas, generally being a man who talks too much. And his decision to speak, not for the whole government but for the side buttering his bread, namely former President Kibaki’s side, cost him a few admirers.

It is through his performance at, first, the party gubernatorial nominations and later at the elections that he won the respect of many of his critics.

He wasn’t all mouth, after all. Without necessarily arguing that he is an angel from Planet Jupiter, which he is not, he has something different to offer as a governor. He is ambitious and quite bold in his development pipe-dreams. 

And the way he is thinking of taking advantage of Masaku’s biggest asset -– the fact that it is 40 kilometres from Nairobi – shows that a leader with a PhD is perhaps better than one who has barely scraped through the hallowed halls of the village poly. 

A good example is the preparations that Machakos is making to its stadium to host international matches. It’s good publicity for the town and revenue right there that I probably would not have thought of.

Mutua is a man of razzmatazz, a PR man who might place greater value on the presentation, rather than substance, an appreciator more of the sizzle than the sausage. But David Cameron is a PR man and is getting on quite well.

But it is in his dream of dreams, the new city, which defines his kind of leadership which, in my view, is what the future of counties will be made of. The former Masaku County Council had 2,000 acres of land which the governor is proposing to give free to investors. They will build factories and service facilities, creating hundreds of jobs and wealth for the county.

One further encomium: we are fighting governors for spending huge sums of money to build offices for themselves. The Machakos solution of getting corporates to donate materials, I thought, was quite good. Why haven’t the others thought of it?

Let me say I have no superior knowledge of the workings of the Machakos county government. I don’t know whether the schemes are honest and will work as advertised. I am just shooting off my mouth on the basis of information in the public domain.

Mr Muthama, on the other hand, is a dyed-in-the-wool old school, fiery politician, given to the issuance of strong statements and a manic abundance of energy.

He says he is completely suspicious of Mutua’s plans; why is he giving away good land for free? Sell it, he says. By his mathematics, if the land was sold, it would realise Sh24 billion which should be equally distributed to every Machakos constituency for building water dams/pans.

Machakos is a dry area, so I guess the people and their animals would have a refreshing drink from the dams/pans. Others may use it for irrigation and grow more food. And so on. This is a somewhat practical approach to development, I’ll grant you that.

So there are two visions: one for a city of the future, another for water dams/pans. The past runs slam into the future.


Talking counties, the governor of Tharaka Nithi county, a Mr Ragwa, is talking lawsuits and land-grabbing. He has laid claim to Meru National Park, which everyone thought was in Meru County, and promised to go to the Supreme Court to settle an old land dispute. 

He has sworn not to use alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, such as calling in elders who adjudicate in such cases, to resolve the matter.

In the neighbouring Embu county, there is talk of an international airport and applying some Brazilian technology to build roads cost-effectively.

If your county government is not going global and thinking big, it will look for some village quarrel to waste your future on.