Why Prof. Nyong’o’s stepping forward was timely for Kisumu County

BY DAVID WANJALA

Even though Devolution is, arguably, the best thing that has ever happened in this country since independence, there are counties out there that had the misfortune of getting incompetent CEOs, by happenstance or design, as first governors.

In the hullaballoo of jostling and positioning for the stake after the promulgation of the New Constitution 2010, the political class did not understand where the real power lay in the new offices that had come along with the fresh dispensation. A majority of the senior politicians and new entrants from both civil service and private sector, believing the Senate to be an Upper House of Parliament, jostled for seats there.

They did not give governor slots serious thought until after the first term of the new dispensation that they realized that real power lay in running of the counties. That this power came with real opportunity – budget and spending muscle, which would enable one to leave a mark if she or he was in it for the sake of the people.

Woe unto those counties that have stuck with unqualified CEOs from the first mandate. We are into the second term and in eighth year since the advent of Devolution with billions of shillings have been disbursed and expended in the grassroots yet these counties have little, if anything, to show for it even as, in contrast, neighbouring counties that got it right with the choice of their first CEOs flourish.

The common denominator of incompetent county leadership, across board, is recurrent budget, especially in remuneration of bloated human resource of cronies with no development, alongside conspicuous corruption. It is no surprise that most of these incompetent second term County CEOs have spent much of their time fending off corruption charges and will continue doing so after expending their term limits.

It was the fate that the great County of Kisumu was bound to suffer were it not for the timely intervention of the good old Prof. Peter Anyang Nyong’o who dethroned the inaugural incumbent, Jack Ranguma in the last General Election. Mr Ranguma’s leadership, mired in unending squabbles that pitied the County Executive and the Assembly, was obviously not taking Kisumu County places. By the time he was leaving office, for instance, Kisumu County was heavily indebted, with pending bills to the tune of Sh3.8b.

Professor Nyong’o’s plunge into county politics was, however, not by accident. As a senior and influential politician from the region having represented Kisumu Rural Constituency in the National Assembly from 2003 to 2013 and having served, in between, as Cabinet Minister Planning and National Development, and later Medical Services, and as longest serving ODM Secretary General, he long had a keen eye on the course he wanted Kisumu County to take in light of Devolution.

“After the passing of the Constitution of 2010, we were very concerned how our counties were going to work with the new dispensation of Devolution. And regarding Kisumu County, David Nalo, who used to be my PS in Planning, and I had made an arrangement where he would be governor and I would go to the Senate. Nalo was a damn good PS and we shared things in common on how Kisumu would go forward. He was a technocrat, I was a politician so if David was Governor and I was Senator, we would move Kisumu in the right direction,” Prof. Nyong’o offers.

It was a discussion that involved ODM Party leadership and the who’s who in the County including Dr James Nyikal, now MP for Seme, former Permanent Secretary Shem Migot, and Henry Ndede among many other professionals. It was generally agreed that it was a good ticket, winning not only the endorsement of the ODM Party but also a general consensus by the constituents.

Unfortunately, Mr Nalo passed on of cancer before the elections. A replacement had to be made and that is how Jack Ranguma’s name emerged and found favour with the ODM Party.

“I knew Jack, not very well but I knew he was also a technocrat so I decided to support him. Unfortunately in the five years that he was Governor he was a big disappointment. There was virtually nothing happening in Kisumu,” Prof. Nyong’o says.

If the dream they had had with the late Nalo and other County luminaries was to be fulfilled and move Kisumu County at par with other strategic counties of the republic including Nairobi, Mombasa and Nakuru, someone had to take a bold step. Jack Ranguma had to be dislodged. Prof. Nyong’o stepped forward.

Skepticism

Prof. Nyong’o’s declaration for the seat of Governor Kisumu County was met with skepticism from political pundits who rated him high as a legislator as opposed to a manager. He had, it was averred, moved right from the lecture theatres to politics and that besides his experience as Cabinet Minister; the good old Prof. hadn’t shown any managerial capabilities in any other capacities. Three years down line under his leadership and Kisumu County is emerging.

In a recent Survey, Prof Nyong’o was ranked fourth in performance behind second term Governors of Kakamega, Kwale and Makueni Counties.

He had been prepared for this challenge all along. First, it was at the Makerere University in Uganda that young Nyong’o, doing his undergraduate, would put his managerial skills and thought leadership capabilities to test. He vied and won the Student’s Guild presidency. Under his leadership, he streamlined revenue flows by revamping the canteen and through organized dancing competitions in the main hall. From the resources, the guild was, among others, able to support students on trips abroad. He also revised the body’s constitution and ensured fairness especially in the selection of students who went on the annual trip to the US organized by the US Information Service. This had been a thorn in the flesh of the student’s body as it had initially been marred with favoritism. By the time Nyong’o left, the guild’s finances were overflowing with surplus.

After he came back from exile, Prof. Nyong’o, together with Prof. Thomas Odhiambo, founded the African Academy of Sciences. He grew the academy’s budget from $56, 000 a year to $2.8m by the time he was leaving. Besides, he facilitated the buying of land in Karen, Nairobi, where they built the academy’s headquarters.
Besides being the longest serving secretary general of the ODM Party, Prof. Nyong’o had also served in National Government as Minister, first, for Planning and National Development and, Medical Services.

“May be by the time I went to be the Governor of Kisumu, I think it wasn’t as challenging a job as what I had done before,” he says.

View of Kisumu at night

Planning. Planning. Planning

Besides the desire to deliver for the people of Kisumu, Prof. Nyong’o armed himself with a manifesto of things he needed to do when he became governor. It was from this manifesto that, together with his team, they drew a plan of action – the things they were to do within a specified period and resources that they had from development partners, National Government and from the County’s own resources. They called it a Time Action Plan, which every department of the County Executive had to adhere to.
Secondly, they identified flagship projects which included urban renewal, key road construction, value addition in agriculture, social protection and restructuring of the City of Kisumu.

The County has been able to carry the people along in the journey through yearly state of the county address where they report on where they are with the annual projects and with the multiyear projects, which are part and parcel of the flagship projects.
From the manifesto, Prof Nyong’o has distilled a 10-point programme, of the things he is determined to achieve for the County.

First, he wants to implement the Kisumu Urban Project. This is a loan facility of Sh4.5b extended to the Kisumu Municipality in 2012 by Alliance Francaise de Development through the Kenya Government. It was for integrated development programmes in the county including schools, roads and modernization of markets. Only schools were started in the first phase of Devolution but were also not finished.

“When I committed myself to finishing these projects, it was a relief to both the French and the Kenyan Governments. So we came and embarked on that frontally. I will tell you that all the projects that were supposed to be done have been done except for the Jubilee Market which is going to be implemented from 2022,” the Governor offers.

They are also working on Kibuye Market, by the Urban Support Programme and Otonglo, by the Kisumu Urban Project.

The governor has also committed to ensuring that conditional grants given to the County, including the Kenya Urban Support Programme and Kenya Devolution Support Programme are used expeditiously and properly. The Social Centre was, for instance, renewed by funds from the Kenya Urban Programme. Funds from Kenya Urban Support Programme have been used to renew the Lumumba Hospital.

He is also keen on changing the way roads are done in the County especially to achieve value for money. The County wants to move away from depending on contractors to buying own machinery and doing road maintenance. Through Kisumu Road Maintenance Teams, the County has bought equipment, employed and trained the youth and embraced the old Public Works Department system through which it has vowed to maintain its roads infrastructure.

The County has embarked on a beautification programme for the City. But broadly, it has also focused on an environmental programme for the entire County that would involve aforestation, dyking among others.

Keen on taking services beyond the City of Kisumu and closer to the people, the County has, after passing the necessary laws in the Assembly, appointed its village administrators. Village administration will be key for five major responsibilities including food production where the County is giving seeds to the farmers and hence restoring household production.

Village administration will also be responsible for water in the grassroots. Where the County does a borehole for the community for instance, village administration will ensure ownership and sustenance. In the same vein, universal health, which depends on family and community health workers, and access roads, will be delivered in the grassroots through village administration.

Commerce

The rehabilitation of the port of Kisumu is something that is closer to the Governor’s heart.

“Kenya Railways and Harbours employed a lot of people and there was a lot of maritime transport in the lake, a lot of commerce among us around the lake. People from our side of the world did a lot of business in Mwanza, in Bukoba and so on and we have uncles living there. Ukerewe Island, the biggest island in L. Victoria has about a million people. If you go there you will find a lot of Luos and Luhyas from the days of this kind of thing,” relives the Governor.

To spur the blue economy on the lake, the Governor believes it will be key for the National Government to not only restore the Kisumu Port, but also the railways and harbours.

“Let us not forget Port Victoria, Sioport, Kendu Bay, Homa Bay – those were the hubs of Kenya Railways and Habours and you cannot restore the blue economy without restoring them, that is what will make the difference to us.”

The County, the Governor reveals, has embarked on a 26km lake front nature trail through the Kisumu Lake Front Development Corporation. The County corporation is chaired by former Auditor General, Edward Ouko, and is putting in about Sh30m, with the target of spurring business, more so leisure and tourism on the lakefront. The trail will later be extended to 46km.

The County, with a dry port in the lake, is also encouraging the making of fiberglass boats to move away from wooden dhows, which are now very dangerous as hardwood is no longer available.

“People use soft wood with mabati inside, when the mabati rot they get problems in the lake and we lose lives. We lose about 5400 people in the lake as a whole every year because of that kind of accident. So we hope that this fiberglass boat thing will become a big industry to employ more people,” the Governor says, adding that that is a one pull effect that he is hoping to see.

Commerce is, however, Kisumu County’s biggest economic activity. This has not escaped Nyong’o’s Government. It is for this reason that he has laid emphasis on modernizing the markets in the City. Kibuye Market, for instance, is a wholesale market for the lake region including the neighbouring counties of Kakamega, Bungoma, Busia, Siaya, Kericho, Homabay, Kisii and Migori. For this, the County Government is creating infrastructure for commerce and giving support to the SMEs.

Cry not for the collapsed industries

Kisumu County and the lake region in general have, over the years watched as industries that once thrived and drove their economic engine, collapsed. Kisumu City, a one-time beehive of industrial activity, grinded to a near halt from mid 90s as companies, including cotton milling and processing, liquor manufacturing, food and beverage processing, fish processing just to mention a few, closed shop. Together with the collapse of transport and commerce in L. Victoria among Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, the City of Kisumu lost its allure, with surging unemployment signaling a near death knell. It is Devolution that has come to the rescue of the City, and the lake region in general.

But Governor Nyong’o says, “Don’t cry about the industries that collapsed. There’s a reason why they collapsed.”
Singling out the cotton industry, for instance, the Governor says that what we need to think of is not to restore Kisumu Cotton Mills (Kicomi) as Kicomi (the old-fashioned way of milling fabrics), but rather, under our circumstances, to think of how we should revive the cotton industry to serve the needs of the 21st century.

It is a strategy about the right seeds (Bt cotton) that is adoptable to local climate and that gives high yields. Focus then would shift to value addition where the County would partner and support SMEs with interest on this front – ginneries and mills. The end products of the cotton are what the Governor is keener on – sanitary towels, for instance, so that the country ends the cycle of importation of the precious product that has ready market. That way, the cotton industry will reemerge, vibrant and stronger than the old days of Kicomi and Rivertex.

Priorities

The Governor is focused on finishing the projects in his ten-point agenda within his first term. He wants to start a second term on fresh ideas. Close to his heart is the urban renewal and affordable housing.

“We cannot,” he says, “have a City like Kisumu where you have three quarters of people living in informal sector – Obunga, Nyamasaria, Manyatta, you name them. These are very productive people but living in substandard housing. We are beginning with Makasembo as affordable housing working together with our pension fund and also in Underson Estate, using Laptrust and I think that we are going to break ground very soon.”

They are targeting two model estates for affordable housing and urban renewal. They are, for instance, engaging Shelter Afrique to do Kaloleni, which is the oldest estate in Kisumu. So far, the estate now has the best infrastructure in the city

Definitely, the Governor hit the ground running. Amidst the initial hiccups, more so the mess from the previous regime that he had to deal with especially regarding indebtedness of the County, a rogue County Speaker in the name of Onyango Oloo that the County had to find a way of replacing and, of course the unending issues of delayed release of funds from National Government, he has done well for the County.

Prof. Nyong’o has managed to reclaim Kisumu County from the manacles of incompetence of the first term administration, which many other counties are still held hostage to and suffering from.

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