Wednesday, November 13, 2013

THE DRAMATIC TRANSFORMATION OF GOVERNOR ALFRED MUTUA

More than one year ago, the media and online bloggers were throwing all manner of adjectives - and expletives - at the Kenya Government Spokesman Alfred Mutua.  Some called him a "sycophant." Others a "verbal acrobat." One  even called him "Comical Ali" after the Iraq Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, who vigorously defended the brutal actions of dictator Saddam Hussein. Many thought Mutua was too verbose, sometimes brutally arrogant, in his defence of the government of Mwai Kibaki. Others dismissed him as a spin doctor deployed to protect the ruling class.

Dr. Mutua, a former journalism professor and film maker, was vilified by the opposition but exalted by government functionaries. He spent eight years defending Kibaki. At one time he denied there was hunger even as thousands of Kenyans were dying. When, at the height of the post-election violence of 2008, Mutua announced that "Kenya is not burning"; and when he dismissed Nobel Prize winner Desmond Tutu, as a "tourist" after the South African cleric had arrived to help resolve the political crisis between Kibaki and Raila Odinga; and when he remarked that the Ghanaian leader John Kufuor was only coming to Kenya to have tea with Kibaki and not to mediate, many Kenyans felt the Government Spokesman had crossed the line.

But that was then.

Today, Dr. Mutua is the Governor of Machakos, and virtually all critics - except perhaps Senator Johnstone Muthama - have vanished. And they have not just vanished. They are now his biggest supporters and well-wishers urging him to go for the presidency in 2017.

Why? Because Mutua has soared beyond expectations. He has raised the bar. He has shocked the doubting "Thomases." He has emerged as the most active, the most scintillating, and the most focused of all the 47 county governors.

While his colleagues were squabbling over salary increases, Mutua was busy forming his county government, drawing his development plan, reaching out to investors and visualising the Machakos city - one of the most ambitious projects ever dreamt. He didn't wait for the law to fly the national flag. He didn't wait for a nod to construct his own lantern complete with the words "Governor of Machakos." boldly embossed on it. He just went ahead and did what he thought represented his office..

When he resigned from his position in Government to contest the governorship in September 2012, most Kenyans sighed: good riddance, but Mutua had already set his agenda. He told journalists that Machakos was the county of the future "because we are going to build an Internet city, a global communication centre in that county which will serve the whole of Africa." He said Machakos needed a leader who was corruption free, a visionary, young and energetic.

And finally when he unveiled what he dreams will be the city of Machakos recently, Kenya gasped. The artist's impression given in a promotional video clip gave an impression of a "First World" city with shiny, glassy sky scrappers, plenty of recreational facilities, clean residential estates and no slums. It was more than Nairobi,  more than Johannesburg and more than anywhere else. It was Utopian.

It must be noted, however, that so far, almost all of Mutua's plans of action remain a dream: an entertainment centre for films, music and the arts he calls Machawood (after Hollywood) is miles away. He says there are 40 ambulances on the high seas. He talks of buying 150 police cars. And he says his county government will plough for free land belonging to 1,000 poor farmers in each ward, subsidise seeds and fertilisers and even provide a market for their produce. All these are promises yet to be fulfilled. Kenyans are waiting with bated breath to see if they will be actualised.

Having lived in this country for most of my life, (and a politician myself) I have learnt to take political promises with a pinch of salt. Kenyans have built castles in the air far too many times and for too long to convince me - at this early stage - that what Mutua is talking about will come to fruition. Already, we are seeing a deliberate opposition from some quarters on the city he wants to build. This is just the beginning. There will be saboteurs, schemers and even criminals who will do everything to torpedo the good work Mutua is trying to do for his people. The government should be there to protect the common good.

In the meantime, Kenyans continue to be amazed by the dramatic transformation of the small man with a sharp tongue who has moved from the round corridors of power at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre to the Governor's mansion with all the trappings of power: a large high-end- furnished office, armed security in tow and a large staff component to supervise.

How the public will view Mutua in the long run - whether or not he is presidential material - will be seen in the next four years when Kenyans will know from his actions: whether he is a doer or just an empty calabash; a saviour or a political charlatan.

And that is my say