Natembeya: I am a project of the people for the people, with no regrets

Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya. (Courtesy)

What inspired you to enter politics, and what motivated your decision to run for governor? 

The realisation that I was benefitting myself by holding high administrative office in the land and not the general public made me resign from serving in the Ministry of Interior as a Regional Commissioner to vie for political office where I have added the opportunity to shepherd the development of my people. 

Tell us about Tawe and some of the changes you have implemented since taking office? 

Tawe is a Luhya word for no. In the context of our emerging movement, it embodies a rejection of bad governance and a rallying call for fresh ideas in our political landscape. We reject corruption, partisan gridlock, obstructionism, lack of transparency, and negative campaigning.

We advocate for a new approach rooted in accountability, integrity, and genuine concern for the well-being of our nation. I have launched a comprehensive programme aimed at distributing high-quality, free seeds and fertiliser to our predominantly farming community.

I have also spearheaded a transparent bursary allocation initiative and started talks to establish a university in Trans Nzoia. Transitioning from the previous Ford-K regime with inherited dispensaries, we have diligently constructed Level Four hospitals throughout the county. Presently, we are in the final stages of completing the ambitious Wamalwa Kijana Referral hospital project, a testament to our commitment to enhancing healthcare accessibility and quality for all. 

How do you balance your energetic approach with the need for consensus and cooperation in governance?

Our Constitution framework entails a collaborative effort between the governor and the assembly. Within our vibrant assembly, there’s a diverse spectrum of 25 elected and eight nominated MCAs, spanning across political affiliations, with whom we have fostered a harmonious rapport. As we ascend the hierarchy, interactions with certain MPs have not been as seamless. Nevertheless, our county’s progress remains steadfast, undeterred by occasional dissent from one or two MPs in Trans Nzoia. We had minor disagreements with my deputy Philomena Kapkory, but we resolved them amicably.  

Being a disruptor in the political arena can sometimes lead to pushback. How do you handle criticism and opposition to your policies?

In my time in political office, I have come to recognise that much of the criticism directed my way is not always straightforward. But I have learnt the importance of embracing criticism constructively. Take, for instance, the disparaging remarks hurled by certain MPs with whom I have had no prior interaction.

They have resorted to name-calling simply because I dared to question the effectiveness of Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula in championing the rights of their people, despite their long-standing roles as purported Mulembe kingpins.

Someone is also planting Susan Nakhumicha (Health Cabinet Secretary)  as my potential replacement, that is quite laughable. I have, however, chosen not to dwell much on such negativity, as the overwhelming support from the mwananchi from across the country reaffirms the validity of my actions. 

Many young people look up to you as a role model. What advice do you have for aspiring leaders?

I love it that the majority of the Kenyan voter is young and increasingly liberal. This is the lot that will change Kenyan politics and resonates well with the style of politics played in developed countries that is short of excessive tribalism and useless patronage. I would tell this lot, who need not support me as a person but my political engagement, to set a trend of electing the best to sit in political offices, like the USA did with President Barack Obama. Status quo politicians are beatable, counselor Moses Akaranga beat sitting Vice President of Kenya, Musalia Mudavadi, in a parliamentary contest for Sabatia in 2002. 

You have said before that you met Wetang’ula as a student and he told you it was impossible to take down the one party regime. What did you make of him as a leader?

The university served as a simmering cauldron of political fervour, with the University of Nairobi seemingly intent on quelling student unions. We were ushered into Wetang’ula’s opulent office, a well-to-do lawyer aligned with the ruling powers. As he nonchalantly sipped his tea from an electric kettle, he dismissed our demonstrations to condemn the move by the ruling party as futile endeavours. Meanwhile, figures like Wamalwa Kijana, Koigi Wamwere, Anyang Nyongo, and other stalwarts of the liberation movement found themselves ensnared in fabricated charges for daring to defend multipartyism.

I almost succumbed to the notion that challenging one party rule’s dominance was an exercise in futility. Yet, as time passed, I have come to realise that while eras may fade, character endures. Wetang’ula seems averse to alternative perspectives, resistant to change, and appears stuck in the old one party style of leadership that favoured coercion over persuasion. It is comical that he leads Ford-Kenya, a party founded by individuals who championed political pluralism with lion-hearted resolve. 

You sound dismissive whenever you mention Wetang’ula, do you two speak? 

In the run-up to the 2022 polls, our last conversation revolved around his persistent demand for me to withdraw from the gubernatorial race and await an ambassadorial appointment. I staunchly declined, prompting his assertion that I would fail, as the seat was supposedly reserved for Ford-K. Despite the pressure he exerted, fueled by misinformation suggesting I intended to run on a Ford-K ticket, I remained resolute. Instead, I contested under the DAP-K banner and decisively defeated his party’s candidate, Chris Wamalwa. Ford-K’s loss was a testament to their decade of inaction in Trans Nzoia.

Since then, our encounters have been confined to informal settings, mainly at funerals. Just recently, at the burial of a politician’s relative, our paths crossed again. His followers displayed visible unease, greeting me with palpable tension. Despite the animosity, if we were to meet, I would simply offer a courteous greeting and move on. We are the people of Mulembe and our differences are not personal. 

How do you stay informed and adaptable in your approach to governance yet you don’t have a social media account that is verified? 

In today’s fast-paced world, staying informed and adaptable is crucial for effective governance. While I may not have had a verified social media account until recently, I have taken proactive steps to bridge that gap. Now, with my Facebook account verified, I am making strides in embracing digital platforms to engage with constituents and stay updated on current affairs. My commitment to serve my people, however, goes beyond the digital realm. I maintain a rigorous schedule, starting my day early and dedicating long hours to addressing the needs of my constituents.

What are your goals and aspirations and how do you plan to continue shaking up the status quo? 

For the time being, I will steer clear of political rallies and instead engage with grassroots opinion leaders to gauge their sentiments on the widespread issues addressed by Tawe. The concerns, like cyclic poverty, governance inequality, leadership incompetence, and fundamental rights such as education and healthcare, resonate across the nation. Once we have refined our demands through dialogue, we will approach rallies with a clear agenda, crafted by the people, for the people. I aspire to ensure that the masses I lead have access to quality healthcare and functional public institutions. 

Are you a political project? 

Since stepping into politics, I have embodied the essence of a people’s project, guided solely by my convictions rather than external influences. My journey in leadership has been marked by a steadfast commitment to independence, carving out my unique path.


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