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Dear Kisumu County: Look beyond the ‘Tena’ Argument in the Race for Governor

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My vote is not in Kisumu, because I live and work in another city. But I have enormous interest in Kisumu County. I was born and raised here. I went to school here. My folks live here and above all – Kisumu is home, where I want to retire and see my grandchildren run the woods and lawns. So I have taken the liberty to inform your vote; may be influence it – those of you who are getting ready to vote in the forthcoming ODM Party nominations.

View of Kisumu City. Photo Credit: Dan Odero

Foremost, I am worried that as things are today, it seems as though folks have forgotten the real issues and neglected the tough questions that need to be tackled and are embroiled in cheap clan politics – of who comes from Kano, Seme, Nyakach bla bla. I think this kind of politics is distractive and may keep Kisumu stagnated for another 5 years as other regions in the country harness and realize their potential.

Kisumu started ahead of many counties in the country – with a huge urban capital, a substantively educated and competitive human capital, a unique fresh water lake resource and a rich agricultural hinterland.

What have we done with that? What have we done about that? Perhaps these should be the core questions that occupy our conversations as we look for the best fit personality to elect as Governor.

But going by prevailing conversations around the gubernatorial race – the bar is far too low my folks!

We cannot be debating street lighting as sterling achievements of the Governor of a century old city the caliber of Kisumu.

Those are fetes Job Group J officers at the physical planning department should be populating their resumes with. Not the Governor. We cannot be arguing over scores of tractors as top rank achievements of the Governor when Kisumu County has over 10 dead industries with enormous manufacturing and job creation capacity. We cannot be bickering about how many ‘murram’ roads ‘His Excellency’ has done when peer cities are hosting global mega events while the lake shore remains derelict and an eyesore instead of a vibrant investment opportunity for tourism and real estate development.

I am worried that we have boxed ourselves unnecessarily into an idiographic ‘Ranguma Tena’ corner reducing our possibilities and denying ourselves the opportunity to objectively review our circumstances and consider what alternative leaders are offering.

So far, the campaigns and conversations around the gubernatorial race in Kisumu are consumed by shouting matches about the power of the incumbent – ‘ngat ma pek e ground’. Of course an incumbent always begins from a vantage point. Of course people who have had access to political leadership before come better prepared and with more political capital. But do they always turn out the best? Not always.

My point is that many of us are succumbing to a lazy conditioning that because the incumbent did some things that changed people’s circumstances, they get a free ‘Tena’ ticket to govern again and should not be challenged. Look, we already promulgated a constitution that required devolution of power and transfer of resources to the people. It was inevitable that things were going to change. Whoever occupied the office of Governor – even a pink Avocado was definitely going to change something.

So the argument must move away from reciting anecdotes of change that have come by after 5 years of the incumbent’s leadership to a more serious scrutiny and comparison between what we achieved and what we ought to have achieved considering the power devolved, resources we received and our baseline performance before devolution.

Moreover, only one person has had the chance to be Governor of Kisumu County. That is Governor Jack Ranguma. It is nonsensical thus to reduce the basis for judging the best candidate to Governor Ranguma’s accomplishments alone – whatever they are. We cannot shut down other candidates comparing their accomplishments elsewhere with Ranguma’s tenure as Governor. In fact can we ask Governor Ranguma what he had done with his life before April 2013 and compare it with the other candidates?

If we must use what the 1st Governor of Kisumu County has achieved as a gauge for his re-election, we must be smart about it.

The comparison must thus be with the accomplishments of the other 46 governors in Kenya and those of people who have successfully managed cities and regions across the globe. NOT by what the Governor’s opponents did while in Civil Society, Private sector or wherever.

What has Governor Ranguma done in terms of improving competitiveness of Kisumu city and its attractiveness for serious business, tourism, more population (of students, experts, tourists and entrepreneurs) compared to others in Mombasa, Nairobi, Eldoret, Durban, Singapore, Bilbao etc? How has he performed in the health sector vis a vis other counties in terms of resource allocations for health and conversion of those resources into tangible health sector deliverables like medicine in hospitals, more facilities, reduced waiting time, more efficient health sector personnel and so on?

I feel that we haven’t been fair to the other contestants in our judgment of their capabilities. We have simply shut them down as non-entities and underlings with nothing to offer. And on this I have a bone to chew with journalists or whatever they call themselves in Kisumu. A lot of such people in the ‘media’ in Kisumu have chosen to take sides in a debate that clearly needs a lot of objectivity. And they have advanced underwhelming justifications for their conduct.

You see in our style of government – democracy, we allow an opportunity, after every 5 years, for interested men and women to present themselves and their ideas and credentials for scrutiny to be considered to assume public office. As such, we must allow people to present their ideas – how they intend to change the circumstances of Kisumu people in terms of policy or development programmes.

Can we judge the contestants based on ideas, so that we are fair to those who have not had a chance to be governor?

Can we discuss what Governor Ranguma’s ideas for the future are? Where is his manifesto? How does it compare with Prof Nyongo’s or Dr Mc’Obewa’s? How much have we done to expose the ideas of these contestants and facilitated honest and fair conversations about them? I think those who claim to be journalists must be journalists and quit pandering to their constituencies. They have a responsibility, beyond their private interest to inform the public. If they wish to be pundits let them be overt.

My folks, Obama was an underdog. So was King David. Here is my 2 pence advice: allow Dr Mc’Obewa and Asaka Nyangara and anyone else, underdog or otherwise, who musters the courage to present themselves for nomination and election for Governor of Kisumu County in 2017 a fair chance to sell their ideas and capabilities. Broaden the issues you consider to go beyond just the accomplishments of the incumbent to what Kisumu deserves and what all the contestants offer.

I humbly submit.
Yours Truly
By Okwaroh Ja Paprombe

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