|John Michuki — if he does not know it — has a special following. It is small but highly significant because it is patriotic, nationwide and growing. I know it because his disciples lamented aloud when he was transferred first from Transport and then from Roads.
Why? Because Mr Michuki is the only minister — ever since 2003 — who seems to roll up his sleeves to tackle the assignment in his docket. Both ministries — Transport and Roads — recall one of our national banes.
It was only when Mr Michuki took over at Transport that we were able to control a national scourge called matatu which consigned us to the grave by the hundred every day. When he moved from Transport (via Internal Security) to Roads, many people failed to see this link.
For poor roads are among the causes of the slaughterhouse that our traffic system has become — a result, mostly, of the fact that we pay billions of public money to construction companies which take whole centuries to complete a few yards most shoddily.
It was as the minister was girding his loins to deal effectively with such leeches that politics forced the President to move him from Roads to Environment. Many Kenyans were deeply disappointed.
For me, however, the disappointment lies in that the frequent musical chairs cannot allow a minister to build a tradition in his (her) ministry. She (he) may be very committed. But, clearly, though commitment is a necessary condition for efficacy, it is not a sufficient one.
Time is the fulfilling condition. Ministers and other senior officials must be given enough time to work out their microcosmic policies and see them through the important implementation stages. The cinch is that a ministry goes back to square one every time a new minister comes in.
How can we be sure that the pace set by Mr Michuki for national road construction will be maintained by Kipkalya Kones, the new minister? Our solicitude has a solid base. Chirau Mwakwere’s performance since taking over from Mr Michuki at Transport fills us with trepidation.
NEVERTHELESS, I CANNOT UNDERSTAND THE ATTITUDE — which A newspaper recently attributed to Mr Michuki’s aides and advisers — that the transfer from Roads to the Environment is a demotion. First, a ministry’s eventual impact often depends on the incumbent minister’s personality.
On separate occasions — first at Labour, then at Constitutional Affairs and, finally, at Planning — Tom Mboya was able, by sheer presence of mind, to make those ministries the focus of the Kenyatta Government. Mr Michuki has shown that he can similarly work wonders with any ministry.
But, much more importantly, I do not know anything in modern governance which is more important than the environment. What is it that Anna Tibaijuka’s human Habitat does not subsume? What, except the environment, can President Kibaki and Premier Odinga vow to Kenyans?
If Mr Michuki and his advisers and experts have critical minds, they can play an overriding policy role in many ministries, including Agriculture, Education, Health, Housing, Industry, Information, Irrigation, Livestock, Natural Resources, Roads, Sports, Tourism, Water — everything which can ensure life security and adequacy for every Kenyan.
When Mr Michuki talks of tackling the Nairobi River, he reminds us that the Tiber flows through Rome, the Rhone through Geneva, the Elbe through Dresden, the Seine through Paris, the Thames through London, the Potomac through Washington, the Arkansas through Little Rock, etc.
True, all of them are polluted. But care has been taken to at least embellish them by removing the worst eyesore and studding them with eye-catching modern structures, such as shopping arcades. Aesthetics is as much a redeemer of human souls as is ugali.
In any case, it is deeply embarrassing that the city which harbours Habitat and Unep should also harbour one of the world’s most dangerous potential environmental disasters, and that nobody should seem to care.
Absence of critical and creative thinking has hitherto caused the ministry to give “the environment” the narrowest possible interpretation. This is among the factors that have permanently moored that ministry to the ground.
What Mr Michuki is saying is that the other institutions concerned — such as the ministries of Health and Local Government and City Hall — have ignored this life-and-death issue for far too long.
He is telling Mr Mutula Kilonzo that, if his new Metropolitan Development outfit does not give the river the priority it deserves, then the Environment ministry will take the initiative.
Hear! Hear! Like Mr Mboya, Mr Michuki will have shown that it is sterile to argue endlessly about some ministries being more important than others. He will have shown that dedication and hard work are the key to success and the basis of a lasting and well deserved popularity.