Kenya’s tough political landscape is grappling with an unlikely controversy. A road. Specifically, the quality of a road. A few weeks ago, Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua launched the 33km Makutano-Kithimani Road and declared it the fastest built road in Africa. The road, he said, was a high-class bitumen surface that had been constructed in 3 months and at a third of the original estimate. The controversy now is whether or not the road is of good quality.
Why this question is unlikely is that Kenyans are used to bad roads that take years to repair and start developing potholes almost immediately. The only road in recent years that seems to have avoided this dubious history is Thika Highway, an impressive eight-lane stretch from Nairobi to Thika. The magnificent road, however, was built by Chinese contractors. In Machakos, 11 Kenyan contractors did 3kms each to achieve the unlikely fete, proving that actual infrastructural development can be done. Implying that the problem has always been the avarice of Kenya’s reeking social and political systems.
Mutua’s work on the road is only a figment of his bigger social development initiatives. Across the country, and perhaps beyond, electorates are now wondering when it will be their turn to get such a young politician who is unafraid to be his own man. A youthful man who can avoid party and tribe politics and serve his electorate because that is his job description. It is very likely that Mutua will be re-elected in 2017, despite the obvious attempts to make his reign a living hell. He can even go for and win the highest office in the land simply because he has done what Kenyans have been electing politicians to do in the last fifty years.
Mutua is only 44, an impressive young age for a Kenyan politician. His contemporary, Nairobi Senator Mike Sonko (39) seems to have struck gold in 2010 when he launched what has proven to be Kenya’s first non-tribal political brand. The man courts controversy, and thrives upon it. In four short years, he has moved from a non-person on the political scene to arguably the only politician who can be elected in any electoral unit in the country. I often say that he is Kenya’s most powerful politician, and he has done so despite punching walls on national TV and dressing like a hip hop artist with a bad stylist. He has not built roads or launched a systematic public relations system like his Machakos counterpart, but he has been there when his electorate needed him. He is always there, sometimes as far as Mpeketoni in Lamu, because he understands how the next evolution of African politics will play out.
In a continent where leaders hoard the mantle until they keel over and die at some years shy of a century, a 50-year old politician has a near-lifetime to make a difference. But these young politicians are proving that they do not need that long to become national icons. Sonko has distinguished himself as a social campaigner with a generous heart, effectively blinding everyone to the source of his income at the same time. Mutua, on the other hand, has done in one year what politicians have failed to do in 50. He has overcome the tribal leash that drives and determines Kenyan politics.
In both cases, the young politicians are challenging the status quo and the status quo is fighting back with a vengeance. Sonko seems to be having an easier time, but then again he has had four years to do so. He has also shown his willingness to fight, sometimes physically, and his willingness to use the power he wields in Kenya’s capital city. Couple this with his past history in crime and jail and you have a man who is not scared by courtrooms and prison cells, and who has enough money to fight for what he wants. What you get is an almost ideal politician, tribeless to the electorate and powerful without guns or genealogy. A politician who needs not even campaign during election periods.
Mutua is headed there, but with a cleaner and more deliberate image. He does not have to punch walls to show his people that he cares about them. Instead, he is showing them that he is an action-oriented leader with the balls to fight his political enemies. If an article I saw online his true, then the people are fighting for him too. In the unconfirmed story, a journalist doing the 33km road trip to check the condition of the road found a group of protestors. They stopped him and said they were waiting for politicians who were said to be driving down to dig potholes on the road. The holes to later be used as propaganda that the new road was a sham. Those are the first signs that Mutua’s landslide victory in March 2013 was just the beginning of what may well be the future of Kenya and Africa. Add Sonko to this new brand and you have action-oriented leaders who are fighting the tether of tribal politics. Politicians who actually keep promises.