FALTERING CAMPAIGN: Legislator’s development record is said to be atrocious
The MP is accused of being disinterested in matters that touch the poor and vulnerable
By Ruth Seleina
With high profile campaigns defining the final weeks of the gubernatorial campaigns in Kajiado County, nothing could be more unwelcome than skeletons in the closet coming out in the open. Yet, outgoing Kajiado South Member of Parliament Katoo ole Metito will have to contend with more than his fair share of ghosts from the not-so-distant past.
Katoo, who first entered the National Assembly in a by-election in 2003 following the death of his predecessor Geoffrey Parpai, has successfully defended his seat in every general election since then. This has perhaps contributed to his confidence in garnering for the more influential gubernatorial seat. His critics, however, are not making things easy for the legislator.
His development record is said to be atrocious. According to political analyst Kirapash Lepao, who is also the Treasurer of the Kimana Tikondo Group Ranch in Kajiado South, Katoo has nothing to show for his many years as the area MP. “He has a bad record. There is no tarmac from Ilasit to Taveta, water from Nolturesh is consumed in other constituencies with no benefit to us yet it originates from here, the human-wildlife conflict between Amboseli and Tsavo areas remains unresolved, and he has failed to ensure locals reap any benefit from having the Amboseli National Park in their midst.”
Katoo’s inexplicably poor record is worsened by the fact that he has held other high-profile positions at the national level in which he had the power to influence the allocation of resources to benefit the people of Kajiado, but still did next to nothing for his own people. Starting as an Assistant Minister for Youth and Sports in Mwai Kibaki’s administration, Katoo was later appointed to the same position in the Ministry of Regional Development, a position he held until 2012 when he was appointed Minister of Internal Security and Provincial Administration; this followed the death of Prof George Saitoti in a helicopter crash.
Following promulgation of the new constitution in 2010, Members of Parliament could no longer be appointed to the Cabinet. Still, Katoo became the Chief Whip of the then majority party, The National Alliance, a position that held significant power.
Despite holding these senior positions close to the heartbeat of power, locals claim Katoo has not assisted the educated elite from his constituency and the rest of the county to obtain positions of influence in government. This, they contend, is to avoid any possible future challenge to his political ambitions from upcoming professionals. To his credit, however, he is said to have influenced the appointment of Governor Joseph ole Lenku as Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Coordination of National Government, and also that of Dr Miaron Jacob as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Livestock Development. Dr Miaron also worked in the same capacity in the Ministry of State for Heritage and Culture, in the Office of the Vice President.
In education matters, Katoo’s record is equally dismal. Namelok Polytechnic, which was started by World Vision in 1990 and lies on 40 acres of land in Kimana Tikondo Group Ranch, that has been in dire need of renovations, until lately when Lenku took the reins in the County. Not to be forgotten is the matter of the Loitokitok Medical Training College, which was built by Lenku despite the active opposition of Katoo.
Moreover, it is said that Katoo’s bursary allocations have been limited to university students, drawing criticism from those who have missed getting assistance at lower levels of education; this attitude by the legislator is said to have cut short the dreams of many young men and women who could not pay their way through secondary school to pursue better careers through a university or college education.
With such a horrible record, how did Katoo manage to persuade voters to elect him into parliament time and again? He is said to have employed divide-and-rule tactics, playing clans and sub-clans against each other.
Threats and manipulation
The MP has always sought to have friendly individuals assigned to positions of leadership in the group ranches, thus influencing the perception and voting patterns of members.
Those who have failed to vote for him have been consigned to oblivion when bursaries and other resources are allocated, critics say, pointing at his vindictive nature. He is, in fact, on record as threatening that those who fail to vote for him will not get employment, bursaries or any other benefits from his administration, should he win the gubernatorial contest.
Even more seriously, the MP is accused of being disinterested in matters that touch the poor and vulnerable. When Tanzanian authorities detained 1,300 cattle — affecting 24 households in Rombo and Kuku Group Ranch and creating an uproar throughout Kenya — Katoo’s voice as the area MP was missing from the many who spoke out and sought to resolve the conflict.
Similarly, at one point 18 Kenyan women were arrested by Tanzanian police during the COVID-19 lockdown, but Katoo maintained his silence.
In fact, even on something as close to the people as land, the MP has been silent in the face of land grabbing schemes that have threatened to dispossess his constituents and to render them destitute. When Lavaj, the firm that owns Bamburi, tried to lease land at Mbirikani Group Ranch, Katoo in characteristic fashion did nothing to help his people. It took university students to protest and stop the injustice, with one death recorded in the process. It was the then county governor Dr David Nkedianye who intervened to secure the release of the university students from police custody.
The legislator has also ignored the media. This has ensured that very little information about him or his agenda gets out to the public. Part of the reason, pundits say, is his poor debating and public speaking skills, whereby he finds difficulty articulating issues. Katoo therefore prefers to lean on his grassroots mobilisation skills and to ignore media exposure. The question then arises of how open to scrutiny he would be as a governor if he remains unresponsive to the media.
Recently, when police killed five protestors at Masimba, Katoo is said to have been holding a campaign rally at Sultan Hamud nearby. As his colleagues rushed to Masimba to visit the wounded and assess the volatile situation, Katoo — true to his character — did not bother to join them or even issue a statement. The victims had been shot dead during protests against deaths and destruction caused by wildlife in the area.
But Katoo’s almost contemptuous reaction towards the Masimba victims did not come as a surprise to many observers and has provided fodder to his rivals. Jubilee candidate Dr David Nkedianye, who was the first governor in the devolved system, has in particular continuously harped on the fact that Katoo has little empathy for ordinary people.
The views of the former governor are increasingly gaining support on the streets. “Katoo has held influential positions in the government and could have addressed the human-wildlife conflict years ago, had he wished,” said Innocent Katoo, the County ODM chairman, and who also hails from the constituency. “Issues of deaths and destruction arising from wildlife, as well as delayed compensation, are close to his constituents’ hearts but mean nothing to Katoo,” added the ODM chair.
The supply of water from the Nolturesh Water Company in Loitokitok has provided yet another thorn in the politician’s career. Even though the water is obtained from the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro, it flows through the area to satisfy the water needs of the neighbouring counties of Machakos and Makueni, leaving area residents with a bitter taste in the mouth. Initially, it was alleged that the water was diverted into the late Saitoti’s farm in a neighbouring county, a situation that ought to have been corrected when the MP took over. To the dismay of residents, critics say, Katoo has done absolutely nothing to rectify this problem and obtain a share of the water for his constituents. It has taken the intervention of Governor Joseph ole Lenku, who also influenced the appointment of Gideon Ketende as managing director of Nolturesh, for the matter to begin being addressed.
Kajiado South being a rich agricultural area and the food basket of the entire county, good roads are critical for reaching markets. “Nothing has been done, for unexplained reasons,” Joy Sein, a resident said. Of particular importance, she pointed out, is the Ilasit-Taveta road, which connects Kajiado South to the populous market in the Coast region. Taveta is also a key border post and the road once constructed would be expected to spur the growth of towns on this route. Farmers who grow tomatoes and other produce from Rombo, Kimana and other areas stand to benefit from this road, yet it has been neglected.
If Katoo is to make inroads and garner significant support from other constituencies in his gubernatorial campaign, he must first exorcise the ghosts from his unflattering past arising from his years as a member of the august house, additionally holding powerful positions.