Ideas & Debate

Nyachae was a top leader and administrator par excellence

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Simeon Nyachae. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • In the 1960/70s the late Nyachae is credited with having encouraged his Kisii community to take advantage of the ongoing land and business reforms and spread out of the heavily populated homelands into the rest of Kenya.
  • As the Chief Secretary in the Moi government in the early 1980s, he introduced District Focus for Rural Development Planning, a new concept of “devolving” development planning and implementation from central government to the districts.
  • Many experts, especially economists, were transferred from Nairobi and provincial headquarters to the districts to implement the District Focus programme under District Development Committees.

The late Simeon Nyachae was one of the most experienced civil servants (and politicians) having gained administrative and governance experience stretching from colonial times, and through Jomo’s, Moi’s, and Kibaki’s governments. Principled and tough in mind, we saw him as someone who stood up for what he believed in. Here are some occurrences big and small that linger in my memory.

In the 1960/70s the late Nyachae is credited with having encouraged his Kisii community to take advantage of the ongoing land and business reforms and spread out of the heavily populated homelands into the rest of Kenya.

As the Chief Secretary in the Moi government in the early 1980s, he introduced District Focus for Rural Development Planning, a new concept of “devolving” development planning and implementation from central government to the districts.

Many experts, especially economists, were transferred from Nairobi and provincial headquarters to the districts to implement the District Focus programme under District Development Committees.

The District Focus project was synonymous with the late Nyachae as he passionately verbalised its benefits and stewarded its implementation. However, at the time, Kenya was fast running out of cash due mainly to massive corruption, with less and less money available for development at both national and district levels. For this reason, District Focus impacts remained limited, with the concept existing only in organisational structures.

However, the District Focus concept of involving districts/counties in planning their development resurrected in later years in the form of Constituency Development Fund and devolution, which was institutionalised in the constitutional reforms of 2010.

I first came across Hon Nyachae in the late 1980s. We had invited him for a fund-raiser at Bishop Gatimu Ngandu Girls High School where I was a board member. A few weeks after he confirmed acceptance of our invitation, he abruptly resigned from Moi’s government. It became a predicament for the board, for, during the Moi era, not many dared to associate with persons out of favour with Moi.

The late Nyachae reassured us that he would bring us enough money but would not be accompanied by a high visibility entourage. Indeed, he and his family brought “big” envelopes of cash, to a function that we deliberately kept low key.

The next time I met the late Nyachae was in 2005 when he was the Transport minister in President Kibaki government. He was also the acting Energy minister, and he had called me to his office to request me to accept to return to the Board of Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC).

I had resigned from the board a year earlier in protest after KPC management negotiated a financing deal with a third party without the explicit approval of the board, in which I chaired the Finance Committee. Hon Nyachae mentioned that he was re-organising the KPC board and the top management and that the Anti-Corruption Authority had specifically recommended that I be requested to go back to the board. I accepted and was re-appointed to the KPC board, this time around empowered with moral authority.

I also recall in 2005 when as a founding director of Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa), we visited Hon Nyachae to discuss infrastructure. He had a unique way of making guests comfortable with light stories. Can you imagine, he joked, engineers in my ministry have designed a major by-pass cutting right in the middle of the most historically prestigious school in Kenya — they will have to re-route the road. It was the Southern By-pass cutting across Alliance High School.

He went on. Can you also imagine the construction of an international road linking Nairobi and Addis Ababa without climbing lanes?. He had in mind the Kangocho climb at the boundary of Kirinyaga and Nyeri counties, which had no climbing lane. Climbing lanes were subsequently implemented on this highway.

One of the Kepsa directors took advantage of Hon Nyachae’s good mood: “Bwana minister there is this small stretch of a link-road between Runda and UNEP, which had remained incomplete for over 10 years”. Hon Nyachae undertook to get it done, and Runda was linked with Limuru Road via UNEP. Our colleague did not disclose that his home was in Runda overlooking UNEP across the valley.

May the Almighty Lord rest Hon Nyachae’s soul in eternal peace. He served his nation diligently.