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Why ‘self-made’ Waititu keeps his rough edges

Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu
Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

To his critics, the brash and combative Ferdinand Waititu seems like the most unlikely governor for the populous and rich county of Kiambu—character traits that, however, endear him to his supporters

His deputy, James Nyoro, brands him a dictator with no respect for collective responsibility. Area Senator, Kimani wa Matangi, has since threatened to either sue him or have him summoned before the Senate over alleged funds impropriety, arguing that the Governor is using Kiambu development money to sponsor personal political projects.

But in politics, Mr Waititu appears to live one day at a time. He continues to grab headlines, thanks to a seemingly inexplicable affinity for trouble with the law. And he readily gets the media’s attention whenever he lets out his seemingly unrefined sentiments.

A man of peculiar wisdom, Mr Waititu is in the news again this week. He started by causing uproar with his unsolicited call on Nairobi authorities to consider diverting rivers instead of demolishing structures on riparian land. And on Wednesday a recording of his conversation with Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko lobbying for the release of his wife and contractors to continue with an unapproved building project did not help matters.

Perhaps what others find objectionable about Mr Waititu is his strongest selling point in politics.

Even before they elected him governor, Kiambu residents had seen the video images of the man throwing stones at his adversaries in a street battle “in defence of Embakasi constituents”.

When he is not ordering Maasais out of Embakasi or taking a swipe at an “outsider” ward representative, he is sponsoring a Bill to reserve 70 per cent of all job opportunities in the county to his tribesmen.

But he shrugs off his critics. “I hate being associated with hypocrisy,” he tells those questioning his ways.

Born in 1962, Mr Waititu who is popularly known as Baba Yao describes himself as a self-made politician who started off as a taxi driver in Nairobi’s Roysambu area. He married Susan Wangare in 1989 and they together have five children.

“It is from those humble beginnings that I established myself in the transport sector where I ran a fleet of lorries before I vied for Njiru ward and became a councillor in 2002 on a Kanu ticket, beating all the odds in the opposition-dominated city to become the only one in City Hall to have scraped through on a Kanu ticket,” he says.

He was selling sand at the Njiru shopping centre and networked extensively with area youth to give him an edge when he vied. In 2006, he manoeuvered his way to become Nairobi Deputy Mayor before becoming Embakasi MP in 2008.

Mr Waititu’s next political project was to crush the dominance of the then area firebrand, David Mwenje, who was notorious for running a ragtag militia knows as Jeshi la Embakasi.

“I countered him by taking the battle right to his doorstep and we became synonymous with endless running battles until the run-up to the 2007 general election, Mwenje had surrendered,” he says.

He narrowly lost to Mr Mugabe Were who was gunned down a few days after clinching the seat, offering Mr Waititu a chance to get elected.

In former president Mwai Kibaki’s administration, MrWaititu was nominated as Water assistant minister in 2010 and in 2013 contested the Nairobi gubernatorial seat but lost to Dr Evans Kidero.

“I lost that seat to Kidero because my tribesmen were disunited and most of them had not registered as Nairobi voters. We split our vote basket and the result was failing to bag that seat,” he says.

The Governor is also a man of grand contradictions.

He once claimed he was born in Ruai when he was contesting the Embakasi parliamentary seat, changed this to Kibera slums when he was gunning for the Nairobi gubernatorial position and later amended it to Muringiti village in Limuru when he shifted base to Kiambu.

He also says he sat for his Certificate of Primary Education (CPE) exams at Mbagathi Primary School in 1975, completed his secondary school studies at Dagoretti High School in 1981 and obtained a degree in commerce from India’s Siri Guru College in 1991.

And then without thinking it through, he lets it known that his first visa was awarded in 2001.

In Kiambu, his woes are far from over as he admits that anti-corruption sleuths have since interrogated him over suspicious award of tenders worth Sh573 ostensibly to his relatives.

“They also wanted to know about my personal ongoing investment projects worth Sh1.8 billion. They were arguing that I have commenced those developments after bagging the Kiambu gubernatorial seat 10 months ago. I have explained to them that it is not a crime to be rich as long as I can account for my wealth. I had that money long before I became a governor and they got no business questioning how I chose to invest it,” he says.

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