Three years ago, George Natembeya was in the eye of the storm after he ordered police to shoot and kill anyone carrying illegal firearms within Isiolo.
The controversial November 12,2015 order thrust the firm-talking administrator into the public limelight amid condemnation from human rights groups including the Independent Medico Legal Unit, which urged the Director of Public Prosecution to probe him over the utterances.
Today, Mr Natembeya is back in the headlines as he tackles the assignment of reclaiming the politically emotive Mau water tower.
The 47-year-old, born-again Christian, is already in the thick of political barbs from a section of Rift Valley leaders led by Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen who also doubles up as the Senate Majority Leader.
To some, Mr Natembeya is naive in taking the initiative of protecting the forest in the face of stiff opposition from some politicians.
“I do not know Natembeya since he is new in this area. But I can assure you that the Mau issue is very risky both to his position and life. I doubt whether he has the mettle to circumvent the politics behind it,” said a senior conservator who opted for anonymity.
But Mr Natembeya said he was focused on evicting “every single one of the 40,000 people who have been adjudged to be illegally occupying the Mau Forest.
“This is a government policy that I am enforcing. We have issued vacate notices to all squatters and mine is very simple — watch them vacate the area and if they resist I move in to get them out,” he said.
Political interference does not bother him, he said. “I am an administrator who believes in getting work done. Political noise will never distract me.
“As long as I have a circular from my line of government detailing me to reclaim the water tower, that is exactly what I will do.
“I do not get orders from Murkomen and his charges. He can hold many political rallies to bay for my blood but until I get a circular to stop the reclamation process of the water tower, everything else remains noise,” said the man who joined the defunct Provincial Administration in 1996 as a District Officer.
Mr Murkomen has since dismissed Mr Natembeya as “a small man who believes government programmes are not subject to provisions of the rule of law, human rights and dialogue.”
But the county commissioner shot back, saying he was indeed “small”, meaning “humble”.
A BA and MA in anthropology graduate from the University of Nairobi, Mr Natembeya wants those opposed to the reclamation of the forest to “be humble enough and get educated on what destruction of 107,000 acres of Mau Forest has resulted to.”
He said that the water level of Mara River and the Nile Basin had dwindled by 40 per cent and projected that it will be worse by 2030 if the destruction is not stemmed.
He said he was aware of the risks the “Mau reclamation war” posed.
“I am aware that there is a cartel that illegally sold unsuspecting people tracts of land in the Mau Forest. I know that there are those who have been earning generously from illegal trade of burning charcoal, harvesting timber and sandal wood from the forest.
“Some are in politics and others are in security departments. They won’t let go the flesh that easily.
“That is the reason you hear so much noise as we detach them from the tit they have been suckling so mercilessly,” he said. Married with three sons aged 12 and five years, Mr Natembeya, a native of Trans Nzoia County, said he was a student of the hardline tactics popularised by the late John Michuki.
“I served as Michuki’s personal assistant for four years during his tenure in the Transport and Internal Security dockets.
“I was his right hand man in all what he was known for. He taught me to be firm and always pursue the common good. “He taught me to never pass the buck. The old man, in his death, remains my true north in my work,” he said.
The Mau assignment, he said, was not as tough as many put it.
In 2003, while he was a DO in Mulot area of Narok County, he declared zero tolerance to female circumcision against the strong traditional beliefs of area residents, he said.
“Not a single case was reported in my area of jurisdiction. I do not believe in the government failing to actualise its policies. They have to be delivered. That is why it is the government,” he said.
“I battled Mungiki and vanquished it in its bedrock of Murang’a County when I was moved there as a district commissioner in 2007.
“I was later transferred to Nairobi’s Kamukunji area and came face to face with Al-Shabaab’s notoriety of hurling improvised explosive devices. I eliminated that threat within my first 100 days of service in the area.”
He was later transferred to Isiolo as County Commissioner where he said he successfully dealt with banditry and community conflicts along the county’s border with Meru.
“Let's meet soon to assess the success, not failure,” he said of the Mau issue.