By Alphonce Shiundu
Every time Kwale senator Boy Juma Boy steps to the microphone in the Senate, he gets undivided attention as he delivers his message in fluent and colourful Kiswahili. He is a man who got into the Senate – after 15 years in political cold – because he wanted to “represent the county and the local government;” and give room for MPs “to represent the people.” Boy is a master story-teller.
This interview at his tenth-floor office in the iconic Kenyatta International Convention Centre was scheduled to take 30 minutes, but ended up lasting twice as long. And when I was leaving, he reminded me that, “You still have not asked me about the referendum.” The senator does not understand why people have to look for him for bursaries and handouts, when they know – or “ought to know” – that he does not have access to a kitty similar to the Constituency Development Fund.
He is passionate about his county because half the people are listed as “economically inactive,” while two-thirds are not employed, according to the Commission on Revenue Allocation. He sees the two referendum campaigns, Pesa Mashinani by the governors and Okoa Kenya by the Opposition, as the only ways of lifting his people out of grinding poverty.
He represents people in four constituencies – Lunga Lunga, Matuga, Kinango and Mswambweni. His job, he says, is to make sure more money goes to the counties, and to follow up that money to make sure it is used to deliver services to the people. That looks like a pretty straight-forward job description.
But every time he fails to show up in his constituency, his political rivals tell voters, “Yuko Nairobi anakula mayai na chapati”- parlance for living large, in stark contrast to the high poverty in his county. He has a grandfatherly mien in the way he speaks. He has been there (he had President Moi’s ear when he served as Kanu chief whip from 1992-1997, won three elections in a row, lost the next two, and then won again).
The senator was campaigning for his father Juma Boy, the Kwale Central MP, in the 1983 general election when the elder Boy suddenly fell sick. He was rushed to London for treatment but died while undergoing treatment.
His father had represented the constituency since 1974. Following the MP’s death, and because it was close to the elections, the voters decided to elect his son, now Senator Boy. He retained his seat in the 1988 and 1992 general elections and believes that Kanu’s machinations conspired to have him lose the 1997 polls.
Hon Boy was once accused of having masterminded a murderous orgy by the Kaya Bombo militia. The militia razed down a police station in 1997 and killed dozens of people. But the veteran politician says he was singled out because he was the most senior politician in the area. “I was perceived to be the man behind those atrocities. They looked at me as the mastermind, the cause of all the problems for the party. They said, ‘Boy was very close to the system, he must have known’,” the senator recalls.
To clear his name, he came out and denied the allegations. “When I began defending the people who were being killed by police in the ensuing crackdown, I was vilified as a bad boy. They said I had changed. They came for me,” he says . Apparently, what made him a suspect is the fact that the militia hit Likoni in Mombasa County, then retreated into hideouts in the Kaya Bombo forest in Kwale (Kwale and Mombasa were districts at the time). “That’s where they sought refuge, and it was in my constituency. When the police launched an operation to flush out the criminals, they did not spare innocent Kwale residents, my constituents. This was probably because the militia was comprised mainly of Digos, who hail from Kwale. I am also a Digo and it was hard to just stand aside and do nothing. It was a very difficult time,” he reminisces.
That was the incident that knocked him off his perch in the ruling party Kanu and confined him to political oblivion. He lost the next two elections in 1997 and 2002. He did not vie in 2007. So, what happens to politicians when they lose elections?, I ask. “You have to change your lifestyle fast and adjust to reality. There’s a tendency for many of your erstwhile colleagues to shun you. Only a handful of people will stand by you, even though attitudes will also be different, since you are no longer in a position to help,” says Boy. “It is your past record that can make the new state bearable – how you dealt with the people and your closeness to them when you were in power.”
His advice to politicians is to be “a man of the people,” by living with the people who elected them. When you lose, your successor, he observes, is looked upon as “a saviour.” He says that, “It takes two years for your popularity to rise again. But that doesn’t guarantee you re-election, as there are party dynamics to consider as well.” He was a bigwig and had networks in Kanu, but if you ask him why Kanu couldn’t just pick him for a direct ticket in the 2002 elections, he will tell you that like all politicians, he has a big ego.
This is why he turned down the offer. He was bitter for being neglected by the party and was not willing to deliver them the seat, so opted for Ford-People, and lost. But how did it fall out favour with the powers that be?
Boy paints a picture of vicious battles between different camps in the president’s inner circles. Boy advises those who think they are powerful just because they dine and wine with the President, that they have to keep a certain profile, watch their backs and make friends. “They also have to know that every time they open their mouths to defend the President, they are digging their own graves,” says the senator.
“I see people close to the big man being used as scapegoats. It is the worst place to be. You are always blamed whenever things go wrong. You are always the sacrificial lamb. They will always say ‘Bwana Mkubwa is not bad, it is the advisors who are bad’,” Boy says in relation to his days as Kanu chief whip.
Message to Uhuru
But the veteran politician does not like what the Jubilee administration has done to his county, given the current poor state of tourism. He says, “I believe the Government should be more serious and put more resources in revamping the tourism industry. The industry up to three years to recover. The time to act is now, yet there is very little being done.” He says that from experience, he can tell State baloney when he sees it.
Why doesn’t he focus on mining? I ask. He shakes his head and explains that the huge deposits of rare earth minerals in Kwale are of no value to the locals or county government. “As it is right now, our county is getting nothing. Zero! We are told that five per cent royalty goes to the national government. That’s like a teaspoon of sugar in the ocean!” claims the senator. He believes that if nothing is done, the situation will foment violent secessionist tendencies, similar to the conflict in other natural resource-rich countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria. “It is important that the Government listens to us. We are tolerant people, but we are not immune to such bitter fallouts.
The young people in these places are becoming restless and might just pass the tipping point sometime in the future. We need to address the problem at an early stage. By the time the young boys grow into adults who can determine their future, it might be too late for us,” he says. He advises investors not to promise jobs locals jobs they don’t qualify for or infrastructural developments like hospitals and roads that turn out to be insignificant projects, that can’t put food on the table. His solution? Investors should train locals to take up jobs they create.