Satellite towns – the city’s burgeoning bedroom communities – have kept mushrooming by the day, causing a huge traffic nightmare as millions of commuters try every morning and evening to squeeze themselves in and out of the central business district, the heartbeat of the country’s economy.
Meanwhile, Kenya’s Vision 2030 development blueprint called for the creation of a 24-hour Nairobi city as a way of boosting wealth creation and providing employment through double shifts, the formation of a metropolitan police service to enhance security in the metropolis and the creation of a platform to oversee better planning for the city.
A precursor to today’s Nairobi Metropolitan Services, now under a director-general, the Nairobi Metropolitan Ministry was formed by President Mwai Kibaki in April 2008. It had hitherto been the most decisive effort to try to unclog the transport arteries of East and Central Africa’s transport, commercial and diplomatic hub.
The master stroke solved yet another headache. It helped the President to accommodate one member of the expanded Cabinet that followed the inclusion of his political rival Raila Odinga and his allies in a Grand Coalition Government formed after the disputed 2007 elections.
The Cabinet – the largest in Kenya’s history – had 42 ministers, 21 from each side of the political divide.
The late Mutula Kilonzo, MP for Mbooni, was the pioneer minister even though he was moved to the Justice department within a year. That created an opening for Ndia MP Njeru Githae, who held the reins for three years before being moved to the Finance docket after Uhuru Kenyatta quit to concentrate on his case at the International Criminal Court.
Mr Kilonzo and Mr Githae, who mostly played foundational roles, had mixed success and by the time Jamleck Irungu Kamau, MP for Kigumo, Murang’a, took over in early 2012, the ministry was up and running.
President Kibaki appointed the first-term but vocal MP to the docket to replace Mr Githae a few weeks after the death John Michuki, who came from Kangema, also in Murang’a.
He was one of the youthful and fierce defenders of the Kibaki administration in the President’s second term, which was characterised by squabbling amongst coalition members who had been bitter political foes.
Mr Kamau’s appointment shortly after the death of Mr Michuki in February 2012 was also seen as an act of regional balancing as both came from Murang’a. Yet Mr Kamau and Mr Michuki had been joined at the hip in another sense.
Mr Kamau was the hatchet man for a group of fence-sitting Mt Kenya politicos, led by Mr Michuki, who had been unenthusiastic about the 2010 Constitution. The MP, at the behest of the group that came to be known as the ‘Watermelon Axis’, moved a motion in Parliament seeking a constitutional amendment to postpone the August 4, 2010 referendum date, and only withdrew it after Mr Michuki had unequivocally joined the ‘Yes’ group.
So hardline was the group’s stance that Mr Kamau withdrew the motion only a month to the referendum, after Mr Kibaki held a ‘Yes’ rally in Murang’a.
Mr Kamau does not regret his initial opposition to the 2010 Constitution. “Michuki and I had foreseen the wage bill problem with the advent of counties. Now you see that we cannot manage it. We also feared – and we have been proved right – that we were going to devolve corruption to the counties. Already, Wanjiku has lost so much money. A lot of money has also gone into recurrent expenditure at the expense of development.”
He also opposes the idea of appointing ministers from outside Parliament, arguing that a rogue President would have nobody with the political mettle to rein him in.
As minister, Mr Kamau oversaw the installation of surveillance systems and security installations in the city. The project was conceptualised as a security project that involved installing security cameras and vehicle number plate recognition cameras. It also included rehabilitating signalised junctions and setting up one main control centre at the Nairobi area police headquarters in Milimani and the now redundant control centre at City Hall Annex.
“I served for a very short time, but I can proudly say my number one achievement was the traffic lights. That is my baby. Some of the things were never actualised, but we had planned to have even loudspeakers in specific areas so that officials in the command centres could listen to them.
When the Sh2 billion project ran into controversy, with MPs alleging corruption, Mr Kamau put up a spirited defence of it in Parliament. “I can tell Hon. Members that the CCTVs we are bringing in are hi-tech. They will be able to capture somebody’s face using technology called ‘face-recognition technique’,” he said.
“If your face is captured and you walk anywhere else within the vicinity of any other camera, that particular camera will reveal that Hon. Sonko is there, and he is the one we need. If, for example, the camera reflects on the number plates of a vehicle we are looking for, at the end of the day we will only need to press a key to know where that vehicle is at any one given time.”
He is also credited with laying the foundation for the Nairobi transport network currently being implemented by Infrastructure Cabinet Secretary James Macharia and Nairobi Metropolitan Services-Director General Mohamed Badi.
“The transport system that is being implemented now was also our brainchild. We wanted to have cable cars going to different major corridors of Nairobi. Some of the corridors included the Kangemi-Mombasa Road stretch and the Donholm-Jogoo Road-Ngong Road line. In our estimation, it was going to greatly help transportation within Nairobi,” he said in an interview for this project.
He explained that there was an elaborate masterplan that would take care of transport, water, and the sewerage system.
“We also had a plan to control development. We had not envisioned high-rises in places like Kilileshwa, for instance. You can imagine if this happened in every other area of Nairobi,” he said.
Mr Kamau also lobbied for the inclusion of Murang’a County in the jurisdiction of the Nairobi Metropolitan area, which consisted of Nairobi, Machakos, Kajiado and Kiambu counties. Only Gatanga, which borders Thika town, had been included in the original metropolitan area.
For this effort, Murang’a received funding to set up a dumpsite known as Mitumbiri Sanitary Landfill to the tune of Sh2 billion.
The landfill would, upon completion, receive solid waste material from the four counties in the metro area, but locals near Gikono village are not excited about the project. They claim the waste would find its way to underground water and pollute their water sources.
Apart from the landfill, the Nairobi Metropolitan Services Improvement Project (Namsip), which took over from the Nairobi Metropolitan Ministry, has also been tarmacking connector roads in Kenol town. It also oversaw the tarmacking of a 13km road from Kabati to the landfill.
Murang’a County also received firefighting vehicles as part of the Namsip project thanks to Mr Kamau.
He describes President Kibaki as a principled man who keeps his word. “He is the kind of person who gives you work and supports you to the hilt. But if you make a mistake, you will carry your own cross.”
Mr Kamau was born on 10 May 1965 in Itururu village, Kigumo. He attended Githumu High School and Njiri School for his O and A levels after which he studied for his Certified Public Accountants (CPA) course. He later enrolled at the University of Nairobi for a bachelor of arts degree in economics and political science before proceeding to the United States International University in Africa (USIU-A) for a master’s in business administration.
After a brief work stint in Kenya and the United States, he went full time into business in transport, security, and manufacturing.
He joined politics in 2002 and vied for the Kigumo MP’s seat but lost. Five years later, he was elected through the Party of National Unity (PNU).
Nicknamed ‘Kabisa Kabisa’ for his campaign slogan of ‘Maendeleo Kabisa’ (Development Indeed), Mr Kamau says that when he first joined Parliament, enthusiasm for education in the constituency was very low because of lack of tuition fees for many children.
“I requested my people to allow me to spend the money which should have gone towards my homecoming party, in vogue at the time, to set up the Kigumo Education Endowment Fund. We raised Sh10 million to start us off at a harambee whose chief guest was then Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka. Uhuru Kenyatta and many other leaders were there too.”
He said he then resolved that any child who did well academically, and was admitted to any school of their choice, would attend whether their parents could raise fees or not. This, together with the Constituency Bursary Fund, which he entrusted a respected clergyman, went a long way in raising educational standards in the constituency.
The Kigumo Education Endowment Fund, which mobilised resources to educate poor but bright children, raised performance standards and saw the electoral area taking the lead in matters of education in the county.
He is also remembered for his contribution in the establishment of Kigumo Girls High School, a centre of excellence. He partnered with the Economic Stimulus Fund under the Ministry of Finance to build the school from scratch.
For this and other development projects such as water and roads, Mr Kamau was rewarded with a second term in the 2013 elections.
His strong support for the newly formed political party of establishment presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta, The National Alliance (TNA), which won nearly all the parliamentary seats in Central Kenya, also helped his re-election.
Mr Kamau was a prolific debater, with the Hansard (parliamentary record of proceedings) indicating he spoke in the National Assembly hundreds of times in his 10-year stint as an MP. Most of his statements were made in defence of the government and while tabling reports from his committee.
Among the notable comments he made were remarks in 2016 when an altercation arose between pro-government MPs and Opposition legislators over standing orders and proposals to defer House sittings to discuss election laws.
“We are honourable Members, and the country is watching. We should carry ourselves with decorum and respect and we should never wash our dirty linen in public,” the MP counselled.
In the same year, he zealously defended the Energy Committee, which he chaired, during a motion to discuss a report of the mediation committee on its consideration of the Energy Bill 2015.
Among other objectives, the Energy Bill sought to end Kenya Power’s more than 50-year near monopoly in power distribution and electricity retailing, entrenched under the repealed Energy Act No. 6 of 2006 (the Energy Act).
The bill outlined that power distribution in the energy sector plays a crucial role in the government’s efforts to ensure that every Kenyan has access to electricity by the year 2020.
Under the bill, the government birthed the last mile connectivity programme that took electricity, which had for decades been a reserve of the rich, to ordinary citizens. To dramatise the power ‘revolution’, President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto were often photographed switching on newly connected power in the modest homes of ordinary Kenyans.
The bill, which was later approved by Parliament, also sought to change the process by which power distributors apply for licensing.
The bill reads in part: “Any person that wants to distribute electricity must apply for a licence to the Energy Regulatory Authority (the Authority) provided that the person will not require authorisation to generate electrical energy for their own use of a capacity not exceeding one MW. If any person carries out any electricity undertaking without a licence, they commit an offence and will be liable upon conviction, to a fine not exceeding KES 1 million or to an imprisonment of not more than one (1) year or to both.”
A man of fabulous wealth, Mr Kamau also spent considerable time in his second term in his 26th-floor office at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in central Nairobi puffing his favourite cigarette and peering into Murang’a on the horizon, scheming how to wrest it from Governor Mwangi wa Iria.
He won round one of the contest when members of the county assembly voted to impeach Mr Wa Iria for alleged gross misconduct and abuse of office. Among other reasons, MCAs alleged lack of accountability in the use of county resources, claiming an “unsustainable debt of Sh2.5 billion”. That victory was short-lived, as senators acquitted the governor after a trial, citing insufficient grounds.
Undeterred, Mr Kamau kept up his onslaught against the governor in the ridges of Murang’a. Ahead of the 2017 elections, the candidacies of the two political heavyweights scared away other potential contenders, leaving the duo to face off in a bruising campaign.
In a show of might, Mr Kamau in December 2016 hosted then National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale and other leaders from across the country in a rally at the Mumbi grounds in Murang’a town where Mr Wa Iria’s record as governor was roundly criticised.
But his use of the government machinery, owing to his connections to top State House honchos, seemed to have worked against him.
His critics accused him of misusing his political influence to get his way and believing political brokers instead of creating links directly with the grassroots. These were some of the reasons cited for his failure to capture the Murang’a governorship though he had been endorsed by State House operatives and ran a spirited and well-oiled campaign.
Analysts also believe that his appearances with a fleet of police vehicles also worked against his political agenda, with the electorate seeing him as an unapproachable leader that they could not have accessed if he had clinched the governor’s seat.
In the end, Mr Kamau lost the Jubilee primaries by a narrow margin, a loss he challenged at the Political Parties Disputes Tribunal, believing he had been rigged out. But he later withdrew the complaint partly because he was close to President Kenyatta, who had pleaded with runners-up to support the party’s candidates, with the promise of State appointments.
In 2018, Mr Kamau was appointed chairperson of the Tana and Athi Rivers Development Authority (Tarda). He also spends time overseeing his businesses, which include a flour-milling plant in Thika, from where he can easily access Thika Greens Hotel, where he likes to golf.
Jamleck Irungu Kamau helped establish the foundations of the defunct Nairobi Metropolitan Ministry, and had the dreams of its pioneer ministers been anchored in law and carried through, the pace of the ongoing regeneration of the inner city and the development of the transport network under Nairobi Metropolitan Services would have been faster.