His mannerism, dress and level of education have been used to judge his performance and ridicule him. He got a good measure of this during last year’s Embakasi by-election but a closer look reveals a simple practical and straight talking man who will sneak through the cordons around the President and chat him up in one minute and roll up his sleeves to dig dams for his water and food starved constituents in the next, while having no qualms about enjoying muthokoi at communal work events.
His lively, practical and entertaining style achieves a great deal in engaging and changing the lives of his constituents and, he may just have been the most pleasantly effective politician in the last parliament.
The Kenyan Spectator caught up with this maverick politician recently and visited some of the projects he had initiated in Kibwezi constituency which he served in the last parliament.
Smarting from a defeat in Kibwezi constituency, Kalembe moved to Nairobi to try his luck in by elections for Embakasi Constituency following the murder of the former MP elect, Mugabe Were.
With his Independent Party of Kenya, Tip Tip as he refers to it, operating from a van, he launched hurriedly put together a campaign to replace murdered MP.
At the time Obamamania had gripped the whole world. Even Kalembe referred to himself as Kenyan’s Obama; a big change from his previous slogan, ‘mwana wa skwota.’
Embakasi voters were not impressed and instead of inspiring hope, Kalembe was jeered in Embakasi rallies. Still he says: “I am the change Kenya needs.” He adds that, he has no (impressive) academic record to show but, he believes it takes more than good education and manners to solve Kenya’s problems.
“Common sense and hard work are required to move this country forward,” he says. This, he argues, is enough to deal with the squatters’ problem, a matter he holds close to heart.
Kalembe refers to himself as a gentleman. However, few people especially his former boss Morris Dzoro think of Kalembe as a gentleman. The two were involved in a public altercation about the running of the ministry of Tourism in the previous Government.
The politician was born in Mbui Nzau, Makueni and sees himself as a simple and practical man.
This simplicity and perhaps his approach to issues has rubbed many the wrong way especially when it comes to Government bureaucracy and protocol.
“I don’t understand why we make life difficult sometimes,” he says with a chuckle.
He describes an event after a presidential function that he says almost gave the protocol officer and other officials a heart attack.
After a campaign tour in 2007, he overlooked all protocol to hike a lift in the presidential chopper. This amused many including Environment Minister John Michuki and Danson Mungatana.
“I knew President Kibaki would not mind. We had a successful tour of western Kenya and I drummed up support for him,” he says.
Michuki seemed unhappy with the intrusion and breach of protocol.
“But I told him to ask the President’s opinion,” he says. The debate ended and Kalembe got a seat a few steps from Kibaki.
This was not the end of the unnerving drama. Once airborne, the Cessna crew served the only meal available on board; tea and a few samosas. The President was served with four while the rest got one each.
“I was hungry and one Samosa just made things worse,” he says. His next move made almost everyone on board freeze on their seats. Kalembe stretched his hand and picked another samosa from the President’s plate.
Officers tried to rough up Kalembe but Kibaki intervened.
“Kibaki told them ‘achaneni na kijana’(leave the young man alone),” says Kalembe with a chuckle.
The former MP says fear has caused many people to suffer.
“I was hungry and I knew the President could not eat all the Samosas,” he says.
From then on, he says, Kibaki’s league of ‘big’ men looked at him differently.
From an office messenger to an MP, Kalembe says his journey has been a learning experience. Taunted for his ‘little’ education, he says knowledge from books alone is not enough.
“Education theories must be laced with a dosage of reality. For things to work, the schooled should also listen to the unschooled,” he says. Kalembe says most of the problems facing the country could be resolved using his philosophy.
His ideals, he says, have been misunderstood. Since he joined politics, he adds, most people out of ignorance have branded him as uncultured. He defends himself saying he is a simple man and he represents thousands of Kenyans from a background like his.
How about his sometimes unsavoury language? He laughs aware that his insults against Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka during the campaigns in 2007 were criticised.
In his autobiography titled, My squatters, My struggle, My Dreams, Kalembe attempted to explain his style of politics.
“I wanted people to know, that anyone can make it in life despite their background. I also wanted people to know why I entered politics and the vision I have for my constituency and country,” he says.
He says though he was trounced in 2007 General Election, he has not given up on politics
“That was just a small set back,” he says.
Kalembe has not stopped planning for the future. Almost sure that he will be back in Parliament in 2012, he has his sights set on the highest seat on the land.
Though not yet complete, he has a clue of how he wants his party manifesto to look like.
“I would want better management of the national pension scheme. At the moment, hard working Kenyans are losing their savings due to official theft,” he says.
He says he would also restructure the civil service and decentralise service delivery.
“Why, for example, should foreigners be contracted to repair roads when there are locals who can do the same job?” he poses. He would also do away with fuel guzzlers associated with Government officials. It seems like the Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta is of the same opinion since he has already recommended that in this fiscal year’s budget.
On wildlife conservation, the former assistant minister feels that the country has got its priorities wrong.
“Hapa Kenya wanyama wameheshiwa zaidi ya binadamu. Wako na mashamba makubwa makubwa na askari wa kuwalinda na bunduki,” he says.
Kalembe advises Kenya to put elephants to better use.
“India ndovu wanatumiwa kulima mashamba,” he says. He is of the opinion that there should be a better human-wildlife conflict management policy. “We shouldn’t look like we care more about animals than human beings,” he says.
For expressing such opinions, he was always at loggerheads with technocrats at the Tourism ministry. “Hii watu hamuwezi kuelewana. Wako na madegree mingi sana ya kuhifadhi miti na wanyama. Hawajui mambo ya watu,” he says.
Kalembe says Government policies are clouded with mystery.
“They continue to heap wealth on a select few while impoverishing the masses. This is the curse of our national leadership,” he says.
Does he regret his political decisions especially during the General Election?
“No, given another chance, I would do things the same way,” he says.
The former MP says he does not regret sticking with PNU against the ODM-Kenya ‘wiper’ wave in Ukambani.
“I had my reasons for choosing PNU,” he says.
Kalembe says in politics, one has to make unpopular and sometimes costly choices. Though he lost, he believes the majority are not always right.