To vie or not? Dilemma of Handshake in Kisii, Nairobi

From left: ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna, MPs George Aladwa (Makadara) Simba Arati (Dagoretti North ) and Tim Wanyonyi (Westlands)

What will it take to become governor in Nairobi and Kisii counties, and what do aspirants who fail to clinch the seat stand to lose?

This is the quandary facing several aspirants who are eyeing the “Handshake” ticket for the gubernatorial race in the two devolved units ahead of party primaries .

This is as parliamentary aspirants in the camp that is backing Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party leader Raila Odinga’s presidential bid—and which is named after his political truce with President Kenyatta  in 2018—play their cards close to their chests with a keen eye on the two gubernatorial contests.

ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna, Nairobi County Assembly Speaker Benson Mutura, Makadara Member of Parliament George Aladwa, Gender Chief Administrative Secretary Beatrice Elachi and Nairobi County Assembly Minority Whip Peter Imwatok are some of the leaders caught in a catch-22 situation.

Wait-and-see

The politicians have adopted a wait-and-see attitude as they look forward to a decision on who will be the “Handshake” candidates for the two key positions before they formally declare their intentions to run for the parliamentary seats that will be left vacant because their holders are running for governor.

Dagoretti North MP Simba Arati is eyeing the Kisii governorship seat, where he is set to face off with Kisii Senator Sam Ongeri. Both leaders are in ODM and are said to be close to Mr Odinga. None, however, is willing to back down for the other. Nation understands that the fear among other aspirants is that Mr Arati could be prevailed upon to defer his gubernatorial bid to 2027 to allow the older Prof Ongeri to succeed the incumbent, Mr James Ongwae. This means politicians eyeing the Dagoretti North parliamentary seat will have to delay formally declaring their intentions to succeed Mr Arati, in case he makes a comeback.

Ms Elachi, for one, is said to be hoping to retake the seat she lost to Mr Arati in 2017, but is yet to officially declare her bid.

Mr Arati has been adamant that it’s only a matter of time before he launches his governorship bid, but has warned those seeking to succeed him that they can only be sure that he won’t defend his seat after Parliament adjourns for the elections.

“I’m still the area MP until 2022 and that is the only time they will be sure that I’m gone,” the second-term MP said.

Mr Sifuna is said to be eyeing three constituencies in Nairobi, come next year—Dagoretti North, Westlands and Lang’ata.

Jubilee Party

Westlands MP Tim Wanyonyi has already declared his candidature for the Nairobi governor seat, but sources  say the position could be given to a politician from Jubilee Party as part of the deal between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga. Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Richard Ngatia has emerged as a likely compromise candidate for the two parties.

This could force Mr Wanyonyi to defend his parliamentary seat, putting paid to any hopes of any other “Handshake” politician inheriting him. Reached for comment, Mr Sifuna was guarded, only saying that he is still undecided on which parliamentary seat he will be going for, come 2022.

In 2017, the SG vied for the Nairobi senatorial seat. On Monday, Mr Sifuna met with ODM delegates from Bungoma, during which he was “allowed” to transfer his political base from the Western county to Nairobi.

Mr Aladwa is also reportedly eyeing the Nairobi governor seat but the delicate “Handshake” matrix has seen him delay officially coming out to declare his bid.

Hold their horses

This, in effect, has left Mr Mutura and Mr Imwatok to also hold their horses. The latter is reported to have told his confidants that, should things not pan out as planned, he will retain his Makongeni Ward seat before going for the majority leader position.

Mr Mutura said he can declare his bid even at the last minute as he does not have to start early, having been in city politics for the last 20 years.

“I can go for any other seat. I can vie for the presidency or even a ward representative seat. I still have a job to do before I embark on other issues,” he said.

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