The Embu governorship race has narrowed down to a two-horse race between former senator Lenny Kivuti and nominated MP Cecily Mbarire.
The battle lines have been drawn after Mr Kivuti of the Devolution Empowerment Party (DEP), which is led by Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi and is affiliated to Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition, and Ms Mbarire of United Democratic Alliance (UDA) threw their hats in the ring.
Others who have declared interest to succeed Governor Martin Wambora are Dr Njagi Kumantha of the Democratic Party (DP), a medical doctor, and former Manyatta MP Emilio Kathuri (Jubilee).
Tribal affiliation, the local and national development scorecard, appeal to the electorate, financial muscle and party politics are expected to determine Mr Wambora’s successor.
Embu is a cosmopolitan county with the dominant community being Embu followed by the Mbeere and Kamba.
Kikuyus also have a significant population in the county.
Mr Kivuti might have an edge over his rivals as he hails from the expansive Mbeere, which comprises Mbeere North and Mbeere South constituencies, with the debate on the rotational governorship seemingly in his favour.
However, it won’t be a smooth ride for the former senator, who lost with less than 1,000 votes, when he garnered 96,775 votes against Mr Wambora’s 97,760 in 2017.
Mr Kivuti has picked businessman Joseph Nyaga, who hails from upper Embu, as his running mate. He believes he has what it takes to win: resources and excellent campaign strategies.
Runyenjes and Manyatta votes
Ms Mbarire, Mr Kathuri and Dr Kumantha come from upper Embu and pundits say they are likely to share the Runyenjes and Manyatta votes, but with the possibility of still scooping a sizeable number of Mbeere votes with the running mates’ dynamic as well as Deputy President William Ruto’s influence in the region.
Ms Mbarire, who is described by the locals as approachable and social, is flying DP Ruto’s UDA flag and is confident of victory.
‘‘I want to be of service to my county. I’ve been an MP for long and I want to serve them at another level.
“And, of course, one of the biggest things I would want to focus on is economic empowerment by ensuring our people benefit from resources God has blessed us with, mainly agriculture and other resources like sand in Mbeere,” Ms Mbarire said.
Served in Parliament for 20 years
She has served in Parliament for 20 years, first nominated in 2002 by the National Rainbow Coalition, won Runyenjes seat in 2007 and served for 10 years, before being nominated by Jubilee in 2017.
She believes she now has what it takes to be the second governor of Embu.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a woman competing with men. It will not be easy for them to win. I’ve always faced men in my political life,” said Ms Mbarire, who is nicknamed ‘Karinda’ (dress) by the locals.
Ms Mbarire proudly uses the nickname in her campaigns.
She said Karinda is a symbol of power and authority.
“Will you vote for Karinda?” she asked recently while on campaign trail amid applause.
Born and raised in Embu, Ms Mbarire said, she knows the problems residents face and will solve them, if elected.
For Mr Kivuti, he has never vied on a dominant party in the county or in the Mt Kenya region before, and this year is no different.
He won the Siakago MP seat in 2007 under Safina, thrashing National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, who ran on the more popular Mt Kenya party of PNU.
Banking on UDA
In 2013, Mr Kivuti vied for Embu senatorial seat on the Alliance Party of Kenya ticket against TNA, which was then dominant in Mt Kenya counties.
Similarly, in 2017, he almost trounced Governor Wambora who rode on the Jubilee wave. He had contested the seat on Maendeleo Chap Chap party.
Mr Kivuti is now the national chairman of DEP and he will be running on its ticket.
The former senator is a close confidant of Speaker Muturi.
On the other hand, Ms Mbarire is close to DP Ruto and she will be banking on UDA popularity to win.
Mr Kivuti believes he is best suited to succeed Mr Wambora.
‘‘The challenges [that continue to face] our people in water, infrastructure, healthcare, ICT connectivity, youth unemployment, dwindling returns in agricultural economy and cohesion of our diverse communities need someone who can bring professional management skills, political lobbying expertise, global exposure, and international beneficial linkage as the next governor of Embu,” he said.
Unsuccessful in 2017
Dr Kumantha, who unsuccessfully ran for the same seat in 2017, will be trying his luck again in the August General Election.
He would focus on improving the economy through proper use of resources, he said.
“I believe we have enough resources in Embu, and if they’re harnessed, we can revive our economy, which is at its lowest because all our cash crops are being sold at throwaway prices.
“Farmers require good markets for their produce to make profits and grow economically,” he said.
If elected, Dr Kumantha will also reform the health sector, which, he said, is in a crisis.
Wealth of experience
“There are no drugs and adequate equipment in hospitals. Having worked as a doctor in public institutions, I have a wealth of experience and I will transform the health sector for the benefit of Embu residents,” he said.
Mr Kathuri promises to have residents of the arid Mbeere region provided with clean drinking water, if elected. He said residents have been suffering for long, especially when rains fail.
Mr Kathuri also promises to help coffee and tea farmers add value to their produce to fetch high prices. “Farmers have been earning peanuts, making it difficult for them to break even. Value addition is the solution,” he said.
Embu has 309,468 registered voters. Manyatta constituency leads with 99,339, Runyenjes (86,977), Mbeere South (72,143) and Mbeere North (51,009).
For one to win the heart of Mbeere voters, he or she should address Muguka farming, the water crisis and the controversial Mwea Trust Land.
In Upper Embu, many residents are coffee and tea farmers and would like value addition addressed so that they get more money from their produce.