Alleged disregard of pre-election pacts including key appointments and clan interests are emerging as key ingredients fuelling the fresh round of power struggle and nasty falling out between governors and their deputies, months after they assumed office.
Political wrangles are already simmering in many counties over alleged sidestepping of deputy governors by their bosses.
Public spats in Siaya and Kericho, plus disquiet in Meru and Baringo, speak to the fact that some governors and their deputies are pulling in different directions.
Interviews with some of the deputy governors – some who declined to speak on record – revealed that the fights in the counties are widespread.
These fresh fights in the counties – which the deputy governors have claimed are largely because of being ignored in the running of the counties – have once again revived the debate on the need to define their roles.
The law, apart from stipulating that deputy governors are the principal assistants of their bosses, does not say what they should do or the decisions they can make while in office.
It is thought that because of this, most governors have found a leeway to sidestep their deputies, who most of them see as competitors rather than partners.
Instructively, the only functions that are ascribed to the deputy governor are set out in Article 179 of the Constitution.
The article says deputy governors are the deputy chief executive officers of a county who should deputise governors in the absence of the latter.
Article 181, which is about the removal of a governor, says the deputy is the heir-apparent.
Machakos Deputy Governor Francis Mwangangi told the Sunday Nation that their discussions under the Deputy Governors’ Forum had revealed that a majority of the deputies were already having trouble with their bosses.
Mr Mwangangi said part of the problem are pre-election pacts signed in the run-up to the last General Election which have largely been trashed.
“One of the main problems is the manner the governors picked their deputies during the campaigns. In some instances, the deputies were picked to meet regional balance. Some came in as equals and even signed memorandums of understanding,” he said.
“Some even spelt out how key county appointments would be shared out. But upon election, some of the governors have trashed the deals. Some of the governors also see their deputies as potential threats because of the ethnic dynamics involved,” he added, while advising his colleagues to learn how to work with their bosses without interfering with service delivery.
In Siaya – the home county of Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition leader Raila Odinga – Governor James Orengo and his deputy William Oduol have treated the electorate to supremacy battles that have sometimes turned chaotic.
Mr Odinga is said to have since moved in to try to forestall possible frustration of service delivery.
Mr Oduol has accused his boss of keeping him off important affairs of the county, prompting the elders and former elected leaders from Alego Usonga, where Mr Oduol comes from, to try to reach out to Mr Orengo.
Mr Oduol has been claiming that wanton corruption is going on in the executive wing of the county government under the watch of the governor.
These allegations have, however, been refuted by the governor’s side which insists that Mr Orengo is the one who ordered an audit that unearthed some of the alleged misappropriation of funds.
Some of the alleged theft of funds, Mr Orengo’s backers say, points back to the previous administration.
According to the governor’s team, Mr Oduol has been using the contents of the audit report, which largely covered the previous administration, to fight his boss.
They have also accused him of trying to interfere with procurement in the county.
But Mr Oduol insists that the bad blood between him and the governor is due to his hard stance against corruption.
Mr Chris Owala, the director of the Community Initiative Action Group, said the bad blood between the two is affecting service delivery in Siaya.
“There are employees in the county government who are constantly looking at their backs as the conflict between the two leaders escalates. This is affecting service delivery because the workers can’t offer services to the people because of fear. Those working in the office of Mr Oduol are suffering too,” said Mr Owala.
In Kericho, the leadership and administrative spat between Governor Erick Mutai and his deputy Fred Kirui has re-erupted after seven months of a lull.
Mr Kirui has been accused of absconding duty and failing to attend key meetings.
His “absence” is said to have led Dr Mutai to delegate executive duties to a County Executive Committee (CEC) member through a letter dated April 19, in what lifted the lid on the re-emergence of a fallout between the two top guns in the county.
“You are hereby appointed to be in charge of all matters at the Executive Office of the Governor while I am away from office on April 24, 2023 to May 3, 2023. May I take this opportunity to wish you well as you undertake this duty,” said Dr Mutai in his letter to Rosemary Rop, the CEC in charge of Water, Energy, Environment, Forestry and Natural Resources.
Mr Kemboi Robinson, a resident, has petitioned for action by the county assembly, claiming that Mr Kirui has not attended to his official duties from February 1 to May 2, in what has allegedly caused disruption of service delivery to the people.
Mr Kiprotich Rogony, the Member of County Assembly (MCA) representing the Soin Sigowet ward, has thrown a spanner in the works with a demand for action against the deputy governor for alleged absenteeism.
“Action should be taken against the deputy governor for failing to perform his duties, absconding duty and using the official government vehicles to run his personal errands instead of serving the people of Kericho County,” Mr Rogony said.
Dr Mutai and Mr Kirui have not spoken about the rift, which comes only seven months after deep-rooted differences became public but were shut down two months later when a truce was hammered out.
It followed claims by Mr Kirui that Dr Mutai had reneged on a 60-40 power sharing deal, clinched ahead of the April 14, 2022 United Democratic Alliance party nominations when they came together – with Mr Kirui sacrificing his gubernatorial ambitions – to beat former Devolution Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter.
The fallout came to fore when the deputy governor failed to attend the swearing in of MCAs, the unveiling of the nominees for positions in County Executive Committee (CEC), and skipped the International Coffee Day at Fort Ternan in Kipkelion West, which is a short distance away from his home, despite the fact he was around attending to private business.
“In total disregard to the pre-election agreement, my negotiated share of the cabinet slots in the list (of CECs) submitted to the county assembly for vetting is not reflected... I saw the list in the media like other members of the public,” Mr Kirui said in the first public admission of the rift between him and his boss.
Elsewhere, cracks have emerged in the Meru County executive following reports of a fallout between Governor Kawira Mwangaza and her deputy Isaac M’Ethingia.
Minority leader Mwenda Ithili and nominated MCA Kiriinya Mwenda accused governor Mwangaza of sidelining her deputy.
“I have vowed to speak the truth on what is happening in the county government. Currently, MCAs and county staff are operating under intimidation. The governor should know that she was elected alongside Mr M’Ethingia,” said Mr Ithili.
The Meru executive, in a recent press conference attended by CECs and chief officers, appeared to train their guns on the deputy governor.
Among those who spoke were County Secretary Kiambi Atheru and Chief of Staff Harison Gitonga.
“Today, we had a meeting of all CECs and chief officers but were surprised that the deputy governor did not attend or send an apology. Due to the allegations flying around, we cannot keep quiet. All these allegations have been prepared by our political detractors,” Mr Atheru said.
The county executive for Roads and Transport, Mr Ibrahim Mutwiri, said the deputy governor’s vehicle had not been confiscated.
However, Mr Atheru clarified that a vehicle under the office of the deputy governor was under probe for misuse.
“Government policy provides that a vehicle be used for official purposes only. We have the right to take action if there is reason to believe that a vehicle is being misused,” the county secretary said.
In Baringo, the political wars between the minority and populous community have come back to haunt Governor Benjamin Cheboi’s administration, with local leaders from the Samor community in Baringo Central protesting being sidelined in appointments by the devolved unit.
The minority communities have accused the governor of keeping his deputy Felix Maiyo, who comes from Baringo Central, “in the dark” on matters appointments despite them supporting him overwhelmingly in the elections.
The rift between the two emerged on Thursday afternoon when the deputy governor posted on a WhatsApp forum that he was not pleased with the list of nominees appointed as the county’s chief officers which had been forwarded by his boss to the county assembly on April 28 for recommendation by the county public service board.
In the list, the governor forwarded more than 19 names of nominees drawn from all the six constituencies in the region among them Baringo Central, Baringo North, Baringo South, Tiaty, Eldama Ravine and Mogotio.
During an event at Tenges in Baringo Central on Friday, the deputy governor asked locals to pray for him because “all is not well”.
His sentiments were corroborated by Tenges MCA Henry Kigen, who claimed that he was also not happy with the list of nominees forwarded to the assembly by the county boss.
“You have heard some rumours of the COs appointment,” said Mr Kigen. “We will stand firm and make sure that we get our right share as locals from Baringo Central,” said Mr Kigen.
Reporting by Moses Nyamori, Kassim Adinasi, Vitalis Kimutai and David Muchu