The battle lines are drawn in the race to clinch the gubernatorial seat, with the contest shaping up to be a repeat of the 2017 clash between Governor Ndiritu Muriithi and his predecessor Joshua Irungu.
Mr Muriithi is allied to the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party, whose presidential flag bearer is Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga, while Mr Irungu supports Deputy President William Ruto’s presidential bid. The DP leads the United Democratic Alliance, which is part of the Kenya Kwanza Alliance.
Also seeking to dislodge Governor Muriithi are former deputy governor Gitonga Kabugi (Narc-Kenya) and independent candidates Mburu Kamau and John Wakaba.
This will be the second time Mr Kamau, a Nairobi-based businessman, is taking a stab on the county’s top seat after it eluded him in the 2013 polls.
In 2017, Mr Kamau was defeated in the Jubilee Party primaries by Mr Irungu and opted to back the latter’s bid in an election that Mr Muriithi won as an independent candidate with 100,356 votes against Mr Irungu’s 98,349.
At stake for the candidates are the 257,515 registered voters in the county. Laikipia West constituency, from where Mr Muriithi, Mr Irungu and Mr Kamau hail, has 116,229 voters while Laikipia East, where Mr Kabugi and Mr Wakaba come from, has 92, 727.
In the 2013 elections, Laikipia West scooped the governor, senator and woman rep seats, retaining the first two but losing the latter seat to Laikipia East in the 2017 polls. With 48, 558 voters, Laikipia North constituency has never produced a candidate for the top three seats since the advent of devolution and could be a key swing vote on August 9.
Security, healthcare, infrastructure, agriculture, ethnic balance in employment in the county are among the key issues the aspirants must address.
Others are water, human-wildlife conflict, access to markets for farm produce and livestock, access to education for children in pastoral communities, early marriages, and the female ‘cut’.
All the aspirants view peaceful coexistence among the different communities in the cosmopolitan county as key. Governor Muriithi’s administration is accused of failing to improve health services, dismissing medical specialists and failing to obey court orders to reinstate the specialists.
Mr Irungu, who trounced Laikipia West MP Patrick Mariru in the UDA primaries, has pledged to finish the projects he started as governor.
“I’ve come to continue from where I left. Residents have really suffered and I’m promising to salvage them from the suffering occasioned by bad leadership,” he told the Nation.
Governor Muriithi has, however, dismissed the claims, insisting that he has a solid development track record. He cited the urban renewal project under the smart town initiative, rehabilitation of markets, improvement of roads and other infrastructure and improvement of agriculture.
“If you go to Nyahururu, Rumuruti, Nanyuki, Kinamba and other towns, you’ll see the work we’ve done. We’ve also drilled and established over 100 boreholes and water pans across the county,” he notes.
His vast experience as an administrator, Mr Muriithi said, played a big part in the county’s successful push for the creation of a new sub-county to increase security presence in restive Ol Moran.
The governor also touted the doubling of the county’s own source revenues since the 2016/2017 financial year and reforms in the county’s public service policy.
Mr Kamau told the Nation his focus will be on “better management of economic affairs to improve the livelihoods of our people”, adding, other areas of concern will be health, infrastructure, security and water.
“Our people have been flooding hospitals in neighbouring counties to seek health services due to mismanagement of our facilities. To deal with the perennial cases of insecurity, we’ll push for the establishment of permanent General Service Unit camps within Laikipia,” he added.
Mr Kabugi’s focus will be on water, agriculture, infrastructure, the economy and youth and women empowerment.
Always felt left out
“We are endowed with ample natural resources and hard-working people, but we lack visionary leadership to harness this and propel us to greatness. My aim is to promote equity in resource allocation, shared prosperity, good governance and zero tolerance to corruption,” he said .
The choice of running mate is also expected to influence the election outcome.
Since the advent of devolution, deputy governors have come from Laikipia East Constituency.
Governor Muriithi (whose deputy, Mr John Mwaniki is running for the Laikipia Senate seat), Mr Irungu and Mr Kamau are expected to pick their running mate from Laikipia East and Laikipia North while Mr Kabugi and Mr Wakaba are expected to pick their running mates from either Laikipia West or Laikipia North.
“Whoever picks a running mate from Laikipia North Constituency, a pastoralist region, stands the best chance of becoming the next governor,” Ms Hannah Kariuki, a veteran journalist who analyses local politics, told the Nation.
She said pastoral communities in Laikipia North have always felt left out in leadership and might vote for a candidate who picks one of their own.