With less than a week to the elections, the campaigns for the Makueni Senate seat have intensified.
Governor Kivutha Kibwana, Makueni MP Daniel Maanzo and little-known businessman Patrick Mbau are widely seen as the front runners in the race.
Others eyeing the seat are former Makueni executive Robert Kisyula, governance and leadership expert Victoria Nzisa and Ms Florence Nzula.
The contest has fuelled sibling rivalry among members of the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party.
Initially seen as a continuation of the supremacy battle between Prof Kibwana and Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka, this has been complicated by the entry of Mr Mbau, a newcomer who is giving Prof Kibwana and Mr Maanzo sleepless nights.
Prof Kibwana, who heads Azimio flag bearer Raila Odinga’s presidential campaign in Ukambani, has been forced to retreat to his backyard.
He has joined the other candidates who have been criss-crossing the county to popularise their bids.
In their campaigns, Mr Maanzo and Prof Kibwana portray Mr Mbau as a political novice who can’t effectively represent the county’s nearly one million residents at the Senate.
“Mr Mbau does not clearly understand the roles of a senator,” says Mr Maanzo.
“The Senate is a serious office which requires a seasoned and experienced leader. Mr Mbau has no history of being a school captain or the chairman of a local development project,” says Mr Nzioki King’ola, a member of Prof Kibwana’s executive and a key figure in his campaign.
Mr Mbau shrugged off the criticism, saying he has what it takes to represent the county.
The 34-year-old Nairobi-based businessman, who studied Business Administration at the United States International University, is banking on the youth vote.
Mr Mbau hails from Kaiti constituency, which has 65,188 votes.
Beyond pledging to work closely with the county boss to accelerate the region’s development if he is elected to the Senate, Mr Mbau wants to inspire young people into leadership.
Unlike Mr Maanzo who has openly endorsed Senator Mutula Kilonzo’s gubernatorial bid, Mr Mbau has avoided aligning with any of the governor candidates. This is partly why he enjoys the support of both Azimio and Kenya Kwanza Alliance candidates and their supporters across the county.
Mr Mbau sees himself as the glue that will hold together all the leaders irrespective of their political leaning to unlock the county’s development potential
Armed with a Narc Kenya ticket, Mr Mbau says the nomination of party leader Martha Karua as Azimio deputy presidential candidate is a plus to his bid.
“Veteran politicians should step aside and give way for the young people to lead,” he says.
At 68, Prof Kibwana says he is a tried, tested and trusted leader who is most suitable to be the senator. He comes from Kibwezi West, which has 91, 544 voters.
He banks on his legacy and the network he has established in the past 10 years at the helm of the county. His notable achievements include revamping the healthcare system and setting up a robust public participation framework, which have seen residents take part in budget-making and managing projects at the grassroots.
Prof Kibwana campaigns on the platform of protecting and advancing the gains of devolution.
However, he has to contend with waning popularity as some of his key allies, among them civil servants, gravitate towards rival camps. This has exposed him to rebuke, especially from the Wiper fraternity.
Some of Prof Kibwana’s allies who have fallen out with him include his deputy Adelina Mwau, who is seeking the woman representative seat on a United Democratic Alliance (UDA) ticket, and Mr Kisyula, a former member of his Cabinet who is eyeing the Senate seat on a UDA ticket.
Mr Kisyula, who is riding on Deputy President William Ruto’s popularity in the region, hails from Kibwezi East Constituency, which has 64, 740 voters.
Just like Mr Maanzo and Mr Mbau, he argues that it is ‘immoral’ for the governor to vie for the Senate seat, arguing that he risks frustrating the auditing of county expenditures if he becomes the senator.
However, Prof Kibwana has laughed off the charge, saying his integrity is beyond reproach.
The governor’s senatorial bid received a major boost a month ago after a section of Ukambani elders endorsed his bid, in what analysts interpreted as an indictment on Mr Musyoka, who is perceived as the de-facto Kamba kingpin.
The Kamba Clans Governing Council, a lobby which brings together the leadership of all the 22 Kamba clans, crowned Prof Kibwana a Kamba elder and the patron of the organisation, citing his leadership acumen and legacy as a county boss.
2027 presidential bid
With his eyes set on the 2027 presidential bid, former vice president Musyoka is banking on Mr Maanzo and the Wiper candidates to firmly entrench himself as a powerful Kamba kingpin.
But he has to confront a growing list of critics led by Prof Kibwana who accuse him of being selfish. Their long-standing supremacy feud is understood to have played a big role in Mr Musyoka’s initial discomfort in Azimio, a move that saw Mr Odinga appoint Prof Kibwana to head his campaigns in Ukambani to the chagrin of Mr Musyoka.
The Wiper leader has on several occasions called on the region to only elect Wiper candidates to enhance his political value ahead of his 2027 presidential bid as he takes a swipe at Prof Kibwana whenever an opportunity presents itself.
“The last time I checked, Prof Kibwana was seeking the presidency. What has informed his downgrade?” he posed recently while campaigning for Mr Maanzo and other Wiper candidates at Kathonzweni Township.
Mr Maanzo banks on his 10-year experience as a lawmaker and his law background. Analysts say he stands a real chance of bagging the lion’s share of the 102,712 voters in the constituency he has represented for a decade. He also takes pride in his proximity to Mr Musyoka.
Mr Maanzo has mounted a low-key campaign alongside Mr Kilonzo Jnr and enjoys the backing of some of Mr Musyoka’s allies and their supporters in the county.
The outspoken MP is confident that he will beat Prof Kibwana whom he accuses of undermining Mr Musyoka and the Wiper leadership.
Champion of democracy
“I am a human rights defender and a champion of democracy. I confidently take up political space in national politics and look forward to representing our county and community in national politics. I will act upon pending legislative matters such as County Boundaries Bill, the Snake Bites Bill,” he says in a brief manifesto.
He believes Mr Mbau is a project of Prof Kibwana “to frustrate Wiper leaders” in the region.
Mr Maanzo has to contend with emerging cracks in the most popular party in the region. For instance, Thange MCA Nicholas Maitha, another Wiper diehard, is among Mr Musyoka’s allies who have openly endorsed Prof Kibwana.
“We should vote Prof Kibwana as the senator so that we sustain the governance structures he has put in place and take the county to greater heights,” he said recently when he joined Prof Kibwana in the campaign trail.
Similarly, Kaiti MP Joshua Kimilu, another Wiper luminary, has openly endorsed Mr Mbau who comes from his constituency.
TOMORROW: Nandi Hills Constituency, where two-term legislator Alfred Keter is facing a huge UDA wave