The race for Murang’a governor is shaping up into a popularity contest between Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party that Raila Odinga leads and the Kenya Kwanza Alliance under Deputy President William Ruto.
Other factors likely to determine the winner are the candidates’ age and track record.
Residents aged between 19 and 45 years form the bulk of the voters, with the average age of the contenders being 47.
The influence of Mt Kenya Foundation (MKF) billionaires and government operatives is heavily pronounced on the ground, mobilising support for Mr Odinga and Jubilee Party hopefuls.
DP Ruto is using the popularity he has cultivated for nine years to hold on to the region’s support.
The state’s covert political support is led by Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia, who hails from the county, while MKF is represented by former Equity Bank chairman Peter Munga and Royal Media Services Chairman Samuel Kamau (SK) Macharia, who is also from the county.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) cleared six candidates for governor. They include Mr Jamleck Kamau, representing Azimio interests, and Senator Irungu Kang’ata , who is rallying voters behind Kenya Kwanza.
Sibling rivalry between Mr Irungu Nyakera of the Farmers Party, who is allied to Kenya Kwanza, and Dr Kang’ata, is also showing in the campaigns.
Former Water principal secretary Joseph Wairagu is campaigning on a platform of continuing with President Kenyatta’s legacy but has shied away from endorsing either of the lead presidential candidates Raila and Ruto .
Dr Moses Mwangi, who in the 2013 and 2017 polls came a distant second to the outgoing governor Mwangi wa Iria, will be flying the Safina Party flag. Like Mr Wairagu, he has not endorsed any presidential candidate.
Former Health executive Joseph Mbai is contesting on Usawa Kwa Wote Party. He, too, has no affiliation to any presidential candidate. Mr Henry Maina is running on an Independent ticket.
All the candidates are promising improved agricultural returns, healthcare and people-driven policies, a conducive trading environment and employment creation opportunities.
Security agencies cite illicit brews, narcotics trade and the outlawed Mungiki sect, especially in Kigumo Sub-County where the gang extorts from public service vehicles, to be salient issues that demand urgent redress.
Farmers have also complained of theft of high-value crops such as coffee, macadamia, avocados and tea. Livestock theft and milking of people’s dairy cows under cover of darkness is also rampant .
County Commissioner Karuku Ngumo has frequently urged politicians to use devolved funds to establish income-generating projects to address joblessness and insecurity challenges.
“The problem we have is not entirely a security one. Formulation and implementation of wealth creation policies is within the mandate of political leaders. We can guarantee security to those projects that deliberately address the issue of unemployment,” he said.
Agriculture executive Albert Mwaniki says vervet monkeys are also a major challenge.
“We need leaders who will mobilise other leaders in the three parliaments (National Assembly, Senate and County Assembly) to push the national government to round [up] the primates and compensate farmers for damage to crops,” he said.
All the candidates claim to have the solution to these challenges.
Agribusiness and markets lobby chairman John Warungu said voters will judge the candidates’ track records. “We know all of them and picking the best won’t be a problem for us,” he said.
The county has seven constituencies, with Kiharu having the highest number of voters at 114,758, followed by Kandara (105,258), Maragua (102,383), Gatanga (101,296), Kigumo (82,599), Mathioya (58,102) and Kangema (52,002).
Mr Kamau hails from Kigumo, Mr Nyakera from Mathioya, Mr Wairagu and Dr Kang’ata (Kiharu), Dr Mwangi (Maragua), Mr Mbai (Gatanga) while Mr Maina is from Kandara.
To craft winning numbers, Mr Kamau has picked a running mate from Kangema, Dr Kang’ata and Mr Wairagu from Gatanga, Mr Nyakera from Kandara, Mr Mbai from Kiharu with Dr Mwangi and Mr Maina settling on Mathioya.
Mr Kamau and Mr Nyakera are the only candidates who have picked women as running mates.
So fierce is the contest that the leadership of the major women lobbies—Forum for African Women Educationalists (Fawe)-Kenya and Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organisation (MYWO)—have gone separate ways.
While Fawe’s Cecilia Gitu supports Azimio and Mr Odinga, Ms Lucy Ngugi of MYWO supports UDA boss DP Ruto.
“Mr Odinga is the only one who can guarantee Murang’a development. Mr Kamau is the ideal governor or any other candidate allied to Azimio. The agenda is to get someone who can help Mr Odinga serve our county from State House,” she said.
But Ms Ngugi insists that DP Ruto is the real deal who, in partnership with Dr Kang’ata, “will ensure women inclusivity in Kenya Kwanza Alliance government”.
Dr Kanga’ta is the only one who has picked a youth, aged 29, as his running mate.
Fierce competition has seen Mr Kamau and Dr Kang’ata bloggers dominate social media combat where they unleash opinion polls not supported by any scientific sense.
They have both publicly endorsed their preferred presidential candidates.
“We’re no longer hiding it. We are supporting Mr Odinga and that is the truth. My candidature had earlier appeared undecided but it’s no longer the case. I’m supporting Mr Odinga and that is it,” Mr Kamau said.
On the other hand Dr Kanga’ta insists that “Dr Ruto and UDA is the ticket for Murang’a County”.
He said “besides selling myself as the most ideal candidate, I am pushing for a Dr Ruto win since he has signed an economic charter with us as a county to guide service delivery by the national government”.
Mr Nyakera and Mr Wairagu have also been engaged in fierce rivalry. On May 22, supporters allied to the two camps engaged in a violent confrontation in Kiharu Sub-County, leaving 12 injured. This forced the county security committee to threaten to push for their disqualification.
Mr Nyakera has since written a letter to their coalition partners complaining of being sidelined and fought by area UDA stalwarts.
The county is home to two critical pillars of DP Ruto and UDA campaigns in Mt Kenya—Mr Ndindi Nyoro who hails from Kiharu and Ms Alice Wahome from Kandara.
According to former Sports chief administrative secretary Zack Kinuthia, who is contesting for the Kigumo parliamentary seat on a Party of National Unity ticket, the outcome of the vote will be determined by how the candidates manage to control sibling rivalry.
“In my opinion, Mr Kamau, Dr Mwangi, Mr Wairagu and Mr Mbai belong to the same cluster and are appealing to the same spectrum of voters—those who believe in the Handshake politics. On the other hand, Dr Kang’ata, Mr Nyakera and Mr Maina are eating into each other’s target voters. The winner is the one who will manage to conquer their camp and still get support from the other formation,” he said.
At the end of the day, Mr Kinuthia said, voters will be picking the best to work with their favourite presidential candidate.
Wa Iria’s bid to influence his succession received a battering when IEBC barred him from contesting the presidency.
TOMORROW: Bomet County, where a three-way battle for the top seat is underway