Governor Mwangi wa Iria’s decision to join the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition has stirred Mt Kenya politics ahead of the August 9 General Election, a competition where pundits agree every vote counts.
Mr Wa Iria’s strength is that he has in his two terms as governor managed to build hype that he is popular given that he was one of only two governors in the region who were re-elected in 2017. The other was Martin Wambora of Embu.
“The fact that he effortlessly won a second term gave Mt Kenya residents a fantasy that he was headed for area political greatness. He knows how to whip up political emotions to his favour and coming from a populous county that has 616,398 votes makes him relevant,” said Charles Mwangi, chairman of the Mt Kenya Members of County Assembly Caucus.
Mr Mwangi said Wa Iria’s mobilisation skills are phenomenal and he has a loyal base of supporters who believe in him.
“It remains to be tested whether those attributes only favoured him in Murang’a or will translate into a real asset for Mr Odinga,” Mr Mwangi added.
Mr Wa Iria endeared himself to his subjects by launching reforms in the dairy sector, introducing Hass avocados, building a fully equipped Intensive Care Unit (ICU) within 21 days and promoting freedom of trade, where an enforcement officer who displaces a hawker is sacked.
Azimio, chaired by President Uhuru Kenyatta and fronting Raila Odinga and Martha Karua as its presidential ticket, and Deputy President William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza alliance are wrestling for the area’s political soul.
While an Odinga presidency appears to favour the Jubilee Party as Mt Kenya’s political vehicle, Dr Ruto is pushing for his United Democratic Alliance (UDA). Mr Odinga wants to improve his past average of three percent popularity in the region, while Dr Ruto is seeking to inherit the over 90 percent rating that traditionally benefits area aspirants.
“Wa Iria’s entry into Azimio is obviously a plus for Mr Odinga and a minus for Dr Ruto. It is upon Dr Ruto to work hard and prevent further hemorrhage of his support among Mt Kenya voters. Any leader coming out in the region to support Odinga translates to his loss,” said Mr Mwangi.
Mr Wa Iria is billed to have the ability to attract votes from Murang’a, Nairobi, Nakuru, Uasin Gishu, Lamu, Nyeri, Kiambu, Kirinyaga and Laikipia — where there are high concentrations of Gikuyu-speaking residents.
“We do not take him seriously. He is irrelevant and his effect in Murang’a, let alone in Mt Kenya, is insignificant. This region is decided that it belongs to Dr Ruto and we will prove that on election date,” said Kandara MP Alice Wahome.
Mr Wa Iria, who heads the Usawa Kwa Wote party, had pitched for the presidency but the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) rejected his bid on the grounds that he had not met the bare minimum of submitting 48,000 signatures from his supporters and accompanying copies of their national identity cards.
“After failing to get justice in several attempts in the Judiciary and the IEBC, I toyed with the idea of transforming my party and my cause into a resistance movement … but Mr Odinga engaged me and shared my tribulations which he termed as an open case of injustice that we agreed to heal by partnering in pursuit of the common good of the country,” Mr Wa Iria said.
In the deal, Mr Wa Iria revealed, he will deliver Murang’a to the Azimio vote basket and in return be rewarded with a government appointment — preferably a Cabinet slot — and Mr Odinga, if he wins the presidency, would adopt the Usawa Kwa Wote manifesto and implement it.
Mr Wa Iria’s move has elicited mixed reactions even as he remained upbeat, announcing that he would on Saturday hold a mega rally at the Mumbi grounds in Murang’a to rally his party’s aspirants and supporters behind Azimio and Mr Odinga.
“I was not consulted and I will certainly not follow him into Azimio. I have since declared that I will campaign for Dr Ruto since he is the most favoured in Murang’a and Mt Kenya in general,” said Maragua Usawa Kwa Wote legislative aspirant Edwin Murira.
“I do not agree with Wa Iria that the Azimio manifesto shares the same spirit and letter, rather Kenya Kwanza Alliance’s does.”
Other aspirants in Murang’a under his party are Joseph Mbai for governor, Judy Mukira for Kiharu MP, Duncan Githiga for Kangema MP and Fraciah Muthoni for woman rep.
“But I think you are overrating this man … How Murang’a people, let alone those in Mt Kenya, failed to join his protest in Nairobi to push for his inclusion in the presidential race … how they laughed off his suggestion that they join him in founding a resistant movement … We should differentiate between a man in a self-serving cause and one in a national cause,” said Murang’a Senate aspirant Joe Nyutu.
This came as Senator Irungu Kang’ata accused Mr Wa Iria of seeking to pursue a personal deal that does not have the aspirations of Murang’a and Mt Kenya people at heart.
“He has boldly confessed that he bargained to be appointed into government. But you cannot blame him … He has several court cases and pending investigations that he might need Azimio to help him surmount … We are used to politicians in corruption distress going for fumigation in a deep state project,” he said.
The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) has frozen some of Mr Wa Iria’s properties in Nairobi and Nyeri counties in a Sh542 million graft case involving tendering for publicity services, with Top Image Media Consultants, a firm sleuths link to the governor’s relatives and associates in court papers.
He is also being investigated over the Sh300 million Murang’a County Creameries (MCC) plant in Maragua town that is yet to be surrendered to dairy farmers.