The contest for the governor seat in Kenya’s richest county and its capital, Nairobi, is shaping up to be a two-horse race.
Senator Johnson Sakaja is up against former deputy governor Polycarp Igathe in the fight for the hearts and minds of 2,415,310 voters spread across 17 constituencies and 85 wards.
Although the contest has attracted seven other candidates, the two are regarded as frontrunners in the battle to be Nairobi’s fourth governor.
With 2.4 million votes at stake, the highest among the 47 counties, it’s a do-or-die battle between Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party and Kenya Kwanza Alliance led by Mr Raila Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto respectively.
Senator Sakaja, who is embroiled in a fight to prove the legitimacy of his university degree, continues to lead in opinion polls.
The latest, released by research firm Tifa on June 21, had the Kenya Kwanza candidate as the most preferred governor contender at 40 per cent, ahead of Mr Igathe, who has been fighting the tag of being a ‘project’, who came second with 32 per cent.
Other candidates are businesswoman Agnes Kagure (Independent), Mr Kenneth Nyamwamu (United Progressive Alliance), tech-entrepreneur Harman Grewal (Safina), Mr Cleophas Kiio (Ford Kenya), Ms Nancy Mwadime (Usawa Kwa Wote), Ms Esther Thairu Waringa (Independent) and former journalist Denise Kodhe (Liberal Democratic Party).
The Tifa poll suggests Mr Sakaja enjoys majority support in Dagoretti North, Kibra, Roysambu, Embakasi North, Embakasi Central, Embakasi East, Makadara, Kamukunji, Langata, Ruaraka, Kasarani, Starehe, Mathare and Embakasi West constituencies.
Mr Igathe, on the other hand, has the backing of a majority of voters in Westlands, Dagoretti South and Embakasi South.
Mr Igathe got the nod to fly the Azimio flag, despite being a late entrant in the race, following a deal within the coalition that saw Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper Party given the deputy governor slot, nominating former Kibwezi MP Philip Kaloki.
The domino effect saw ODM’s candidate, Westlands MP Tim Wanyonyi, stepping down, with the party getting the Senate seat through its secretary-general Edwin Sifuna and Woman Representative in Ms Esther Passaris. The Orange party was also promised the County Assembly Speaker’s seat.
The pact saw Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Richard Ngatia and outgoing governor Anne Kananu, both of Jubilee, also shelve their gubernatorial ambitions.
However, Ms Kagure refused to endorse the deal, quitting Jubilee in protest to run as an independent.
On the other hand, Mr Sakaja was picked after former Starehe MP Bishop Margaret Wanjiru was persuaded to step down for the outgoing senator in a deal brokered by DP Ruto. Mr Sakaja picked banker Njoroge Muchiri for running mate.
Maverick city chief
With Governor Kananu dropping out of the race, the burden and advantage of incumbency will not play any significant role in the race.
Mr Igathe served a short stint as deputy governor in Mr Mike Sonko’s administration in 2017 before quitting, citing frustration from the maverick city chief, who was later impeached.
Mr Sakaja has been the city’s senator since 2017. He previously served as a nominated MP for five years.
The former senator has packaged himself as a governor who will herald a county government that will work for city residents and ensure quality service. His campaign mantra is ‘let us make Nairobi work’.
Mr Sakaja promises to ensure ease of doing business, devolving all county services to the sub-county level, fixing sewerage problems, tackling congestion and water problems and fighting corruption at City Hall by fully digitising revenue collection.
He’s also advocating a free feeding programme that will provide lunch in all 209 public primary schools in Nairobi to enable children from poor homes to get education.
“We must restore our city to its former glory by offering our people order, dignity, hope and opportunity for all,” he said.
On the other hand, Mr Igathe is seeking to transform the city with focus on service delivery. He says he will provide solutions for ease of doing business by introducing incentives to improve business performance while also reducing the multiple licences that many traders have been grappling with.
Further, all revenue streams will be digitised to ensure City Hall collects maximum own-source revenue to enable it to deliver essential services.
“Nairobi has over two million discrete properties but only about 120 of them pay rates. This tells you we have a problem with revenue collection in Nairobi and we need to fix it,” he said.
Mr Nyamwamu, who has named former banker and human rights activist Lilian Tina Achieng as his running mate,promises to tackle unemployment among the youth, create an enabling business environment and ensure efficient service delivery.
He says candidates’ integrity and resilience will be a factor in the race.
“Mr Sakaja has integrity issues over questions regarding his academic credentials while Mr Igathe is not a resilient leader after quitting as a deputy governor before, so I’m better positioned to lead,” he says.
Tribal arithmetic, which is largely informed by party politics, and individual track record will also come into play.
The Kikuyu, Luhya, Luo, Kamba and Kisii are the major tribes in the city and hold sway on who becomes governor. Most of these communities are coalescing around Azimio.
However, Mr Sakaja has been urging city residents to shun tribalism and vote for leaders based on their track record and character.
“Nairobi should... vote for leaders who have the interests of Nairobi at heart,” he said.
In terms of party dynamics, the Tifa poll showed that Mr Igathe’s Jubilee party had a popularity rating of only five per cent. However, the 49-year-old still managed to get a 32 per cent rating.
The Tifa poll interpreted this to be largely because of Mr Igathe’s affiliation with Azimio, which also includes ODM and Wiper, as boosting his popularity.
The poll put Azimio and ODM’s popularity at 30 per cent and 46 per cent respectively, followed by UDA at 22 per cent and Kenya Kwanza Alliance at 24 per cent.
Ms Kagure, who picked Mr Abel Onchari Oyieyo as her running mate, says she stands the best chance of becoming the next governor because, as opposed to previous years when party politics largely determined elections, this year's polls will be decided by the agenda proposed by candidates and the practicability of their solutions.
“I’ve demonstrated over the years that I’ve all it takes to deliver quality leadership to the residents of our county having been actively involved in development, education and social works through my foundation for many years, giving me a first-hand experience of the challenges our people face as well as the solutions they know will work for them,” Ms Kagure says.
Mr Kodhe, who has picked Steve Paul, a 28-year-old graduate of Business Management, as his running mate, says he wants to bring change in Nairobi’s leadership by making sure that systems work.
His short-term agenda includes ensuring that city residents get clean water, streamline and strengthen drainage and sewer systems and also enhance infrastructure development and security.
“I’m coming in as a servant of the people of Nairobi and not as a project of certain politicians. All that is required is streamlining of activities and services.”
TOMORROW: Trans Nzoia, where controversy over maize and land dominates campaigns ahead of the August 9 General Election.