The Nyeri County governor race is a male dominated contest pitting five aspirants, including incumbent Mutahi Kahiga, who is seeking a rare second term in an area that has had a record four governors since 2013.
Mr Kahiga became the fourth Nyeri governor, literally by accident, after Dr Wahome Gakuru, the man he had deputised for barely three months, died in a car crash.
The county also had the misfortune of having two governors die in office, with Nderitu Gachagua dying in early 2017. He was replaced by Mr Samwel Wamathai.
Two frontrunners angling to oust Mr Kahiga are Nyeri industrialist Thuo Mathenge and Senator Ephraim Maina. There are also two others, Mr Peter Munyiri and Mr Gachara Kamanga, both economists who happen to come from the same village of Kiamariga in Mathira constituency.
The county has six constituencies with more than 492,046 registered voters in 2022. As per the 2017 figures, Kieni had the highest number (109,000), followed by Mathira (99,496), Nyeri Town (82,860), Othaya (58,566), Mukurweini (55,310) and Tetu (51,716).
Kieni and Mathira, as has happened in the past, will be the swing vote constituencies. Mr Kahiga, Mr Mathenge and Mr Maina have family connections in the two constituencies and it will be interesting to see how they share the spoils.
Mr Mathenge picked Dr Esther Wanjiru Maina, a lecturer from Karatina University, who hails from Itundu village in Mathira constituency as his running mate. His choice of the don is seen as bait for the Mathira electorate.
Mr Kahiga has dangled the deputy governor’s carrot to Mukurweini constituency, nominating Mr David Warui Kinaniri as his running mate.
Mr Maina had not publicly announced his running mate by the time of filing this story even as some sources indicated he was eyeing Tetu for one.
A number of issues are likely to influence the outcome of the August 9 contest, key among them agriculture.
Nyeri is a coffee, tea and dairy farming zone, but other forms of agriculture are also practised. Those wishing to win voters’ hearts will have to show them practical solutions to problems that have bedevilled this sector.
Health is another area that those eyeing the seat will capitalise on.
Party affiliation, at the moment, does not seem to be a key determining factor as most voters seem to be more interested in what the individual puts on the table.
However, the elevation of Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua to be Deputy President William Ruto’s running mate might have an impact on the county polls.
Mr Mutahi was also tasked with coordinating UDA activities and is likely to use this role to promote himself.
The naming of Narc Kenya’s Martha Karua, who hails from the neighbouring Kirinyaga County as the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party’s presidential running mate, has also caused some excitement in Nyeri .
Political observers say this is likely to boost the morale of Azimio candidates who are keen to whittle down UDA’s influence in the county.
Mr Mathenge’s quest to clinch the county’s top seat has faced hurdles in the past after he was locked out over “suspect” academic papers. This time round, he says that he has the right papers and is running on The New Democrat Party ticket.
Apart from Mr Kahiga,Mr Mathenge is the only aspirant who has officially launched his manifesto. He is campaigning on a 10-point plan that includes improving the health sector, which, he claims, has been run down.
He also promises to boost agribusiness in the county by establishing poultry, rabbit, piggery, and bee keeping among other farming activities in every home.
If elected, he says, “I’ll ensure agro-processing factories are set up, subsidised farm inputs are available to the farmers and markets are available for the farm produce.” A successful farmer, he also promises to establish cottage industries in every village to create jobs.
Daily food rations
Mr Mathenge has also drawn up a budget in which he proposes that, out of more than Sh8 billion disbursed to the county annually, his government will set aside Sh3 billion for cottage industries and Sh2 billion to boost agriculture.
Another Sh2 billion will be spent to boost small businesses as well as set up a social welfare fund for a feeding programme for all nursery and primary school children, and daily food rations for all the over-70-year-old residents.
Mr Maina is a fierce critic of the Kahiga administration and is expected to capitalise on the weaknesses of the incumbent.
On several occasions, he has accused the Kahiga administration of running down the health sector, saying the county government was obsessed with mega projects that are meant to create looting opportunities.
“As people are being hard pressed by all manner of diseases ... the only thing that the county government has done is to build cabro roads and you know there are no thorns there, so the reason they want to build is to create opportunities to loot,” Mr Maina said recently.
However, Mr Kahiga defended himself against the accusations.
“He is supposed to be a defender of devolution and not a ‘lamenter’ and we’re shocked that all he can do is to walk around saying things that are unheard of,” he said.
Advantage of incumbency
Mr Kahiga, who got the ticket UDA following a deal brokered by DP Ruto that saw his would-be challenger in the party nominations Mr Wahome Wamatinga drop his bid, has the advantage of incumbency.
He is also behind the implementation of two World Bank funded projects—construction of a modern matatu terminus and a Level Four hospital in Naromoru town.
Until two months ago, Mr Kamanga and Mr Munyiri were Nyeri Jubilee Party Aspirants Caucus officials, holding chairman and secretary posts respectively.
Mr Kamanga has opted to run as an independent candidate, while Mr Munyiri joined Chama Cha Kazi—a Moses Kuria outfit affiliated to the Kenya Kwanza Alliance, which is associated with Deputy President Ruto. Mr Munyiri said he abandoned Jubilee after “listening to the ground”.
He would serve all residents, if elected, he added, and will give the fight against poverty priority.
“Guided by the will of the people and after listening to our many ground supporters, I’ve taken a stand in matters concerning political parties.
“It’s all about the people,” Mr Munyiri said, adding, his government will be an all-inclusive one.
Mr Kamanga takes pride in being part of a group that included Gakuru, which former president Mwai Kibaki appointed to craft the Vision 2030 blueprint.
TOMORROW: The battle for Kakamega as Fernandes Barasa and Cleophas Malala seek to succeed Wycliffe Oparanya