Tharaka Nithi: Azimio in rough seas on sibling rivalry, UDA wave

From left: Nyamu Kagwima, Erastus Njoka and Mzalendo Kibunjah.

Photo credit: File

The debacle surrounding the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party zoning dispute in the Tharaka Nithi gubernatorial contest could turn out to be the outfit’s Achilles heel, with Jubilee, Narc Kenya and Wiper parties all fielding their own candidates.

Azimio is facing stiff competition from Governor Muthomi Njuki of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) and Mr Gitari Mbiuki of Chama cha Kazi.

The political rivalry between Prof Erastus Njoka of Jubilee Party, Dr Mzalendo Kibunjia (Narc Kenya) and Deputy Governor Nyamu Kagwima (Wiper) is a major stumbling block to Azimio’s quest to bag the governor seat in a county that has a history of voting as a bloc.

Efforts by President Uhuru Kenyatta to prevail upon Dr Kibunjia to deputise Prof Njoka flopped even after “frustrating” Dr Kibunjia by appointing his running mate, Ms Jane Kithinji, as Kenyan ambassador to Russia a month ago. Dr Kibunjia has since identified another running mate. 

“I’ve not shelved my ambitions to contest the governor seat and I’ll be unveiling another running mate this week,” Dr Kibunjia told the Nation earlier in the week while dismissing reports that President Kenyatta had convinced him to drop his bid.

Re-election battle

 Deputy President William Ruto’s UDA, which is a member of the Kenya Kwanza Alliance, enjoys a huge following in the county but this is unlikely to play a big role in delivering victory for Governor Njuki in his re-election battle, according to political pundits.

So popular is the DP, it seems, that Azimio affiliate candidates are reportedly avoiding to campaign for Mr Odinga in order not to hurt their chances to be elected. Due to the fear of facing hostility from the locals, the aspirants, who have removed Mr Odinga’s portraits and symbols from their publicity materials, are now asking the residents to vote for presidential candidates of their choice.

National politics aside, local factors could also be a factor in deciding the governor race outcome. 

Tharaka Nithi County is made up of three constituencies—Maara, Chuka/Igambang’ombe and Tharaka. Residents of Tharaka Constituency claim it’s their turn to produce a governor because Mr Samwel Ragwa (2013-2017) was from Maara and Mr Njuki is from Chuka/Igambang’ombe.

The argument that is increasingly gaining traction as the August 9 polls approach is a disadvantage to Mr Njuki, Mr Mbiuki and Mr Njoka who are from Chuka/Igambang’ombe. It, however, favours Dr Kibunjia and Mr Kagwima, who are both from Tharaka.

Bishop James Mwathi, an opinion leader from Tharaka, said at Kathwana during the launch of Dr Kibunjia’s manifesto and unveiling of his running mate that the three constituencies should produce a one-term governor for equity.

However, Governor Njuki, Mr Njoka and Mr Mbiuki have strongly opposed proposals for a rotational governorship, saying, a leader can come from any part of the county provided that he or she has the right qualities.

The sub-tribe factor is also another aspect that is likely to count in the elections of the county boss, women rep and senator. Tharaka residents are likely to rally behind Dr Kibunjia and Mr Kagwima while Mr Njuki, Prof Njoka and Mr Mbiuki will enjoy huge support from Chuka.

The three constituencies have almost equal numbers of registered voters according to the 2017 Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) register, with Chuka/Igambang’ombe having 76,486, Maara 68,729 while Tharaka has 67,939.

Maara, dominated by Mwimbi and Muthambi sub-tribes, will be a battlefield region. The alignments of politicians seeking various seats will contribute to the voting pattern in the county.

The running mate factor will also influence voters’ choices. Dr Kibunjia has indicated that he will pick a female running mate from Maara constituency while Mr Njuki’s deputy is seeking to unseat him.

Governor Njuki has teamed up with Maara MP Kareke Mbiuki, his Chuka/Igambang’ombe counterpart Patrick Munene, UDA Women Rep candidate Beatrice Kathomi and UDA Senate hopeful Mwenda Gataya.

Prof Njoka has joined hands with Maara MP Jubilee candidate Lawrence Kaburu, Chuka/Igambang’ombe MP hopeful Micheni Muthomi of The Service Party, Jubilee Women Rep hopeful Peninah Kabanja and Tharaka MP Jubilee candidate Mutegi Kabisani.

The Sh34 million corruption case against Governor Njuki that is pending in court has dealt him a huge blow in his campaigns and could be a factor in the final decision by voters were his rivals to get the residents to use it as a yardstick for determining his fate.

His opponents have claimed that he should not be elected unless cleared by the court and that he had been barred from office.

Having a hard time

 “You should not re-elect Governor Njuki because he has already been barred from accessing his office at the county headquarters in Kathwana,” Prof Njoka said during a meeting in Chuka recently.

On the other hand, Prof Njoka is also having a hard time campaigning in Tharaka constituency after earlier proposing a change of the county name to Meru South sub-county, a proposal that angered Tharaka residents who felt that the intention was to remove the name Tharaka.

“We’re not comfortable with Prof Njoka because he may rename the county once he is elected governor,” said Mr James Mati, a resident of Kibunga.

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