By Joseph Muchiri
EMBU, KENYA: The battle for Embu County governor seat shapes up as a supremacy contest between Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta’s The National Alliance party and the Alliance Party of Kenya of Energy minister Kiraitu Murungi.
Four aspirants are eyeing the seat in the cosmopolitan county where the Embu and Mbeere are the dominant communities. The county also hosts the Kamba and Kikuyu.
The Embu, who are in the majority in the county, and the Mbeere are attempting a deal to share county elective seats, but party affiliations could define the election of the first governor.
All the four aspirants are from the Embu community. They include former Runyenjes MP Martin Nyaga Wambora, who is also the immediate former Kenya Airports Authority chairman and Sylvester Gakumu, a former ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Others in the race are psychiatrist Dr Njagi Kumantha and Kithinji Kiragu, a management and strategic consultant.
The transition to the devolved government may see a break from the dominance of one family that has been at the centre of the region’s politics for more than six decades.
The Nyagah family, whose patriarch was Jeremiah Nyagah – one of the first eight Kenyans to sit at the legislative council (Legco) in the 1950s – now seem set to give the area a break after its last bastion announced he will not seek re-election in the 2013 elections.
Many in Embu, however, still think Co-operatives Development Minister Joe Nyagah may change his mind and run for senate. Nyagah was nominated to Parliament by ODM in 2007 after former Baptist minister Mutava Musyimi beat him in the Gachoka parliamentary race.
Named a member of the ODM Pentagon in 2007 for standing with the party in defiance of the PNU wave, Nyagah, however, recently ditched the party for Jubilee alliance of Uhuru.
Notably, the Nyagah family has had a representative in Kenya’s Cabinet for all but about 10 years of Kenya’s 49 years of independence. The 10 years include between 1992 and 1997 after the patriarch retired and his seat was inherited by Norman Gathakari Mwaniki Kingangi Nyagah on a Democratic Party ticket.
The Nyagah family has, against all odds, managed to be at the centre of Embu politics despite coming from the minority Mbeere community.
That Embus slightly outnumber the Mbeeres in the county was one of the main reasons why the ‘No’ side in the referendum for the new Constitution in 2010 saw this county as a fertile hunting ground.
Embu leaders such as Runyenjes MP Cecily Mbarire and Siakago’s Lenny Kivuti worked hard to secure victory for the ‘Yes’ side with assurances that included a pledge to rename the county Embu-Mbeere and negotiated democracy.
Some of the aspirants for various county seats like former Cabinet minister Peter Njeru Ndwiga have opposed proposals to reserve seats along community lines terming it “undemocratic.” From Manyatta on Embu’s side, Ndwiga is running for the senate seat proposed to be reserved for the Mbeeres.
From last year, some members of the Mbeere community have been campaigning for the sharing of the county seats as they feel they cannot compete on an equal footing with the majority Embu community.
No share for minority
The Mbeere’s Ngome Council of Elders has teamed up with the Embu Nyangi Ndiriri Council of Elders and they are proposing the governor and women representative seats should go to the Embus while the senator and deputy governor should be reserved to the Mbeeres. The Kamba and Kikuyu, who are the minority, have been left out of the power sharing deals.
David Miti Njuki, the chairman Ngome Council of Elders, said they would urge the communities not to vote for aspirants who do not support their proposal.
“Negotiated democracy would be best for the county based on the population of the various communities. It is for this reason that we feel aspirants should back our proposal and should they fail to, we will mobilise the community not to vote for them,” said Njuki during a past meeting.
With such an arrangement, it is obvious the councils of elders and their members will be for a governor who supports a senatorial aspirant of their choice, perhaps from the other community.
By extension, since no member of the Mbeere community has declared interest to vie for the governor’s seat, most members may vote for a governor aspirant who teams up with a senatorial aspirant from the Mbeere.
Cooperatives Development and Marketing minister Joe Nyagah, a Mbeere, has during various meetings advocated for the sharing of seats so that marginalised communities are involved in the new devolved government system.
“Embu is cosmopolitan having the Embu, Mbeere, Kamba and Kikuyu communities, and, if any group is left out it, can go to court to erect barriers for the County Government of Embu. There is a need to give room to the small communities so that they will feel they are part of the county,” said Nyagah at a past meeting at his Gachoka home.
Nyagah, who has decamped to TNA from the Orange Democratic Movement of Premier Raila Odinga, has lately announced he will not be vying for any political seat in the March 4 General Election.
One’s party is also expected to have a lot of influence on voter’s decision with TNA party expected to dominate the scene and favour the one who carries its ticket.
Gakumu was the first to declare his interest for the TNA ticket but was later joined by Kumantha, who defected from Democratic Party where he was the National Deputy Secretary-General in the firm believe that being in another party apart from TNA would be akin to swimming against the currents.
When Wambora joined the race for the governorship on TNA after ditching APK whose ticket he was eyeing to vie for the Runyenjes parliamentary seat, Gakumu ditched TNA for Narc-Kenya.
Analysts believed since Wambora could have been invited by the top party machinery to join TNA, his chances of winning the party nominations are higher.
Kiragu, on the other hand, is expected to vie on APK that also has a convincing following in the county.
APK has many supporters and members in the county, where its deputy leader Siakago MP Lenny Kivuti come from, have been actively popularising it.
“The people of Embu agreed to be in one vehicle with which their voice would be heard and where they will demand for their fair share of national resources. They agreed to be in the ‘Bus’ party (APK) and will not allow to be swallowed by another party,” said Kivuti recently at his Kanyuambora home while welcoming officials who defected from ODM to APK.
John Muriithi, 47, a newspaper vendor feels the governor should be a well educated person with a track record of the things he has done for the benefit of the community.
Muriithi says the holder of the office should also have an untainted public record and have the ability to incubate ideas that will increase access to water for domestic and agricultural use, especially for the lower parts of the county.
Manyatta parliamentary aspirant Mwenje Njeru, 38, urges the youth to help determine the shape and future of the county by participating vigorously in the search for first area governor.