Barely three weeks to the General Election, six candidates in the Murang’a governor race are working round the clock to succeed Governor Mwangi wa Iria.
The six are seeking to govern a county that is home to billionaires and the main source of the country's coffee.
Senator Irungu Kang’ata (UDA), former County Health Executive Joseph Mbai (Usawa Kwa Wote), former Kigumo MP Jamleck Kamau (Jubilee Party), former Principal Secretaries Irungu Nyakera (Farmers Party) and Wairagu Wa Maii (Democratic Party), Moses Mwangi (Safina), and Henry Maina, alias Gate (independent) have accelerated their campaigns, targeting the 621,161 registered voters spread across the 1,131 polling centres in seven constituencies.
The economically endowed county has 10 tea and 144 coffee factories manned by 38 cooperative societies.
Delmonte Kenya Limited and Kakuzi PLC are the multinationals occupying huge swathes of land in Gatanga Sub-county and are engaged in agricultural activities employing hundreds of residents.
Billionaires such as the Equity Bank cousins, James Mwangi and Peter Munga, Benson Wairegi and Jimnah Mbaru, and scores of rich professionals, including Cabinet Secretary James Macharia, stock broker Ngenye Kariuki and Royal Media Services Chairman SK Macharia hail from Murang'a County.
The county has a well organised elite group called Murang'a Eminent Persons Council, which is one of the main factors that will influence the choice of Wa Iria's successor.
Campaigns started early, with each candidate armed with a manifesto and crisscrossing the seven constituencies.
Most of them are pledging to improve on the projects initiated by Governor Wa Iria, who is the Usawa Kwa Wote party leader. The governor is serving his final term in office.
The candidates have have all assembled technical teams to drive their campaigns as the election date draws near.
Issues facing Murang’a include shortage of water despite being home to the 70-million-cubic-metre Ndaka-ini Dam, which supplies water to Nairobi and its environs, few health facilities, livestock theft, coffee and avocado theft in Kandara and low prices for agricultural produce.
There is also the issue of the bulging population and youth unemployment.
Four years ago, there was acrimony between Athi Water Works Development Agency (AWWDA) and Wa Iria as he sought compensation for water channelled to Nairobi from Ndaka-ini and other smaller rivers.
Wa Iria's has already set the bar high through projects such as de-silting of natural dams in Makuyu that improved horticulture farming, Murang’a County Hospital's 35-bed intensive care unit (ICU), Murang’a County Creameries (MCC), Nyota Zetu Scholarship that pays fees to 4,500 secondary school students and establishment of boarding facilities for public primary schools across the county.
All the six candidates in this election have promised to push Wa Iria's bat higher.
The candidates from Jubilee and UDA are campaigning on a six-piece platform, which has met a strong resistance from their affiliate parties.
Peter Kamore, a resident of Kandara Constituency, urged the next governor to make health provision a priority, saying hundreds of people have suffered due to lack of drugs at the public facilities and health workers are poorly motivated.
“The next governor should ensure all the devolved functions are funded. The dairy sector should be improved to enable the farmers get better returns from the private processors,” said Kamore, adding that the stalling of Bildad Kaggia District Hospital has been a major disappointment in Wa Iria's tenure.
Jane Kamwaga of Kahuro Sub-county said the incoming governor should fund the health sector fully and ensure all the facilities are fully stocked with drugs.
“Garbage collection has been an issue, lack of street lights and poor road networks in the villages. The next government will face an uphill task as the five water companies will be seeking financial support to get water purification chemicals,” said Ms Kamwaga, a member of Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organisation.
Kamau, the Jubilee Party candidate, has been facilitating medical camps in the sub-counties, following pleas from residents, especially the elderly.
Since he declared to contest the seat, he has been holding meet-the-people forums and gracing the medical camps.
“My manifesto will be people-oriented as it will be centred on health, education, agriculture, the establishment of Ward Fund and general infrastructure," said Kamau.
Nyakera, Wa Maai and Kang'ata also have different slogans indicating what they will do if elected into office.
Dr Mwangi is in the race for the third time while Kamau is making the second stab after losing in the 2017 Jubilee Party primaries to Wa Iria.
Wairagu, a former PS in the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, said his capacity and strength to develop Murang’a County was demonstrated when he served in the docket.
In his manifesto, Wairagu says he will create jobs for 20,000 youth and inject Sh3 billion to fast-track irrigation projects.
He also commits to construct a wholesale market at Kabati centre and establish a Sh200 million kitty for small-scale traders. He will also push for the scrapping of tea cess that has been a key concern among the growers across many counties.
“Since Murang’a is an agricultural zone, there will be factories to facilitate value addition of bananas, mangoes, and other fruits. In the health sector two level four hospitals will be constructed in the sub-counties of Ithanga and Mathioya to cater for the increased population," said Wairagu.
In the tea sector, he promises to work towards distribution of Ruiru and Batian varieties, which are productive and disease resistant.
Mbai said Murang’a is the highest producer of high-value crops; therefore, it needs to allocate more resources to support the sector.
The former county executive said he is interested in supporting dairy, coffee, tea, avocado, among other crops to get better returns from the market.
“My manifesto is very clear as I will improve the programmes started by Wa Iria in health, water, education and small businesses,” said Mbai, who has served in Wa Iria's administration since 2013.
Nyakera, who championed tea reforms, said his administration will support good governance, youth, political and women empowerment.
"We are concerned about the increase in drug and alcohol abuse, and better health care for the people. We shall also focus on education, and bring together professionals and business people,” said Nyakera.
Kang’ata said he would ensure drugs are available in all health facilities and he would support the community health volunteers and ensure support to 70,000 households to access the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) cover at Sh420 million per year.
He said he will also work towards construction of Charles Rubia Hospital at Kenol market to serve residents in the constituencies of Maragua, Kigumo, Kandara and Gatanga.
“I'm also interested in establishing a ward fund to empower the MCAs in service delivery without going through the governor's office,” said Kang’ata.
Dr Mwangi said the health sector is critical, thus his administration will concentrate on it to ensure the residents get value for their money.
"It was pathetic that the county has failed to benefit from its proximity to Nairobi, as farmers were not facilitated to take advantage of a ready and near market for their produce," he said.
“It pains to see trucks from far distances transporting food to Nairobi yet we could be minting money due to being closer.”
Maina, a former consultant with the World Bank and a Chief Engineer at Metropolitan Development, said he is interested in establishing industries, education institutions and improving healthcare.