'Impressive' governors who were swept away by William Ruto's yellow wave

Azimio-One Kenya presidential candidate Raila Odinga (centre) with governors Lee Kinyanjui (Nakuru), Ndiritu Muriithi (Laikipia) and Francis Kimemia (Nyandarua) during a Press conference in Nanyuki on September 27, 2021. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

The results are out and three governors in the South and Central Rift region thought to have had good chances for re-election have been shown the door.

Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui, his Nyandarua counterpart Francis Kimemia and Laikipia’s Ndiritu Muriithi seemed invincible in the run-up to Tuesday’s General Election. Some analysts, civil society and opinion polls were convinced that the electorate would give them a second chance because of their performance in terms of development records and joining one of the biggest political coalitions-the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya.

As the polls neared, the three were sure of retaining their seats based on their development record in their first term. During the Azimio rallies, the three would dismiss Kenya Kwanza (Yellow) as an undercoat that would be faced off with a final blue coat at the ballot. Outcomes of the elections day, however, came as a shocker as the three lost to their United Democratic Alliance (UDA) competitors with wide margins.

According to observers, Kinyanjui’s biggest undoing was his failure to read the mood among the electorates on national politics which had a bearing on local politics.

“Kinyanjui aligned himself with Azimio’s Raila Odinga whom Nakuru had historically voted against hoping the tide had changed when it wasn’t the case,” said Kinyanjui’s ally who sought anonymity.

Andrew Nyabuto, a political analyst explained that the UDA brigade managed to convince residents to vote for a six-piece suit as the Azimio team drummed support for a mix and match. According to him, the governor was not voted out for non-performance but due to the ‘yellow fever’ that swept Rift Valley and Mt Kenya regions.

Party politics

“Areas you would have expected Kinyanjui to get more votes voted for a set of UDA candidates. Unfortunately, Kinyanjui was not tried on his decorated development record,” said Nyabuto.

Health, roads and agriculture are some of the areas which Nyabuto points out as having earned the governor more points but failed to contribute to his success at the ballot.

“Areas like Kuresoi where roads were pathetic in 2017 have been improved but this is where Kinyanjui was beaten with a margin of over 30,000 votes,” said Nyabuto.

He added that the governor’s move to shift from Jubilee to Ubuntu People’s Forum (UPF) and back to Jubilee could have also hurt his chances.

“The strength of a political party is measured based on personalities. UPF was never launched and lacked strong candidates. Jubilee Party which he vied on faced mass exodus by Nakuru MPs who have since been reelected, weakening it,” said Nyabuto.

Nyabuto noted that the governor failed to run intense campaigns as compared to Kihika who held multiple rallies while hosting Deputy President William Ruto.

“This made Kihika appear as a more serious candidate as she was more in touch with the people. The governor should have held more campaigns to counter the UDA wave but instead gave Kihika a head start,” said Nyabuto.

Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Muriithi’s loss to former governor Joshua Irungu is largely being blamed on his party of choice rather than performance, according to residents and political pundits. Muriithi vied on a Jubilee party ticket while Irungu was in UDA which is deemed the most popular in the Mt Kenya region. His decision to join Jubilee party under Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition is likely to have cost him the seat.

Muriithi, who was chairing the Azimio Campaign Board, was arguably the leading governor in terms of performance. He raised own source revenue collection from Sh460 million to Sh1 billion by the financial year that ended on June 30. Under his smart towns’ initiative, Laikipia urban centres were modernized with streets getting paved with cabros, cobble stone or bitumen, street lights, proper planning, high speed fibre optic cables and pedestrian walkways.

Mr Muriithi personally steered a drive for the county residents to enroll in NHIF medical scheme putting Laikipia at the top of counties with highest number of household with a medical cover at 64 percent. In addition, he overhauled Laikipia health sector and remodeled it into a Laikipia Health Service with 90 service outlets.

The governor also introduced equipment leasing programme which saw the county established five road construction brigades for opening up, improving and maintenance of rural roads. In its increased rehabilitation of roads to 3,000 kilometres per year.

Through the leasing, diagnostic equipment were in the process of being installed in LHS Nyahururu and LHS Nanyuki. To achieve these milestones, the county chief had started by reforming the County Public Service in which county employees were filling time-sheets, prepare work plans and get rewards for exemplary performance. By the end of his term more than 40 counties had visited Laikipia for bench-marking in one field.

Good record but...

To the consternation of many political observers, Laikipia voters did not renew Muriithi’s mandate during the Tuesday election. Muriithi who is a nephew of the late president Mwai Kibaki, was badly thrashed by his main competitor and predecessor Joshua Irungu.

Out of the total 163, 915 votes cast in the county, Muriithi managed 49,291 votes against Irungu’s 114,094.

“It did not matter to voters that Irungu had been kicked out for poor performance. The voting pattern of the polls, which his Jubilee party has already discredited, betrayed anger among the voters,” said lawyer Martin Waichungo.

For instance, there is no single ward where the outgoing governor beat Irungu.

“We would have re-elected him because of his development record were it not for being in the wrong political formation,” said Samuel Wambugu, a business man in Nyahururu town.

Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Mr Waichungo also argues that Muriithi could have also lost the chance by dedicating most of his time to campaign for Raila rather than himself.

“The governor had aligned himself to Raila almost immediately the ODM luminary indicated that he would making a fifth stab at the presidency. He could have spent most of his time on the campaigns forgetting his own self” he noted.

Muriithi has been on record saying that the Mt Kenya does not owe any political debt to Deputy President William Ruto.

“If indeed there’s such a debt it would be logical to start by paying the older one of 1962 which we owe the family of Oginga Odinga when he declined to form a government until Kenyatta was released from prison,” he stated.

Muriithi is said to have rejected a move by Raila to return to Nairobi by suggesting that he moves by road greeting central Kenya residents.

“At first some leaders at the table were a bit hesitant to accompany Baba because they did not know how people would react. But Muriithi was quite courageous saying he would accompany him even without the others. They reluctantly agreed,” recall Ndiritu’s aide who declined to be named.

The stopovers at Nanyuki town, Narumoru, Chaka, Karatina, Sagana, Kenol and Githurai became symbolic of Raila’s ascent to the mountain. Laikipia Jubilee Party chairman Thomas Gachara is more worried by the projects that Muriithi has left hanging including those to be funded through the landmark infrastructure bond issue.

“Muriithi has set the bar quite high and it’s upon Irungu to match the performance,” he said.