Battle lines have been drawn in Kilifi County with the race to succeed Governor Amason Kingi shaping up for three main contestants, two of whom are under Deputy President William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance.
The region that has been dominated by ODM for the last 15 years recently witnessed the entry of Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) and Kingi’s Pamoja African Alliance (PAA) which are fighting to change the political landscape.
With Governor Kingi who was credited for ODM’s success in 2013 and 2017 now leading PAA and campaigning for DP Ruto, the race could be complicated as Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa of UDA, former Chief Administrative Secretary for Devolution Gideon Mung’aro (ODM) and lawyer George Kithi of PAA hunt for votes in the expansive region.
The intensified campaigns by Azimio la Umoja One Kenya presidential flag bearer Raila Odinga and DP Ruto are seen as a major factor in determining who becomes the next governor.
Kingi and his Mombasa counterpart and ODM deputy party leader Hassan Joho are also key players in the battle of titans for Kilifi.
With their respective governor contestants in tow, both Raila and Ruto pledged to tackle land issues in a county that is arguably leading with the number of squatters in the country running into thousands.
The main presidential contenders have promised to revive collapsed industries, fund irrigated farming and the blue economy among other sectors as they competed for the more than 500,000 votes and drummed support for their governor aspirants in the most populated county on the Coast.
Kilifi County with a population of more than 1.4 million comprises of Malindi, Magarini, Kilifi North, Kilifi South, Kaloleni, Ganze and Rabai constituencies.
However, independent Franco Esposito alias Kasoso wa Baya, a Kenyan of Italian origin, has vowed to give the three rival contestants a run for their money.
Esposito unsuccessfully contested the Magarini parliamentary seat in 2007 and 2017 but attributed the loss to the fact that his nickname that resonates with the electorate was missing on the ballot.
All the contestants have promised to push for resettlement of squatters, increased bursary allocation and improve school buildings, provide better health services including rolling out a medical cover and boost agriculture, tourism, fisheries (blue economy) and livestock to enhance food security and livelihoods.
In their various manifestos, the aspirants intend to revive coconut, and cashew nut production and processing to add value to farmers and address the runaway poverty.
Kilifi also has poor road infrastructure, water shortage and persistent drought and hunger particularly in Magarini, Ganze and Kaloleni constituencies which political players have pledged to transform.
Most outstanding among the aspirants is a pledge to revive the Kenya Cashew Nut Factory at Kilifi that collapsed in the early 1990s. The factory that stood on 350 acres used to process nuts from Kilifi, Kwale, Lamu and Tana River counties.
Equipped with drugs
Mung’aro has pledged to weed the county government of Equipedeep-rooted corruption and ensure health centres are equipped with drugs.
“The problem in Kilifi has been as a result of endemic corruption which must be rooted out,” he said, adding that he will resolve land and water problems in the region.
As the battle shapes up, the contestants have settled on running mates based on gender and ethnic balance.
Mung’aro who comes from the dominant Giriama tribe has settled on Ms Mbetsa Chibule from Rabai tribe while Ms Jumwa, also from the Giriama has picked the chief executive officer of the Jumuiya Ya Kaunti Za Pwani Mr Emmanuel Nzai from the Chonyi tribe.
Kithi who also comes from the Giriama has opted for Mr Seif Athman Mohamed. Kithi has teamed up with Mr Ben Kai while Mung’aro has settled for Senator Stewart Madzayo, both from the Chonyi tribe in their bid to win votes.
Mung’aro who is backed by Governor Joho is fighting the Kingi and Ruto wave that Jumwa and Kithi seek to benefit from. He is also fronted by Kilifi deputy governor Engineer Gideon Saburi and Kilifi ODM chairman and Ganze MP Mr Teddy Mwambire.
When DP Ruto campaigned in Kilifi last week, Jumwa and Kithi shared the podium amid tension from their supporters which UDA and PAA leaders dismissed as teething problems that will soon fade away.
“Kithi and I are children from one father but come from different mothers. Our main focus is to defeat Mung’aro and Azimio in Kilifi County,” Ms Jumwa observed, during one of the DP rallies in Kilifi.
While campaigning with DP Ruto, governor Kingi boasted that he gave Jubilee Party a run for its money in 2017 when he headed the ODM brigade in Kilifi county and will again turn the tables on his former party.
“In 2017, we spearheaded ODM to sweep the board in Kilifi county. This time round we will turn the tables on them because things have changed,” Kingi warned.
UDA national organising secretary Mr Karisa Nzai expressed confidence Kenya Kwanza will produce the second governor for Kilifi noting that governor Kingi has added value to the UDA campaign in the entire Coast region.
“This sibling rivalry will soon settle. With governor Kingi and Kilifi county assembly speaker Jimmy Kahindi now in Kenya Kwanza, we are going to take the governor seat,” Nzai observed.
On the Kenya Kwanza sibling rivalry, Rabai UDA parliamentary aspirant Mr Philip Mbaji argued that Jumwa is likely to carry the day because she is not entangled in incumbency issues compared to Kithi who is fronted by governor Kingi.
“There is need to separate the wheat from the chuff or else Governor Kingi’s record in Kilifi County will hamper the performance of Kenya Kwanza in Kilifi and the Coast region. The bottom up gospel resonates well with Kilifians.
“That Ruto talks of reviving coconut, cashew nut farming that touches the common resident could be the reason why UDA and Ruto are popular,” he argued.
But Kilifi South parliamentary aspirant Ms Sophie Kombe argued that PAA was firmly behind Mr Kithi and will not be detracted by the sibling wars within UDA.
“We have our candidate for Mr George Kithi as PAA and are campaigning for him despite the rivalry in Kenya Kwanza. Our target is the votes on the ground and that is where we have put our energies at the moment,” she said.
A member of the ODM Coast campaign team Mr Jacob Fikirini says Mung’aro is the man to watch.
Fikirini who is also a political scientist observed that ODM still pulls huge crowds giving an indication that it is still the dominant party in Kilifi county.
“Governor Kingi’s exit from ODM is a blessing to us. The rallies we held with Joho at Cleopatra grounds in Malindi and Matano Mane in Ganze pulled big crowds. This means that Kilifi people are still with Raila,” he argued.
He argued that Mung’aro is also free of the incumbency issues associated with tenders at the county government.
Mung’aro is giving the governor race a second stab after he ran on a Jubilee Party ticket in 2017 and came second after Kingi.