Taita Taveta Senator faces stiff challenge from old guards and newcomers

Taita-Taveta Senator Jones Mwaruma and Governor Granton Samboja during a press conference. [David Njaaga,Standard]

The Taita Taveta Senate seat currently held by Jones Mwaruma has attracted both old guards and youthful politicians who have already been cleared by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) for the August polls.

Mr Mwaruma is facing the mother of all battles as he seeks to retain the seat on an ODM party ticket under Raila Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Alliance.

IEBC cleared 10 candidates, among them veteran politicians like the former Wundanyi MPs Thomas Mwadeghu (Wiper) and Mwandawiro Mghanga of Communist Party of Kenya (CPK).

Mwadeghu, the immediate former ODM first national vice-chairman, served as Wundanyi MP for two consecutive terms from 2007 to 2017. In 2017, Mwadeghu vied for the governor seat on ODM ticket but lost to Granton Samboja who contested on a Wiper party ticket.

Mghanga, a firebrand politician who recently joined the Kenya Kwanza Alliance, is the CPK national chairman.

He served as the Ford People Wundanyi MP from 2002-2007. He later lost the seat on a Social Democratic party ticket in subsequent elections before he formed the CPK. Mghanga also served as the chairman of the student organisation of the University of Nairobi University (SONU) between 1983-1985.

In 1985, Mghanga, who served as the chairman of the Student Organisation of Nairobi University (SONU) between 1983-1985, was scheduled to inspect a guard of honour mounted by the first graduates of the infamous pre-university National Youth Service. It was their day to prove that the NYS exercise had no effect on their principles. General Service Unit officers disrupted the event. Mghanga was later arrested at his Werugha home by the Special Branch Unit and was detained for 111 days without trial for allegedly being a member of a clandestine movement known as Mwakenya.

In 2017, the High Court awarded him Sh10 million as damages for torture by the State in 1992. The then High Court judge, now Supreme Court judge Isaac Lenaola, ruled that the politician’s rights were breached and ought to be compensated.

The other candidates are Anne Nyambu Kina of the People’s Empowerment Party and the only female candidate, Sagala ward legislator Godwin Kilele (Jubilee), John Righa Mwachofi (UDA), the immediate former Werugha ward administrator Stephen Njumwa alias Mzee Savalanga (ANC), Mike Banton (Independent), Mombasa-based lawyer Stephen Odiaga of the Muungano party and a former NSIS officer Enock Mbogho Mwachala (Kadu Asili).

At his Werugha ward backyard, the senator is facing stiff competition from Mghanga and Njumwa.

Both Samboja and Taveta MP Naomi Shaban are reported to be supporting Mr Kilele for the Senate seat, a claim Kilele has denied.

Voters interviewed said that Mwaruma, Mghanga and Saleka, all of whom hail from Werugha ward in Wundanyi constituency, would split the votes in favour of Kilele who hails from the populous and cosmopolitan Voi constituency with over 62,000 registered voters.

Mwatate constituency could be a battle ground for votes as it has not produced a senatorial candidate in the forthcoming polls.

Mwaruma has, however, warned his opponents of a bruising battle ahead.

“I am not scared of my opponents because I have worked to the expectations of the electorate,” he said.

While defending his development track record, the senator said under his Jones Mwaruma Foundation, he had managed to support about 500 students to further their education.

Mwaruma defended his role as senator saying he had tried his best to ensure that the county received an increased equitable share of the revenue from the National Treasury.

However, Mwadeghu and Nyambu accuse Mwaruma of failing to play his oversight and legislative roles. They alleged the senator had been sleeping on the job as some corrupt county officials plundered public resources.

“I will not sit and watch as some unscrupulous county officials continue stealing from public coffers. I will not stand aloof as the executive and assembly members disagree over the budget like what was witnessed before,” Mwadeghu said.

Nyambu, who unsuccessfully contested for the Women Rep in 2013 and senator seats in 2017, said she was not a minnow in politics as claimed by her opponents.

The PEP candidate promised to ensure that agricultural and education sectors are allocated enough resources if elected the next senator.

Nyambu, a former director at the National Irrigation Board, said the county had been food insecure since independence and had been depending on relief supplies from the national government and donors yet it has enormous water bodies like Challa and Jipe lakes, Mzima and Njoro springs that had not fully been harnessed to improve food security.

“Poverty levels are high in the region and children are poorly fed and cannot concentrate on their studies due to malnutrition. Persistent food shortages have badly affected education in the region,” said Nyambu.

She said she would address the long-standing boundary dispute between the county and neighbouring counties of Kwale and Makueni if elected.

On his part, Mghanga said he would ensure poor farmers who had been neglected by successive governments benefit from increased resource allocation and distribution from the bottom-up economic model if Kenya Kwanza’s William Ruto forms the next government.

“There is a huge gap between the poor and the rich. That is why we joined forces with Deputy President William Ruto who is advocating the bottom-up economic approach to economically empower poor farmers,” said Mghanga.

He said the economic model would provide a level playing field in education for children from poor and rich children background.

Kilele, who is banking on the support of governor Samboja and Dr Shaban, said he would ensure persistent human-wildlife conflict, which has been blamed for food insecurity, was reduced.

“I know what is ailing the local community and I will provide solutions to its problem,” said the MCA, who has served for two consecutive terms and is the county assembly budget committee chairperson.

Lawyer Odiaga said he would explain his policies and development agenda to the electorate to make an informed decision on who to elect as their next senator.

Njumwa, who is an expert in conflict resolution and management, said he had what it takes to be the next senator.