Why Waiguru has an edge in Kirinyaga Governor’s Race

The contest for Kirinyaga County governor’s post has now reached fever pitch. Among the candidates for the county’s top job include former devolution cabinet secretary, Ms Anne Mumbi Waiguru, justice minister in president Kibaki’s government, Ms Martha Wangari Karua and the incumbent, Governor Joseph Ndathi.

There is also a Mr. Muriithi Kagai, who came second to the current governor in 2013 contest. But the real competition has with time been narrowed down to Ms Waiguru and Ms Karua’s camps.

However, going by the buzz on the ground and the latest opinion polls, Ms Anne Waiguru has an edge over other contestants. The latest poll commissioned and published by one of the local dailies just before party primaries gave Waiguru a comfortable lead of 80 percent, with Karua coming second with a meager of 13 per cent.

But that might have changed by now as quite a number of things have taken place as the contest nears homestretch. Among such factors is Mr. Gachoki Gitari, Waiguru’s fiercest challenger in Jubilee primaries, who later quit Jubilee to become Karua’s running mate.

But Waiguru’s strong show in the race is not a sheer twist of fate. The former powerful and plain speaking CS in Uhuru Kenyatta’s government is known for being goal oriented.

The strides she made in transformation of Nairobi slums, including Kibera, Mathare and Nyalenda in Kisumu through NYS programme during her stint at devolution ministry earned her a place in the hearts of many Kirinyaga residents.

What even excites more emotions in most rural voters in the mainly agricultural county is the fact that Waiguru is not afraid of getting her hands dirty. The fact that she could literally roll up her sleeves, don in jeans and gumboots to join NYS cohorts in the filthy slum trenches is testament that despite her urban demeanor, she has what it takes to bolster development in Kirinyaga.

Waiguru’s soft spot for Kirinyaga first came to the fore during her homecoming party at her Kiamugumo village earlier in 2014, when she made President Kenyatta to drive through the mud on the county’s long neglected roads. When it came to her turn to speak, Ms Waiguru did not disappoint. She seized the opportunity, pleading with the president for construction of roads in the county.

Ms Waiguru emphasized to the head of state that the roads in the county had been in a pathetic state, entreating him that the hardworking residents of Kirinyaga needed his help.

The president had himself witnessed this as the fete was being held in a rainy season, where many motorists heading to the venue were delayed as their vehicles got stuck in the muddy trenches.

It was in that occasion that the president announced that Kianyaga – Kiamutugu –Githure and Kianyaga – Karumandi roads would be included in the 10,000 kilometers that the government had planned to upgrade across the country.

Ms Waiguru is also credited with playing a role in delivery of a school bus for Kiamugumo Girls secondary school. She is also praised for initiating Githure milk cooling plant and lobbying the state for the recent waiver of over 100 million debt for Mwea rice farmers.

Despite her exit from devolution ministry, following embezzlement of funds at NYS department, Ms Waiguru is by and large seen as a performer. Even though her rivals continue to link her to corruption in the NYS saga, Waiguru has vehemently denied any role, saying she’s neither been under investigation nor prosecution.

Some members of staff in the ministry, including her then Permanent Secretary, Mr. Peter Mangiti and NYS Director General Mr. Nelson Githinji were among those charged with the offense.

Before leaving office, Ms Waiguru received various global accolades for stellar performance of her ministry. These included the United Nations award for excellent governance in public service for Huduma programs in Kenya among others.

Many Kirinyaga residents feel that Ms Waiguru’s exit from the government was unfair. Some of her supporters attribute her tribulations to a clique of politicians who felt threatened by her performance and rapid rise to fame.

In the early days of Mr. Kenyatta’s government, Ms Waiguru was described in hushed tones as the de facto prime minister. This may not have gone down well with some of the politicians in the ruling coalition, who started calling for her impeachment even before NYS saga had come into play.

That’s where the rain started beating her and the people of Kirinyaga were ostensibly watching. Subsequently, her predicaments in the ministry seem to have earned her some sympathy votes rather than put her down.

Lighter Duties

Born a policeman's daughter, Ms. Waiguru did not grow up in the village as the rest of her competitors. She’s said to have stayed with her dad, who mostly lived away from home due to the nature of his work.

Most Kirinyaga people however feel that she has been more in touch with the county’s needs and has done more in a shorter time than those who have been around all the while.

Waiguru, whose outsized docket comprised seven ministries of Kibaki-Raila coalition government, believes that a county governor's job is relatively a lighter duty which she can handle with much ease.

Her then ministry, which has since been split into two, covered devolution (espousing what used to be Ministry of Local Government), Planning, Public Service, Special Programs, Youth, Gender and Northern Kenya Development. Her annual budget for the amalgamated ministry was in excess of KShs 110 B.

Given that Kirinyaga County’s annual allocation is just about 4 or 5B, her supporters feel that she will have a keener eye on resource management.