Titanic battle: Lee Kinyanjui forms new party as Sen Kihika goes for his seat

Governor Lee Kinyanjui is at the centre of Raila Odinga's Azimio La Umoja campaigns while Senator Susan Kihika is a staunch ally of DP William Ruto. [File, Standard]

The battle between Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui and Senator Susan Kihika in next year's elections is promising fireworks.

The governor and senator are on opposing sides. While Mr Kinyanjui has been at the centre of ODM leader Raila Odinga's Azimio La Umoja campaigns, Ms Kihika is a staunch ally of Deputy President William Ruto and a champion of United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party.

Kinyanjui has announced he will defend his seat on his Ubuntu People’s Forum (UPF) party ticket, and Kihika has emerged as his main headache in achieving that fete.

The fallout between Kinyanjui and Kihika, who were both elected on Jubilee Party ticket, started soon after the 2017 General Election.

It started with reports that Kihika wanted a role in the appointment of senior county staff, including executives, a mandate Kinyanjui maintained the Constitution gives him as governor.

However, Kihika later denied pushing to be allowed to make appointments to some senior county government positions, saying her role was only to provide oversight.

The governor went ahead and appointed all the 10 executives and chief officers, despite resistance from the County Assembly, which he felt was being controlled by the senator.

The differences between the two worsened on May 9, 2018, following the Solai dam tragedy that left 48 people dead and hundreds displaced. Several others were injured when the privately-owned embankment dam near the township of Solai, Nakuru County, burst amid heavy rains.

Kihika pushed for the arrest of the owners of the dam and several officials of State agencies as a way of ensuring justice for the victims. She was also instrumental in the setting up of the special Senate committee that investigated the tragedy.

However, Kinyanjui dismissed the findings of the committee, saying its report was of no importance to the victims.

“It passes as a classic example of a wasted opportunity to unlock a very serious tragedy. The Senate team had little time to listen to those invited to shed light on the matter. One is tempted to conclude the committee had a set mind from the onset,” Kinyanjui said.

In July 2018, their rivalry went a notch higher when the governor used taxpayers' money to purchase what he termed as "welfare buses". The two buses, according to the governor, would be used to transport students, whose schools lack transport, to functions. They would also be available to transport residents to social events such as funerals.

However, this idea did not go down well with Kihika who accused the governor of having misplaced priorities.

Senator Susan Kihika. [File, Standard]

"The buses are not a priority to a county that is faced with many challenges that residents wanted us to address when they elected us. The governor erred," she said.

And in February 2020, the two leaders differed publicly over the decision by the county government to rid Nakuru town of street children.

Kihika did not take lightly reports that Kinyanjui's administration rounded up 41 street children, detained them, and later dumped them in Chemsusu Forest in the neighbouring Baringo County. 

Kinyanjui dismissed a report of the Senate Labour and Social Welfare Committee, chaired by Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja, that indeed the county administration rounded up the children and dumped them in the forest in groups of six.

The report further noted that five of the children, aged between 10 and 12, were never accounted for after the incident.

The nine-member panel asked the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to conclude a probe into the incident and give recommendations for the prosecution of the county officers involved.

But Kinyanjui differed with the committee's findings, terming its conclusions and recommendations as “at best a joke” that reflects a preconceived political position disguised as a report of the House.

Kihika, who has been critical of Kinyanjui’s administration, maintains that she is just performing her oversight role as prescribed in the Constitution.

“The roles of the senator are clearly stated in the law. I do oversight work, that is what the people of Nakuru employed me to do. Do not expect me to keep quiet when things are not working out as they should,” she said in a previous interview.

This year, the two leaders renewed their rivalry, which worsened with Kinyanjui's support for Raila. Kihika has accused Kinyanjui of strategically placing himself on the forefront for Raila to select him as his running mate.

The senator said their differences started after she announced that she will be seeking the governorship.

While Kinyanjui has remained steadfast behind President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila, Kihika has not hidden her support for Ruto.

Kinyanjui is working overtime to keep his grip on power in the face of a weakened governing Jubilee Party and the prospects of a resurgent UDA.

"I have told you that I will be vying for the governorship on the UPF ticket and that I will be joining the Azimio La Umoja," Kinyanjui told The Standard in a recent interview.

Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

The governor called on the residents not to despise UPF’s humble beginnings, saying, "The party will soon spread its wings to become a national outfit."

“All parties begin from somewhere, then they grow. We don’t want cheap politics of being told that our party is limited to the county. We would rather have our own Probox than pride ourselves in our neighbour’s Mercedes,” said Kinyanjui.

He said anyone seeking the support of residents should demonstrate how they have supported the county in the past and their future plans.

“The only way for us to be heard is by having an identity of our own. UPF is not mine but for Nakuru people to own. We will do what best suits the people of Nakuru. We want to determine our future,” said Kinyanjui.

The governor said lack of identity for Nakuru voters had seen the electorate miss out on government appointments in the previous administration.

“It has been taken that people of Nakuru are very understanding. Our being very understanding is what has always made them leave us out of the sharing of the national cake, because we will just understand. We now want to understand them,” said Kinyanjui.

He said Ruto should retire with President Kenyatta, arguing that after serving the country as the deputy president for 10 years, there is nothing he would fulfil in terms of development for the people of Nakuru.

Kinyanjui has always accused Ruto of not understanding the issues that affect the people. He said the DP undermined the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), which he believes was for the good of the country.

"The people of Mt Kenya region have always voted with understanding, and this has not been based on the number of harambees, roadside shows, or tokens one gives to individuals," Kinyanjui said in reference to Ruto.

However, Kihika has accused the governor of misleading residents into joining UPF, a party she describes as “a small tribal outfit that is of no value to voters in the region."

“We have come together and formed a national political party known as UDA but some people are going round to market a little-known tribal political party called UPF and telling our people to join it. We will not join you,” said Kihika when she addressed a delegation that had visited the DP's official residence in Karen, Nairobi, on Tuesday.

Pundits say the rivalry between the two leaders is a reflection of what is happening in the national political arena where the top politicians are jostling for political power amidst shifting positions.