Counties expect tough battles for Governor spots as first-time holders exit

As the State House contest continues to hog public attention, titanic battles are equally expected in at least 15 counties with the top prize being the governor’s seat.

After 10 years of testing the fruits of devolution, the stakes have not only been raised but more Kenyans are much wiser on the kind of leaders they want. 

However, this has not divorced personal ambitions from the politics of the two leading formations. 

With 11 pioneer governors set to retire and three opting not to defend their seats, the county contests have attracted new entrants while some defending governors are being given a run for their money by strong opponents.

On the other hand, three pioneer county chiefs ( Isaac Ruto, Bomet), Ken Lusaka (Bungoma) and David ole Nkedianye (Kajiado) are seeking to recapture their seats while one has shifted base (former Nairobi governor Evans Kidero, Homa Bay) further heightening the stakes.

As things stand, President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto, the Kenya Kwanza Alliance flagbearer, and Azimio presidential candidate Raila Odinga are not sitting pretty as aspirants in their backyards are engaged in tough battles, mainly as a result of sibling rivalry. Even in areas where Ruto has made inroads in the last four years, high-octane campaigns pitting candidates allied to Azimio affiliates and those of UDA have been witnessed in recent weeks.

In Nairobi, the front runners are UDA’s Johnson Sakaja and Jubilee Party’s Polycarp Igathe. 

The immense budget and powers that come with being the executive of the country’s capital make the race for City Hall a direct contest between Uhuru and Ruto, coupled with the intrigues that saw former governor Mike Sonko ousted after he failed to play ball.

It, however, remains to be seen what impact Sonko’s defection to UDA will have on the race in Nairobi as well as Mombasa where his hope of making a comeback was thwarted by the Supreme Court.

Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir (ODM) is currently touted as the front runner but faces considerable opposition from former senator Hassan Omar of UDA. 

While Ruto made countless forays into Kiambu, the President’s home county,  pundits say aside from the Uhuru factor, other issues that may see UDA lose the governor seat include the fallout with Wakenya Tujibebe’s William Kabogo, its cosmopolitan nature and the sibling rivalry pitting outgoing senator Kimani Wamatangi of UDA and Chama Cha Kazi’s Moses Kuria. “Uhuru will be aided by the cosmopolitan nature of the county. In fact, Kiambu hosts a considerable number of non-Kikuyu Azimio-leaning voters. You will find many of them in Kiambu, Thika, Juja, Kikuyu and Ruiru areas,” said Multimedia University of Kenya lecturer Kipkirui Kap Telwa.

“Also, the Ruto-led Kenya Kwanza has two candidates, Kuria and Wamatangi. The duo will square it out with Azimio’s James Nyoro,” he added.

According to Kap Telwa, also a Nairobi-based advocate, the contests for governor in western counties will be defined by Azimio/Kenya Kwanza politics and the local influence of Raila and Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, on one hand, and Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula, on the other.

In Kakamega, the race is seen as being between ODM’s Fernandes Barasa and UDA’s Cleophas Malala. 

It is one of the counties Ruto has heavily invested in politically alongside Bungoma where Lusaka (Ford-K) is seeking to wrestle the seat from Governor Wycliffe Wangamati (DAP-K).

Observers will also be keenly watching the battle in Kajiado where incumbent Joseph ole Lenku and Nkedianye, who are allied to Azimio, are pitted against Kajiado South MP Katoo ole Metoo of UDA.

“The trio are known, moneyed and supported by three leading political leaders. But the likelihood of vote splitting is real,” said Kap Telwa.

In the 2017 election, Lenku, who was vying on a Jubilee ticket, polled 174,697 votes to defeat ODM’s Nkedianye, who garnered 146,652 votes. In Nakuru, Governor Lee Kinyanjui is pitted against Senator Susan Kihika while in Bomet, the battle between Governor Hillary Barchok of UDA and former governor Isaac Ruto (CCM) will be one of those that will be closely watched.

So fierce is the contest between the two that the DP was recently forced to bypass the county during his final rallies to avoid endorsing any of the candidates, which may antagonise supporters.

In Siaya, Senator James Orengo has been forced to stay away from Raila campaigns to concentrate on becoming the county’s next governor. He is facing opposition from former Rarieda MP Nicholas Gumbo.

Gumbo, who is vying on a UDM ticket is among candidates who successfully fought against adoption of the six-piece system of voting.

In Homa Bay, former Nairobi Governor Kidero, who is vying as an independent and Woman Rep Gladys Wanga (ODM), are engaged in a no-holds-barred contest.

In Kisii, Dagoretti North MP Simba Arati (ODM) and his Nyaribari Masaba counterpart Ezekiel Machogu (UDA) have emerged as front runners.

On Monday, Raila paraded Governor James Ongwae, Arati, Prof Sam Ongeri (DAP-K), Chris Obure (Jubilee) and Dr Ratemo Onchiri of Usawa Party and asked them to agree on a single candidate before the election.

“We are going to war as a team, our enemies are those in Kenya Kwanza, and we need Azimio votes in one basket. Sibling rivalry is okay but we should not lose focus.

“Our candidates should come out as Azimio and not enemies. Our opponents will take advantage of our differences and clinch these seats,” he said. 

 Other interesting contests are expected in Uasin Gishu (Jonathan Bii Chelilim alias Koti Moja and Bundotich Zedekiah Kiprop alias Buzeki), Kirinyaga (Anne Waiguru and Purity Ngirici), Meru (Kiraitu Murungi and Mithika Linturi), Murang’a ( Irungu Kang’ata and Jamleck Kamau) and Makueni (Mutula Kilonzo Jnr and Patrick Musimba).