Governors feel the heat as leaders plot to unseat them in 2027 poll

Nakuru Senator Tabitha Karanja (left) has recently accused Governor Susan Kihika of non-performance. [File, Standard]

The 2027 politics is taking shape in three South Rift counties as former and current politicians plot to unseat incumbent governors.

Broken pre-election promises, perceived non-performance and political calculations ahead of the next general election are said to be fueling heckling of elected leaders in the region.

On three occasions, President William Ruto has been caught in the eye of the brewing political storm in the region.

Sitting governors in Nakuru, Bomet and Kericho counties have in the recent past encountered stiff opposition over perceived non-performance and alleged poor leadership.

This is happening in a region that voted for President Ruto, and his United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party almost to a man in the last general election.

All the three governors in the eye of the political storm, are members of the UDA party, and the intrigues are instigated by members of their own coalition.

The escalating county power struggles begun two months ago in Nakuru County when the President was on a development tour.

A crowd at Gacharage in Kuresoi North constituency expressed their frustration with Governor Susan Kihika by heckling her.

Governor Kihika's heckling that happened in the presence of the President was the culmination of a rift between the governor and a section of local leaders opposed to her style of leadership.

A section of UDA leaders, elected and former, from the region have coalesced to form a political outfit called the ‘G7’ opposed to Governor Kihika’s leadership style, as they announced a fallout with the county boss.

At the centre of the storm are wrangles between the governor and the MPs over the alleged sidelining of their regions in her administration, as well as differences over claims that the county boss was grooming her picks to unseat them.

Senator Tabitha Karanja Keroche, MPs Paul Chebor (Rongai), Joseph Tonui (Kuresoi South), former Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri and a host of current and former local leaders, have been at the forefront criticising Ms Kihika’s leadership style.

Kihika has since dismissed claims of perceived non-performance, saying her development agenda was on course and that she will not be distracted from her goal of transforming Nakuru.

“The people of Nakuru who elected me have confidence in me that I will deliver on my development agenda. Sponsoring some few youth to heckle me in one meeting will not deter me,” she said.

Last week, Kericho Governor Erick Mutai was heckled in the presence of President William Ruto. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Last week in Kericho County, a presidential development tour was marred with the heckling of Governor Erick Mutai.

The tour took an unexpected turn as Governor Mutai was heckled moments after the President handed him the microphone to address a crowd at Belgut Technical Training Institute.

Trouble begun as soon as the head of state finished inaugurating an Information and Technology Center.

The governor faced intensified booing from the crowd, signaling growing discontent among locals.

The situation escalated further during the commissioning of the Kapsuser-Sossiot road at the Kapsuser trading center, with heckling drowning out Mutai's speech.

In response, Mutai expressed disappointment, attributing the disruptions to orchestrated attempts and calling for civility among the residents.

"It's unfortunate that you have chosen to shout me down while we are here for development. I know you have been paid to heckle me. This kind of bad manners must be stopped here in Kericho," Mutai lamented.

President Ruto weighed in on the matter, urging for a ceasefire in political hostilities and reminding residents of their power to elect or reject leaders based on their performance record.

"I don't like the idea of heckling leaders. If a local leader has failed to provide service delivery, the 2027 polls will come, and you will decide how to punish such an individual. Just put them on the watch list," President Ruto asserted.

While other political figures, including Senate Leader of Majority Aaron Cheruiyot, Belgut Member of Parliament Nelson Koech, and President Ruto's advisor on affairs of the Great Lakes Region, Charles Keter, received warm receptions, Mutai faced mounting criticism.

The shift in political sentiment against Mutai appears rooted in broken promises, particularly concerning the eradication of Mechanized Tea Harvesting Machines within multinational tea firms.

Many of his once-supportive unemployed youth base feel disillusioned by the governor's failure to deliver on this pledge.

The issue gained prominence in May last year when approximately 5,000 enraged youths stormed Ekattera headquarters, destroying Mechanical Tea Harvesting Machines and causing losses totaling Sh120 million.

Despite Mutai's attempts to pacify the situation, he faced accusations of betrayal and was met with hostility, culminating in an abrupt departure.

Additionally, the governor's confrontational stance with the media further fuelled discontent.

But it was in Bomet County at the weekend where the President encountered the ugly emerging trend of heckling in the South Rift region.

An angry crowd broke into boos and jeers when the Head of State invited Governor Hillary Barchok to address the people.

The residents were having none of it and instead shouted their county chief down as the President watched in dismay.

Attempts by the President to calm the unruly crowd fell on deaf ears as he urged them to be patient and utilize their power at the ballot during the next election in a bid to hold non-performing leaders accountable.

“Mimi nataka niwaambie hivi…kulete mambo hii kwa mkutano mimi staki…nyinyi ndio mnapanga MCA, MP, Senator, ata huyu Governor...Nataka mtulie na mkuwe watu wa kusoma barua ikiwa ndani ya bahasha,” he said.

“Kama kuna mtu ambaye hajafanya kazi, mngojeeni siku ya uchaguzi mtamalizana na yeye. Lakini kwa sasa, tuko na mkutano, wacheni aongee.”

Although local leaders say the heightening crowd heckling witnessed during the President’s development tours is fueled by supremacy battles in the region, analysts say it has to do with the performance of the Kenya Kwanza government.

According to Prof Gitile Naituli, the heckling of elected leaders in the region has one common denominator- the President’s visit.

“The residents do not shout at their leaders until President Ruto appears. It is safe to conclude that the people are heckling Ruto.  It is called 'displacement communication' more or less like a woman being harsh or cruel on a child because she is unhappy with the father to the child, her husband,” claimed Naituli, a professor of management and leadership.

However, Belgut MP Nelson Koech is of a different opinion.

He attributes the heckling to stiff political competition that has been mushrooming since the August 2022 General Election and that a few individuals have vowed not to practice restraint even in the presence of the Head of State.

Speaking on Monday during a local TV station discussion, Koech argued that the crowds are always hired and are only mandated to cause havoc whenever a Governor or a county leader is handed the microphone during public rallies.

"It is individuals sometimes who are unpopular and when the president is coming they decide we must demonstrate to the president that we are still popular,” he said.

He added: “So they ferry young people who are given instruction that if so and so is going to speak then make sure that I outshine him. It is early campaigns by politicians. Our region is becoming extremely competitive that immediately you are elected people are starting to plan for the next general election."

The occurrences have angered Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, who has warned leaders from the region against the unruly interruptions during Ruto's rallies.

Gachagua said it was no longer acceptable for leaders from the region to engage in disrespectful exchanges in front of the President.

“This infighting in the President’s backyard is very shameful. The people of Rift Valley must not take the Presidency for granted. If the President has come to your county, he must be totally respected,” said Gachagua.

Additional reporting by Nikko Tanui and Gilbert Kimutai.