The race to succeed Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika, who has declared interest in the governorship, has attracted a crowded field with nine candidates seeking to clinch tickets to vie in the August elections.
Businessmen, former lawmakers, seasoned politicians and newcomers have thrown their hats in the ring, all eyeing to clinch the coveted seat, which will put them in pole position to oversight how the county executive spends the annual budget of averagely Sh18 billion.
The county is also regarded as the bedrock of Kenyan politics with many pronouncements of national significance have been made there.
It is for this reason that both the ruling Jubilee Party led by President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy William Ruto’s UDA are placing high stakes on the county ahead of the August 9 elections.
While Uhuru has shown keen interest in the leadership and politics of the county, DP Ruto plots to make the county his political bedrock by ensuring UDA carries the day at the ballot.
UDA, on its part, will be seeking to establish itself in the county, making the battle for the various elective positions largely mirror the presidential contest.
However, whoever will emerge the winner will have to do more than just join a popular political party or invest heavily in his/her campaigns. He or she must put in place a strategy to convince the over 1.1 million voters in the cosmopolitan county.
One of the leading aspirants is Tabitha Karanja, an entrepreneur founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Naivasha-based Keroche Breweries.
Tabitha draws her strength from the support she enjoys from the UDA party and Senator Kihika who has not shied away from openly campaigning for her.
In her campaigns, Tabitha has dwelt on the need for enacting laws that create a conducive and predictable business environment that will help in reviving the struggling economy.
“Kenyans are crying over the economy. We need all humanly possible efforts to revive it. We need to start by having the necessary framework that will ensure even the smallest business thrives and contributes to national revenue,” said Tabitha.
Koigi, who lost to Kihika in 2017, has described himself as the best bet for the seat as he is keen on protecting the county’s resources from prying cartels.
“With Koigi as senator of Nakuru, county funds will be safe from corruption or being returned to the Treasury,” Koigi said in a statement.
Mututho and Koigi have their strength in their long experience as legislators having served in different Parliaments.
Mututho also declined on which party ticket he will seek election.
“At the moment, I can’t reveal my party but it is under Azimio La Umoja coalition. Being a senator I will first fight for resources to come to the county and oversight their prudent utilisation,” he said.
Mututho, who unsuccessfully bid to become Nakuru governor in 2017 as an independent candidate, said his mission is to address various gaps in law. He is well known for pushing through the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act, which regulates the sale and consumption of alcohol.
The former legislator pointed out that the country is governed by multiple laws addressing a similar issue, leading to conflict and difficulties in implementing them.
“The mess created by graft in Kenya has little to do with ward reps, MPs, governors and the president. It is the lacunae in our laws that looters take advantage of,” said Mututho.
The battle for the Jubilee Party’s ticket has attracted former Trade and Industrialisation Chief Administrative Secretary Lawrence Karanja, former Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers Nakuru branch chairman Michael Gacohi and Thomas Mwangi.
“I stand for devolution to ensure more resources come to the counties based on population. I will also vouch for more resource allocation to agriculture to help revive our economy,” said Karanja.
At the county level, Karanja underscored the need for strong oversight to ensure resources devolved are prudently utilised to the benefit of the electorates.
“We may fight for resources to come to counties but without a dedicated oversight, the electorates will not realise maximum benefit. The executive must be held accountable,” said Karanja.
Mwangi is banking on youth support and has been engaging the electorate through town hall meetings and rallies.
“As a youth, I want to be where the laws governing our country are made, in addition to my roles specific to the county. The world is dynamic and we need to have laws conforming to such changes,” said Mwangi.
He said he intends to work with other senators to ensure sharing of revenue is based on population.
On his part, Gacohi said his manifesto entails strengthening devolution through the enactment of laws on sharing of national revenue.
“I will also work with the government to lobby for opportunities for Nakuru people in government. I will present a fight in lowering taxes to increase expendable income,” said Gacohi.
The Kenya Kwanza coalition allied to Ruto, UDA, Ford Kenya and Amani National Congress (ANC) will all field candidates.
Besides Ms Karanja, former civic leader Andrew Yatich is also battling for the UDA ticket.
Philanthropist Mike Wechuli, formerly in UDA, will vie for the seat on an ANC ticket. He said his focus will be on formulating policies aimed at improving the livelihoods of the poor.
“Majority of Kenyans are suffering due to lack of jobs and poor remuneration. We need empowerment programmes that will make our population job creators and able to meet their basic needs,” said Wechuli.
He has established a strong political base through his consistent charity work under a non-governmental organisation that has ensured thousands of children from needy families have access to education.
Youth leader Daniel Kimani, who was previously in UDA, has since shifted to Ford Kenya, which he hopes will sponsor him.
Kimani has the backing of the youth whom he has been leading in the fight for space in the county government.
“I am in Kenya Kwanza and specifically Ford Kenya. If elected senator, I will fight for space for the youth in either level of government in addition to senatorial duties,” said Kimani.
The seat is also expected to attract more candidates as independents are likely to join the fray after the party primaries.