There is no gainsaying that a political tsunami is currently sweeping through Nakuru County arising from the rift between Governor Susan Kihika and Senator Tabitha Karanja, an entrepreneur turned politician.
The obvious crack in the relationship between the two political gladiators has no doubt generated political tension of unimaginable proportion leading to a sudden alignment and realignment of political forces in the county.
A signal of what awaits the political terrain of the county arising from the debacle, ahead of the 2027 elections, was the stunning decision of Governor Kihika to take over the management of War Memorial Hospital, a private facility on 11 hectares of leasehold land, and alleged poor management of the health sector.
The action of the governor no doubt generated much anxiety among the political class even as it aroused unutterable celebration among the populace who had over time craved and anticipated the move.
As if that action was not enough, the governor has vowed to pursue the matter of the hospital ownership in court much to the chagrin of the senator who feels the hospital should be left to run under the current private management.
That aside, the governor has also vowed to ensure no public land remains in the hands of alleged grabbers who she claims frustrate her development agenda.
While pundits savour the unfolding power play and actions of the Governor, indications also emerged from government quarters that Kihika is keen on maintaining a tight political grip on the county voting bloc as she fights off her opponents.
Observers of the unfolding political melee are however at a loss as to how and why the long-time robust relationship between Kihika and Karanja suddenly and unexpectedly went sour only after one year in office.
While all government functionaries have opted to keep sealed lips over the matter, a very close associate of the two gladiators confidentially gave an insight into issues that led to the sudden twist of events and the brouhaha between the duo whose close affinity dates about fifteen years ago.
According to him, “the sore point in their relationship cannot be far from several issues but top amongst them is the 2027 governorship race. Kihika will be seeking a second term, while Karanja is said to have ambitions to oust her.”
Although Karanja has not come out explicitly to declare her intention to unseat Kihika, the governor accuses her of scheming for governorship in 2027.
“If you are looking for any seat, be truthful. She (Karanja) told a lot of lies. Or maybe she is not well or was under the influence of something foreign which she sells,” Kihika was quoted in one of her recent meetings with traders in Nakuru City’s central business district.
Without mentioning names, Kihika claims some of the politicians who publicly appeared to be with her and were now frustrating her behind the scenes.
“Some people attend my events, and behind the scenes, they are part of those funding court cases to frustrate my administration. We know you. If you are bold enough, go file the cases yourself so that we can face each other in the light,” she said.
But Karanja has downplayed claims that she is eyeing the governorship, saying the next elections are still far away and that she is currently busy discharging her roles as the senator.
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“2027 is too far away. We have a responsibility as elected leaders to serve the people of Nakuru. Currently, I am discharging my duties as the senator. And everyone knows the roles of the senator,” she told the Sunday Standard.
However, Karanja has insisted that she will never shy away from pointing out mistakes in Governor Kihika’s administrations.
“I will be doing my oversight role because that is what the electorates want me to do. I will not be silent when things go wrong,” she added.
According to pundits, the fallout between the two stemmed from the decision by county government to end contracts of over 500 health workers, and went ahead to sack some 750 casual workers in the environment department.”
“I think the fundamental issue is that the senator wanted fairness in the treatment of casual workers in the county. The governor promised to ensure that all health workers on contract will be employed on permanent and pensionable terms.” Observes Andrew Nyabuto, a local political commentator.
“She made that promise in the run-up to the last general election. Senator Karanja was shocked when the contracts for health workers were never renewed or changed to permanent and pensionable as promised.”
“They also had a disagreement over how the senator should carry out her oversight role. Governor Kihika wants the senator to play ball when it comes to matters of oversight but the senator has chosen to act otherwise.” He adds.
In his opinion, Nyabuto observes that Senator Karanja appears keen on making sure that service delivery, prudent management of county resources and fairness in employment are adhered to while the Governor seem not too happy with that.
This is the fundamental thing that has led to their falling apart, he says, adding that from the onset Karanja has been clear about her roles.
“When Governor Kihika failed to honour her pledge to health workers, she came out guns blazing. That marked the beginning of their problem.” Says Nyabuto, who has been keenly following the unfolding political events in the county.
Prior to the last General Election, the two leaders painted a rosy picture of leaders keen on working together and supporting one another political ambitions.
It will be interesting to watch the two leaders in the coming years as they seek to stamp their political authority in a county that has acquired the habit of changing governors through elections every electoral cycle since 2013.
Additional Reporting by Kennedy Gachuhi