Counties on the edge as governors and senators feud

The Senate session during Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza's  Impeachment hearing on November 8, 2023. [ Elvis Ogina, Standard]

A feud between governors and senators is deepening in several counties as stack differences between the leaders begin to play out in public.

Residents claim some of the feuds are threatening service delivery, while genuine oversight by some senators has degenerated into a supremacy contest by unsettled county chiefs.

In some counties, some of the senators have already kicked off their grassroots mobilisation to dislodge their governors in the 2027 General Election.

The feud is being fought at the Senate, in public gatherings, in courts, and within some of the dominant parties that sponsored the leaders.

In the Rift Valley region, governors and senators in three counties are embroiled in bitter political wrangles that are threatening service delivery, with a potential of some of the infighting snowballing into impeachment threats.

In Nakuru County, Governor Susan Kihika and Senator Tabitha Karanja cannot see eye to eye despite them riding to power on the same party – the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) – ticket in the 2022 election.

Senator Karanja wants Kihika impeached over alleged several ills, including poor leadership, violation of the Constitution and abuse of office.

This conflict, primarily centred on the contentious takeover and subsequent closure of the Nakuru War Memorial Hospital, has escalated to a point where the senator claims she feels compelled to speak out against what she perceives as attempts to silence her advocacy for the public's interest

The nasty fallout between the two leaders is also fueled by broken pre-election promises, with Karanja accusing Kihika of failing to fulfill her promise to employ health workers on permanent and pensionable basis.

To fend off the attacks, recently Kihika moved 187 healthcare workers terms from contract to permanent and pensionable terms.

Stating that she had begun with the 2016 cohort of health workers, Kihika committed to the further confirmation of more health workers, especially the 2018 and 2020 cohorts.

She was categorical that her administration had begun tackling the backlog of contracted staff and those who had stagnated in one position for long.

But the fight has escalated to the Senate where the health committee has summoned Kihika for grilling over the hospital saga.

The committee has written to all parties involved in the hospital saga, including the governor, to get information about the hospital.

In Narok County, Governor Patrick ole Ntutu and Senator Ledama ole Kina are at each other's throats over the management of revenue collected from the Maasai Mara Game Reserve and the implementation of development projects.

The senator has accused the governor of spending the county's Sh3 billion on development projects at the ward level with nothing to show for it.

Ole Kina claims most of the projects have either stalled or been abandoned halfway despite huge financial allocations.

In each of the 30 civic wards, the Ntutu administration has allocated Sh100 million for various development activities.

This is the money that the senator claims has been lost through alleged corruption.

Ntutu has denied the claims, accusing the senator of engaging in sideshows to gain political mileage.

Similar infighting has led to a series of street protests in Bomet County where Governor Hilary Barchok and Senator Hilary Sigei are involved in a political contest that has sucked in a section of ward representatives.

In the past two demonstrations in Bomet town, the protestors accused Barchok of poor leadership.

The county chief has accused the senator of waging a smear campaign against his government, claiming Sigei has been fueling divisions in the county.

In Nandi, political differences between Governor Stephen Sang and Senator Samson Cherargei have proved irreconcilable.

The youthful leaders hardly share a podium, except on national occasions presided by President William Ruto or his Deputy Rigathi Gachagua.

Even though Cherargei succeeded Sang after 2017 when the latter shifted political interest to governorship, they have remained in a political war despite pledging to work together after popularly retaining their seats in the last polls.

Cherargei has been accusing the Sang administration of corruption, poor service delivery, including poor roads and lack of medical drugs in public health institutions, and the general underdevelopment.

In a recent function in Mosop, Cherargei vowed that he would champion development and play his oversight role to ensure county residents get their share of resources and development projects.

"We still have many issues including scarcity of drugs, poor roads, and incomplete projects initiated by the county government. We shall put the governor accountable for any failure. We have given ample opportunity for him to deliver in his final term," he said. 

Governor Sang has maintained silence and is unmoved by any political provocation, perhaps seemingly avoiding giving his nemesis credibility on their criticism.

In the Mount Kenya region, several governors are sitting on the edge as senators mount attacks.

In Meru, Governor Kawira Mwangaza and Meru senator, who is also the Senate Deputy Speaker Kathuri Murungi, have not been in good terms. The conflict stems from political and financial accountability issues.

Mwangaza and allies claim Murungi has an eye on the governor's seat in 2027, and reads malice in his pronouncement that he will continually oversight Meru to hold her accountable.

Murungi, on the other hand, has vowed to hold Mwangaza accountable as the Constitution empowers him to oversight the governor.

Mwangaza has accused Murungi and MPs of crippling her administration with an eye on the 2027 elections.

She and her husband Murega Baichu have been vocal critics of Murungi who they claimed was out to sabotage her administration for political gain.

In the Coastal region, Taita Taveta Governor Andrew Mwadime and Senator Jones Mwaruma do not see eye to eye with the former accusing the latter of engaging in an early campaign to unseat him.

Mwaruma abandoned his ODM governorship bid to throw his weight behind the governor who was elected as an independent candidate. The senator now says Mwadime has failed to deliver.

However, the senator’s close allies say his relationship with the governor deteriorated further after Mwadime declared that he would defend his seat on the ODM ticket.

Mwarume has launched a political war against the executive accusing it of graft and failing to deliver on its promises on provision of water, health services and ending tribalism in the county.

“The other thing of concern is the declining collection of own-source revenue in our county. I will continue doing my oversight roles regardless of what they say,” said Mwarume at a recent public rally.

Finance and Planning Executive Danson Mzenge Katuu, who is Mwadime’s ally, has dismissed the senator’s narrative as irrelevant.

“It is unfortunate that the senator is playing politics and maligning the county executive for no apparent reason. We have improved own-source revenue and figures do not lie,” Katuu in a phone interview.

In the Western counties of Busia and Kakamega, governors and senators have been on a warpath centred on the misuse of public funds and even future political ambitions.

In Busia, Senator Okiya Omtatah has since moved to court to challenge Governor Paul Otuoma to produce documents of what he terms as controversial procurement deals in his first year in office.

The senator is seeking orders to compel the governor to allow him access information and documents to monitor and evaluate use of public funds and resources in the county

He said the frustrations of hiding the crucial information from him and the general public was hurting his role as the county’s oversight boss.

Unlike his other colleagues, Omtatah has not openly shown interest in the governor's office. He has emphasized he is pushing for accountability.

In Trans Nzoia, the relationship between Governor George Natembeya and Senator Allan Chesang has remained frosty.

All has not been well since Natembeya's deputy Philomena Kapkory stayed out of office claiming that her life is in danger and sought assistance from the Senate.

During a Senate sitting, Chesang accused the governor of frustrating his DG.

Natembeya has, however, come out openly to regret why he picked Kapkory, whom he alleges works with critics to undermine his administration. 

Chesang has gone further to claim that the governor has scuttled his oversight role, allegations that Natembeya terms as a "smear campaign" to discredit him.

Relative calm

In the Nyanza region, most ODM governors are having a field day as relative calm remains in Siaya, Homa Bay, Migori and Nyamira counties.

In Kisumu, however, Senator Tom Ojienda is among those considered to have gone against the party’s wishes by choosing to work with Kenya Kwanza at a time when the party had advised its members against it.

The decision has ushered in a frosty relationship with allies of Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o who believe Ojienda is eyeing governorship in 2027.

Meanwhile, in Kisii, the feud between Governor Simba Arati and Senator Richard Onyonka appears to have cooled off after several months of exchanges.

The two leaders campaigned together in the build-up to the 2022 General Elections but disagreed over a number of issues affecting the county.

[Report by Edward Kosut, Steve Mkawale, John Shilitsa, Phares Mutembei, Renson Mnyamwezi and Anne Atieno]


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