Kenya

Raila Odinga, William Ruto factor to shape Nakuru gubernatorial race

Raila Odinga, William Ruto factor to shape Nakuru gubernatorial race

Senator Susan Kihika (left) and Governor Lee Kinyanjui, the two leading candidates for Nakuru's gubernatorial race.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Nine months into the 2022 General Election, the battle for the Nakuru Governor’s seat has intensified and is shaping up into a fight between Deputy President William Ruto and Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga.

Although the race is expected to attract more candidates, political pundits say it will essentially be a between incumbent Governor Lee Kinyanjui and Senator Susan Kihika.

Others who have declared interest in the seat include former senator James Mungai and Dr Peter Koros, who came second in the 2017 polls. Former National Authority for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse chairman John Muthutho also has his eyes on the seat.

Political temperatures are already rising in the cosmopolitan region, promising an epic duel between the two county politicians.

And as the clock ticks towards the 2022 elections,Mr Kinyanjui’s political dalliance with Mr Odinga and Ms Kihika’s association with DP Ruto may be a big factor in the outcome of the race.

In the past few months,the two have been seeking to outdo each other, including on local radio stations that broadcast in Kikuyu and Kalenjin languages.

Last week, Ms Kihika hosted the DP, who was on a tour of Njoro, Molo, Kuresoi South and North. In return, Dr Ruto and his United Democratic Alliance (UDA) brigade rooted for Ms Kihika’s election.

“I urge Nakuru residents to overwhelmingly vote for DP Ruto, he is the best suited for the top job to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta. Do not be confused by the advances by Odinga. I will also be in the governor contest, l am sure you will vote wisely,” said Kihika during the campaigns.

Mr Kinyanjui, who has over the years been seen as a cautious and measured politician, seems to be shaking off this tag. The governor has aligned himself with other politicians, especially from the Mount Kenya region, who are spearheading the Mr Odinga’s campaign to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta.

According to Governor Kinyanjui, the county is the soul of Kenya’s politics.

“Nakuru holds a strategic position politically and economically hence we must take a lead role in the 2022 General Election and determining who becomes the next president of Kenya... we want to make it clear that we will not be mere spectators in the national politics. We must be on the negotiation table when the national cake is being shared and we welcome all political players to the table,” said Mr Kinyanjui.

“A lot, including the ethnic arithmetic and the development record, will determine who becomes governor. However, President Kenyatta succession politics will play a major role,” said Jesse Karanja, a political analyst.

Lawyer Steve Kabita told the Nation: “Mr Kinyanjui’s association with Mr Odinga may work for or against him, since Nakuru, though fairly cosmopolitan, is in the Rift Valley region which is seen as DP Ruto’s political bastion.”

The county has 12 MPs and nine of them are in Dr Ruto’s camp.

Mr Kinyanjui’s political dalliance with the Kenyatta-Odinga team, pundits say, is seen as a  slap in the face of DP Ruto, who is regarded as the kingpin of the Rift Valley region.

“Governor Lee Kinyanjui is making a huge political gamble by supporting the anti-Ruto team. Although Nakuru is a cosmopolitan county, its location in the Rift Valley, making it part of DP Ruto’s political backyard,” said Mr Karanja.

Senator Kihika is, therefore, seen to have an advantage because of her support for DP Ruto.

Both Governor Kinyanjui and Senator Kihika enjoyed high voter support in the county and were overwhelmingly elected in the 2017 elections. But since their election, the two have been at loggerheads.

Senator Kihika, a regular critic of the governor’s administration, has been engaged in a flurry of activities in various parts of the county as she campaigns for the DP and to galvanises her support.

Ms Kihika has accused the governor of losing touch with issues affecting residents and, on several occasions, has put Mr Kinyanjui on the spot for failing to tame the county’s spiralling wage bill.

She has also accused the county chief of misplaced priorities and challenged him to show the electorate any meaningful development projects he has initiated.

However, Governor Kinyanjui has defended his development record, saying he will not be cowed by detractors whose only achievement since they were elected is empty rhetoric. He has been launching projects, initiating new ones and promising voters that he will ensure that all projects are completed if they re-elect him.

The governor has also left his comfort zone and embarked on “meet the people tours” to solidify his support. He is now attending more events, including some he would previously delegate to his deputy Dr Eric Korir.