So hot are the politics in Kiambu County ahead of the August General Election that none other than the most powerful man in the country, President Uhuru Kenyatta, has a reason to avoid going to his home county.
The Head of State expressed his fears at a meeting with leaders from Central Kenya at Sagana State Lodge in February 2016, where he admitted finding it difficult to go to his home County for fear of being seen to be supporting either of the two big boys there. Indeed, in the last two years, the President has only had two public engagements in Kiambu, in April last year, and this month when he visited to mobilise voters to register.
His latest trip was planned in such a way that no county politicians were allowed to speak at his roadside stops to avoid the fireworks between camps that have kept the President away for long periods.
But in April 2016, as his convoy stopped over at Ruaka Shopping Centre on the edge of the county, Deputy President William Ruto led the introductions.
Kiambu Governor William Kabogo was the first to be introduced. There was a large crowd and the camera then pans to show its reaction. Jeers for Mr Kabogo. Cheers for his biggest opponent, Kabete MP Ferdinand Waititu.
Mr Waititu was obviously pleased, and so were his supporters, and they all saw that as a sign of his popularity and the dislike there is for Mr Kabogo, the man he hopes to unseat in August.
Mr Kabogo took the incident as a sign of outside interference in the county’s politics.
He said that in the same way President Kenyatta asked other countries not to attempt to interfere with Kenyan elections, outsiders should not try to influence Kiambu politics.
“I move that statement all the way to the village. That no one should meddle with elections at any level. We tell foreign nations not to, we tell ourselves not to interfere with governors, MPs, senators, Ward Reps…” he said.
The governor said he has since learnt that the Ruaka hecklers were hired and that he would be ready to stop similar efforts in the future.
“Do you expect to do that twice and I am just quiet and play a saint and a good guy? We’ll stop you by any means from doing such things. But we will deal with you first before we deal with those that you have paid,” said Mr Kabogo.
“The President could come here but there is a gang here that has been brought to show that Kabogo has no support. What is Kabogo supposed to do? The supporters of Kabogo will resist and by resisting, we’ll all look like hooligans. But you know where the disease has come from. We didn’t have these problems before. I’m sorry to use this sentence but we have imported political thuggery from Nairobi,” he said.
With President Kenyatta characteristically reluctant to endorse anybody and Mr Ruto working with 2022 in mind, it is obvious who Mr Kabogo is talking about when he says: “There are people there (saying)…these are my people…I will need them in 2022, or some (thing) like that”.
Since Mr Waititu inherited the Kabete seat after George Muchai’s killing in February 2015, telling voters that being MP would be a good launchpad for his bid to remove Mr Kabogo, he has emerged as Mr Kabogo’s biggest competitor for the seat.
At the time, Mr Kabogo’s popularity had plummeted because of finance laws he had forced through the County assembly, which led to an increase in levies for market traders.
In the style he perfected in getting votes in Embakasi, Nairobi, Mr Waititu has been quietly going about his campaign, talking to small groups, attending ceremonies of the elders’ councils and showing up at social events, backed by ward representatives disgruntled with Mr Kabogo.
“I speak with the MPs who I found and all of them say they have never had the opportunity to meet with the governor and the Senator to discuss development of the county,” Mr Waititu said in an interview on TV.
“It is not that when one is elected governor they develop a monopoly of ideas on what needs to be done in the county. That is why when I get elected, the first thing I will do is get the best brains together to discuss our county’s future,” said Mr Waititu.
Mr Kabogo has kept a close eye on his opponent including a failed attempt to knock him out of the race on a technicality by going to court to challenge his education credentials in an Indian university he argues Waititu never attended.
Dr James Nyoro, the man Mr Kabogo beat at the polls in 2013, has announced his comeback to the political scene, where he will fight it out with Mr Kabogo, Mr Waititu and two other opponents for the seat.
Others are John Mugwe, who has been in a group known as People’s Defence Forces that has been agitating for better governance in Kiambu and real estate magnate Rev David Kariuko Ngari, better known as Gakuyo.
With the county a stronghold for President Kenyatta and his Jubilee Party, this would make the nominations a big decision day for the governor’s job. An aspirant who loses the nomination at that stage would have to sit out the entire election.
Asked why he decided to make the comeback, Dr Nyoro said he has more confidence in the Jubilee Party nominations, which President Kenyatta and Deputy President Ruto have promised will be fair.
To ensure this fairness and reduce chances of manipulation or the skullduggery that is a common feature of party nominations, Jubilee has written to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to conduct the nominations.
Nyoro’s performance at the last election was also a confidence-booster. “As you can even judge, it’s not easy for a first-timer to get more than 250,000 votes (actually 241,648) and those are people who refused the suit of six,” he said.
Mr Mugwe, on the other hand, argues that the people of upper Kiambu areas – Limuru, Githunguri, Lari, Kikuyu and Kabete – are uncomfortable with the Kabogo administration and would want a governor from the region.
He also argues that the governor needs to be someone more connected to the wananchi, not a rich man or someone who has been away from the County for long or has accumulated wealth and wants to lord it over the people.
“Devolution was meant to give Wanjiku some power … For me, I would think that the people who have lived in the county have a higher chance of making the County better than people who have just come and think they can do better,” said Mr Mugwe.
For Mr Ngari, it is all about running a government with a lot more transparency than is the case now.
“I stand a ground where there is more understanding of what is happening. We need to empower the so-called dropouts, those people who did not achieve the As and the Bs,” he said.
Dr Nyoro, Mr Waititu and Mr Mugwe share in common the opinion that Mr Kabogo, the incumbent, does not consult enough or involve the people in making decisions.
“After the debacle of 2012, the people of Kiambu will tell you that they have realized that it is now about development and when the two bulls fight, it is the grass that suffers… There is need for sober leadership in Kiambu because other counties are moving as we continue to fight,” said Dr Nyoro.
Said Mr Mugwe: “We think that the way the government is run should be more participatory, not a one-man show, where a man who is so high up runs the entire government by himself”.
He said the obvious difference in wealth between the MCAs and Mr Kabogo, whose work they oversee, makes it difficult for them to question his decisions.
On his part, Mr Waititu promises to set up a County Development Coordination Committee for Kiambu, a forum where all elected leaders would meet and come up with development priorities for the county.
There are indications that Mr Nyoro, Mr Waititu, Mr Mugwe and Mr Ngari could work together and front one candidate, reportedly the Kabete MP, to face off with Mr Kabogo at the nominations. Mr Waititu appeared to have jumped the gun when he announced the new pact two weeks ago but his colleagues have come out to deny any such thing. As it is now, all the aspirants are in it alone.
Mr Kabogo does not deny his relations with some of the MPs in the county have been less than cordial, saying: “I have a few who I work with very well. I have others who don’t care to work with me and again. I have my job cut out, they have their job cut out”.
Among his most unpopular decisions was to move the governor’s office to Thika for one year and a half as the one provided was refurbished.
A proposal to move Kiambu Hospital has not gone down well but he insists it has to happen. His relations with the County Assembly were initially rough. But he regrets nothing and vows to go ahead with the plans.
“There comes a time when a man, a true leader, must bite the political bullet for this country to move ahead. Many decisions I made as governor in my first years made me very unpopular in the first phase of my governance, but those decisions are bearing fruit today,” he said.
The governor lists successes in healthcare provision, the provision of water to the drier parts of the county and the development of roads as his achievements.
His most significant? Successfully setting up a government that can run itself. He regrets having a staff that gobbles up Sh4.75 billion in salaries in a year – 58 per cent of the recurrent expenditure.
“We have moved Kiambu from where it was in 2013 to where it is today: amongst the fastest-growing counties,” said Mr Kabogo.
“It would be very unfortunate if I was not to be able to complete the work that I have started which very many people, within and without, appreciate,” he said.
For all the aspirants, the crucial decision will be made by the Jubilee Party voters on March 20 when they nominate who will fly their flag in the county.
Mr Kabogo’s statement sums it up: “In this game, there’s just a winner and others. Even if it’s by five votes”.