The headquarters of Lower Eastern since July 2009, Machakos, is largely seen at the hotbed of Ukambani politics, and the race for governor is expected to be a tough one.
With only five months to the general election, three candidates have announced their interest to unseat incumbent Governor Alfred Mutua.
They are Deputy Governor Bernard Kiala, outgoing East African Legislative member Peter Mathuki and former Kathiani MP and Chama cha Uzalendo party leader Wavinya Ndeti.
Governor Mutua, who was elected on the Wiper ticket in 2013, has since ditched the sponsoring party and will seek reelection on his Maendeleo Chap Chap outfit.
Kiala and Mathuki are expected to face-off in the Wiper primaries in April, while Ndeti is expected to vie on her CCU party.
WIPER INFLUENCE AT STAKE
Wiper, being the dominant party in the region, is keen on retaining the seat because losing it, especially to MCC would be embarrassing and detrimental to its influence in Ukambani politics.
Wiper’s options include wooing Ndeti and her party to form a joint onslaught against Governor Mutua. Ndeti has however ruled out the possibility of merging her party with Wiper, saying they will field candidates in all other posts except the Senate and President.
Ndeti who lost to Mutua in 2013, garnering 92,219 votes against Mutua’s 257,367, is believed to have solidly maintained her support base in the past four years.
Political observers say since her loss in 2013, and after losing her election petition against Mutua, she has remained visible at the grassroots.
She has engaged the electorate face-to-face, and a good number of residents identify with with her as the best alternative to Mutua.
Ndeti believes women are good managers, and she is best placed to manage county resources if elected governor on August 8.
“A county is like a home, normally under the management of a woman. We are requesting men to give the management of Machakos to a woman and I will manage the resources allocated to us prudently,” Ndeti says.
She is, however, embroiled in a tough political tussle with CCU chairman Abdalla Bwanamaka, a situation that some say might leave her with no option but to join Wiper.
Deputy Governor Kiala, who fell out with his boss just a year after being elected into office, has been crisscrossing the county, arguing he is the best replacement for Mutua. Corruption accusations and counter-accusations between him and Mutua have since 2014 created a frosty relationship between them.
Kiala’s political rivalry with his boss escalated after the assembly voted to impeach him in 2014. The impeachment was overturned by the Senate.
The assembly, which Kiala argues acted under instructions of Governor Mutua, accused him of insubordination, nepotism and abuse of office.
Kiala maintains the impeachment plan was nothing but a revenge mission by corruption cartels in the county.
He now strongly believes he is the best suited candidate to succeed Mutua, as he has always stood for what is just.
“I was there when the people of Machakos needed me the most. If I was a selfish leader, I would have kept quiet and just watched as things go wrong. Instead, I chose to speak out and, because of that, the ‘system’ labelled me a traitor,” Kiala says.
Kiala enjoys the support of Senator Johnson Muthama and the majority of the MCAs, who have also fallen out with Governor Mutua.
He is currently seen by the electorate as the man who brought to light the ills at the county government.
“Let’s be fair. If it was not for Kiala and the MCAs allied to him, the stinking corruption in the county government would not have come to be,” Francis Kituku, a resident, said.
Mathuki’s candidacy brings a fresh breath of air to the race because he was not on the ballot in the 2013 elections.
He has immense international experience, having worked in many senior positions at the global level.
He believes he is the unifying factor in the county, which is now divided among Mutua, Kiala and Ndeti supporters.
“The current disunity between the incumbent governor and the deputy governor has cost the county a lot in terms of missed development opportunities. Electing either of the two will continue dragging Machakos into more unnecessary wrangles,” he says.
Mathuki enjoys the support of two MPs under the new movement they call the Wiper Express.
The Wiper Express team includes Mavoko MP Patrick Makau, Wiper national organising secretary and Kathiani MP Robert Mbui, and other Wiper members close to party leader Kalonzo Musyoka.
The team has hit the ground running insisting that their combination will liberate the county.
They are also campaigning to have Kalonzo named as NASA presidential flagbearer. Due to this, the team is largely seen as having Kalonzo’s blessings.
BEATING MUTUA WON’T BE EASY
However, beating incumbent Mutua will be no walk in the park.
In the past four years, the incumbent has initiated development projects of a high impact, which he is using in his reelection campaign.
He enjoys huge support in Mwala constituency, following the tarmacking of the Makutano-Kithimani road and in Kangundo, due to completion of the Kathiani–Kakuyuni-
In Masinga, the governor is building the Kivandini–Masinga road and political commentators argue that once the stretch is complete, Mutua will get a substantial number of votes from the region.
Political observers also say Mutua beats his competitors in publicity, and is likely to use his media theatrics to end his competitors’ ambitions. Former councillor Keli Mutua says if all the three aspirants running against Mutua are to go to the ballot divided, then chances are that Mutua will easily beat them.
“Mutua needs to be faced by a united opposition. It could be true that the majority do not like him, but if they are divided among the other three candidates in the ballot, then Mutua’s minority will win,” Keli says.
He says that the person to be the next governor must win overwhelmingly in at least four subcounties out of the eight in the county.