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Fiery ex-senators take governors’ hot seats amid lofty dreams, hype

It is a case of the hunter becoming the hunted for six incoming governors who spent the last five years keeping county bosses on their toes.

Besides the glamour, allure and power their new titles bestow on them, the new governors are now on the very seats they spent the last five years keeping in check.

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Governors Kiraitu Murungi (Meru), Anyang’ Nyong’o (Kisumu), Mike Sonko (Nairobi), John Lonyangapuo (West Pokot), Stephen Sang (Nandi) and Mohammed Kuti (Isiolo) are among the 14 former Senators who opted to run for gubernatorial seats.

In their time as senators — the first batch in the post-2010 constitution era — they passed laws to enhance and build on the gains of devolution and often locked horns with governors.

Nyong’o served as chair of the Senate Committee on Public Accounts and Investment. He was deputised by Lonyangapuo.

Sang will be remembered for the County Development Board Bill (2014) that sought to have senators chair the development committees in their counties. The Bill was assented to by President Uhuru Kenyatta, only for governors to successfully challenge it in court.

Sunday Standard takes a look at the six governors now occupying their counties’ hot seats and what they intend to achieve.

Stephen Sang

 1. Stephen Sang – Nandi County

Five months ago, no one would have imagined that the man who broke the ceiling wall to become Kenya’s youngest elected senator in 2013 would also become its youngest governor.

Sang will be 32-years-old when he is sworn in tomorrow. He was 28 when he was elected senator.

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From a political minnow when he was elected in 2013, Sang rose rose in four-and-a half-years to join the coveted House Speaker’s Panel, following the elevation of Elgeyo-Marakwet counterpart Kipchumba Murkomen left to Deputy Majority Leader.

Prior to that, Sang deputised Busia Senator Amos Wako — Kenya’s longest serving attorney general — in the Senate Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee.

He beat a strong field of seasoned and wealthy competitors — former Cabinet minister and political veteran Henry Kosgey, incumbent Governor Cleophas Lagat and former Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Felix Koskei — to win the Jubilee ticket.

From there, it was an easy road for him to the top seat, winning with 245 764 votes (91.2 per cent).

 “We would like to improve the prospects of our farmers by encouraging value addition on milk, maize, tea, coffee and horticulture to boost the earning of our farmers,” he told Sunday Standard.

He finds a full in tray in Kapsabet, key among which is the issue of expiring land leases to huge parcels of land under multinationals.

Kiraitu Murungi

2. Kiraitu Murungi – Meru County

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He mounted one of the most elaborate and earth shaking campaigns to oust his student of law and former political protege Peter Munya. At 65, his was a do-or-die battle as a loss would have brought his glittering political career to an end.

Opinion polls had written him off, but Kiraitu emerged stronger. He has promised to empower the women and youth.

“We want to ensure that the lives of Meru county residents change for the better. My administration will devolve resources further to the sub-counties and wards,” he said.

In his campaigns, one of his key pledges was to build an ICU and Cancer Unit at Meru Level V Hospital and make it a top teaching and referral hospital.

Anyang’ Nyong’o

3. Anyang’ Nyong’o – Kisumu

Like Kiraitu in Meru, Kisumu’s Nyong’o had to fend off a strong challenge from an incumbent. Coming from a region where the ODM ticket almost guarantees a win, Nyong’o had to work hard for his win.

He pledged to set up a special multi-million shillings Women Fund to empower those in business.

“I will also ensure that there is gender parity in appointments of all county jobs and boards as is stipulated in the Constitution,’’ said Nyong’o.

He promised to allocate 30 per cent of employment opportunities and tenders to women, youth and persons living with disability.

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 4. John Lonyangapuo – West Pokot County

“I want to build peace between residents of West Pokot and neighbouring counties because no development can take place without harmony,” Prof Lonyangapuo says.

Having spent his term as senator keeping outgoing Governor Simon Kachapin on his toes, Lonyangapuo now finds himself having to solve the problems he accused his predecessor of failing to. And they are not easy to by any means.

Key among his campaign pledges is to improve the poor roads and open up the vast and remote county and reduce grinding poverty in the region.

He said he will strive to have a people who are well-fed, educated and with hope to face the future with confidence.

“My people are determined to have a better life and we need to harness our resources towards improving lives,” he says.

 5. Mike Sonko – Nairobi County

Not your ordinary politician, the Nairobi governor-elect rode to City Hall with the simple promise to right Evans Kidero’s mess. Even before he is sworn in, Sonko has hit the road running through clean up of the city. He has hired the youth to rid the city of the ugly campaign posters.

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But more complex problems await him. The traffic mess. The unwanted hawkers and street children. The garbage eyesore. He promised to reduce parking fees from Sh300 to Sh150 daily. How he solves these challenges, especially the perennial problem of the never-ending traffic jams, remains to be seen.

Mohamed Kuti

6. Mohamed Kuti – Isiolo County

One of only two governors to be elected as an independent, Kuti takes over a county dogged by tribal clashes, cattle rustling and perennial droughts. A seasoned politician, he had announced his retirement from public service only to beat a hasty retreat and declare his interest in the county seat.

He has trained his eyes on the tourism sector, saying it is an untapped sector that will change the arid county’s fortunes. ‘’I pledge to create 2,000 jobs annually outside the direct employment at the county government through economic reconstruction,’’ he says.

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