‘Only woman standing’ least worried by male opponents

If you are looking for Ms Jacinta Mwatela at a big campaign rally, complete with loud music and dancing crowds, you are unlikely to find her.

The only woman in the Taita Taveta race for governor has adopted a unique strategy, of small town-hall-like meetings and a door-to-door campaigns.

In fact, the only time she was seen at a big rally was when the Nasa principals toured the county a fortnight ago.

But that is the strategy that brought her to within 2,000 votes of the big prize in 2013 and she is confident it will work this time. then running on a Wiper ticket, she narrowly lost to Mr John Mruttu.

The former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Kenya has earned a reputation of a tough, incorruptible woman who is just what the doctor ordered.

KEY ISSUES

Indeed, zero tolerance for corruption, a fair share of the natural resources of the county and their proper utilisation are the key issues in her campaign.

She says the people of Taita Taveta continue to live in poverty yet the region is endowed with resources that can turn around their lives.

In an interview with the Nation, Ms Mwatela said it was unfortunate that, even with land, water and minerals, Taita Taveta is still among Kenya’s poorest counties.

“Why are we still poor yet we have all this wealth?” Ms Mwatela wondered. “The answer lies in the employment of resources.”

According to her, the county needs to find a way of benefitting from Tsavo National Park, which occupies 67 per cent of its area.

“The park contributes funds to the national kitty which are redistributed equitably to other parts of the country,” said Ms Mwatela. “The county should not have to wait for its share but have a way of benefitting directly.”

READ: Governor Mruttu gets boost from Taita Taveta youths

Water from Mzima Springs is also another resource which she says needs to be properly utilised. Much of the water, she says, goes to waste on a daily basis, yet residents are experiencing acute shortages.

“The Mzima Springs produces 250 million litres of water per day; only 15 million litres is harnessed while 230 million litres goes to waste,” Ms Mwatela observed. “The area has fertile land and the water, if well planned, can be used for irrigation or in the park to mitigate animal aggression because they will have enough pasture and water.”

She said proper utilisation of the water is a top item on her agenda.

“This is a lifeline project,” said Ms Mwatela. “If water was to be used properly, we would not be among those who are poor.”

She said such projects would spur economic growth through agribusiness and create jobs.

READ: Nasa leaders move to Taita Taveta in hunt for votes

Ms Mwatela, who is making a second stab at the seat, this time on an Amani National Congress ticket, also believes that the fortunes of the residents can be changed through mining.

“We have some minerals that are not found anywhere else in the world but they are only removed as raw materials,” said Ms Mwatela. “Our industrialisation will come when we start producing and refining the iron ore and gems and not selling them raw for other people to sell at a million times more.”

To win, however, she will have to go past seven men, including incumbent Mruttu, who is running as an independent candidate after losing the ODM ticket to Wundanyi MP Thomas Mwadeghu.

The rest are Taita Taveta Senator Dan Mwazo (Jubilee Party), veteran journalist Granton Samboja (Wiper), Ms Constantine Mwadime (Maendeleo Chap Chap) and other independents Erastus Katani and Emmanuel Kisombe.

Ms Mwatela said she will seal corruption loopholes that she said have fleeced the county. She cited graft as the main obstacle to realising the county’s economic development and accused the incumbent of doing little to end it. 

READ: Four governors trounced in Jubilee, ODM primaries

Mr Mruttu, she claimed, had failed to act on his officers who had been accused of graft. Ms Mwatela said she will improve the infrastructure of public health facilities in the county.

She also pledged to work with stakeholders to improve the education standards and roads.

“Well-done roads are vital because some areas like Taveta and Taita depend on farming,” said Ms Mwatela. “The farmers will be able to transport their produce to markets in other parts of the country.”

Ethnicity is another key factor in the election. In the past, voters in the county have voted along the Taita Taveta ethnic divide.

The Taitas are the majority, so their candidates should, on paper, have the advantage. But this is not always the case if the 2013 result is anything to go by.

READ: Tight race as rivals eye top seat in Taita-Taveta

Mr Mruttu, from Taveta, won because there was a negotiated deal within the dominant party ODM, in which the Tavetas got the governor seat while the Taitas got the Senate. But despite this agreement, Ms Mwatela, from Taita, lost by a mere 2,000 votes.

But this year things are not so clear-cut. In fact, it is Mr Mruttu who is being seen as running in the inside lane with the ethnic mathematics favouring him. Analysts say Mr Mruttu’s chances have been boosted by the fact that four of his strongest challengers are from Taita. These are Mr Mwadeghu, Mr Mwazo, Mr Samboja and Ms Mwatela.

“No one should rule out Mr Mruttu; the Taveta may vote for him….the Taita vote could be divided,” said Mr Wellington Mwakulomba, a Wundanyi resident. And then there is the Kamba vote, mainly concentrated in Taveta Constituency. It is easier for Mr Mruttu to marshal that because it is in his stronghold.

READ: Jacinta Mwatela, a fiercely independent leader

Other issues include the squatter problem, human-wildlife conflict, boundary rows with Kwale, Makueni and Kajiado counties, poor health and education standards as well as high unemployment rates.

The incumbent however says his administration has tried its best to address these challenges.

“We have made great strides despite financial constraints,” said Mr Mruttu in a recent interview with the Nation in his Wundanyi office. “Key areas of the economy such as education, health, roads, water, mining and agriculture have been revamped to spur growth in our once-marginalised county.”

Mr Samboja is credited with setting up water projects in the county. He helped to initiate the Sh42 billion Mzima II pipeline, which he negotiated for as Coast Water Services Board chairman.

ESTABLISHING SCHOOLS

Mr Mwazo, who ditched ODM for Jubilee, is credited with establishing schools when he served as Voi MP between 2007 and 2013.

Wundanyi residents say Mr Mwadeghu utilised the Constituency Development Fund well and sponsored many needy students. He also initiated projects geared towards uplifting the constituents.

Ms Mwatela faces an uphill task battling the men but says she is not bothered or scared of them.

“I come from a family of many men,” said Ms Mwatela. “At CBK, I was the only senior woman manager and was equally or more effective than my male colleagues.

“Competing with male politicians, therefore, worries me the least as I have done it before.”

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