The race for the Laikipia gubernatorial seat has transformed itself into a supremacy battle between former President Mwai Kibaki’s family and Devolution Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri.
The former president recently came out of retirement to back his nephew – Ndiritu Muriithi, an independent candidate, for the top county seat, while Mr Kiunjuri has openly campaigned for the incumbent Joshua Irungu.
President Kenyatta has however kept out of the fray by refusing to back any of the candidates.
This is despite Governor Irungu vying on a Jubilee ticket, the President’s party.
And the contest between the duo has been made even more toxic by a number of factors including the rising cases of insecurity in the region, invasion of farmers land by pastoralists and 2022 succession politics.
READ: Rustlers drive away pupils in Laikipia
And of course, shaping the discourse is a decision by the county to buy four dogs worth Sh720,000.
This means that each dog was sold to the county at Sh180,000.
The performance of the incumbent, ethnic composition and choice of running mate is also bound to influence who carries the day in the region that has 246,487 registered voters, according to latest statistics from the electoral commission.
In the last few weeks, Mr Kiunjuri has come out guns blazing in defence of Governor Irungu and has even been campaigning for his re-election.
Mr Kiunjuri had been prevailed upon by President Kenyatta not to run and instead remain in Cabinet.
Mr Kiunjuri is thought to be eyeing the seat in 2022.
“Irungu is not bad. It is the people surrounding him who are bad. The Governor knows it and is working on it.
“He respected me even after he defeated me and long before I joined the Cabinet,” Mr Kiunjuri told a gathering in Laikipia East in June.
But according to analysts, Mr Kiunjuri may be doing more harm than good to Governor Irung’u’s campaigns.
This interference has fomented a revolt against the CS.
“It was a big mistake for Mr Kiunjuri to support Governor Irungu. Laikipia voters want to exercise their democratic right without any external interference.
“They are even opposed to any plans by President Kenyatta to endorse either of the two candidates,” Mr Joe Muchiri, a Nanyuki town resident, says.
Mr Muchiri says the revolt against CS Kiunjuri is so strong that the voters might even reject the Jubilee senatorial candidate John Kinyua, the CS’ close ally.
He says this is not because they admire his opponent – former Mungiki boss Maina Njenga, who is vying on a Kanu ticket, but because they want to send a message of resistance.
READ: Kiunjuri denies plot to kick out Mt Kenya MPs
Though being a supporter of Governor Irungu, Ms Miriam Wanjira, another resident, says it was a miscalculation for the Governor to associate himself with CS Kiunjuri, saying this might cost him some votes.
“Governor Irungu is a good man but his main undoing is the people he associates,” Ms Wanjira, a businesswoman, says, adding that Mr Muriithi is also mistaken to think that his uncle [retired President Kibaki] will assist him to get more votes.
In recent days, Governor Irungu has chosen to confront the controversial topic head on.
Many believe he is doing so on the advice of the CS in an effort to dilute the negative effects it has caused in his short political career.
“Once re-elected, I will establish a dog unit in each of the three constituencies.
“For this county to develop, we must prioritise security and instead of hiring the sniffer dogs at Sh50,000. When a theft occurs, we better ensure that our police officers have their own,” he says.
On the other hand, Mr Muriithi is promising voters in the region security and employment opportunities, especially to the youth and women by setting aside Sh300 million enterprise fund.
The former Laikipia West MP is credited with prudent management of Constituency Development Fund, development of schools and setting up police posts to boost security.
But his opponents fault him for failing to establish a single industry when he served in the Industrialisation docket, as an assistant minister in the Kibaki government.
Both candidates hail from Laikipia West, the constituency with the highest number of voters, currently standing at 110,930.
Tactfully, the two have picked their running mates from East, in a bid to have a share of the 88,886 votes at stake.
The incumbent is, for instance, seeking to win support from the youth after he settled on 35-year-old environmentalist Patrick Waigwa as his number two.
Laikipia North, with 46,671 registered voters, on the other hand, is seen as the swing constituency.
But the association between Governor Irungu and Laikipia North Mathew Lempurkel (ODM) is also hurting the former’s chances in an area dominated by Jubilee and voters who are farmers and traders.
The two groups, who are mostly Kikuyus, have borne the brunt of farm invasions by Samburu and Pokot herdsmen.
“Mr Lempurkel has called for eviction of people from their homes and farms.
“Why would the Governor expect support from such a person and then tell us he is protecting our interests?” Mr Muchiri, the Nanyuki-based trader, asked.
READ: Why we invade ranches — herders
Mr Mwaniki, a former County Secretary in Irungu’s administration, accuses the incumbent of poor leadership and says the only way to place the county on the path to prosperity is to make him a one-term governor.
Mr Muriithi and his team say the incumbent has failed to show any commitment towards addressing one of the major crises facing the county-insecurity.
“Every other day, people are being killed or maimed by armed herders and bandits. Livestock theft is on the rise and schools are being closed down as people flee to safer areas.
“Yet the leadership of the county government seems unbothered,” Mr Muriithi, whose campaign rally was recently interrupted by armed bandits, told the Nation during an earlier interview.
Mr Mwaniki blames the incumbent for failing to invest in projects that can generate employment for the locals with the county not having a single manufacturing industry.