When it comes to politics, the phrase “Kuura za Tharaka-Nithi” never miss on the lips of Kenyans. Billed as the constituency that saved Kibaki’s second stab at the presidency in 2007, the small county that is sandwiched between Embu and Mery counties has been a hotbed of Kenyan politics for long.
And as the 2022 election nears, local politics, which have dominated the local political talk within the county has for the last four years has been the major focus as opposed to development.
In all this political matrix, it is the entry of professor Erastus Njoka the Founding director, principal, and current VC of Chuka University that has complicated the gubernatorial equation in a case whereby the current governor Muthomi Njuki would have been the obvious winner in 2022. To those close to the soft-spoken VC, his entry in the race of the gubernatorial seat should have been felt in 2013 when the former governor Samuel Ragwa took over. Coincidentally, it is in the same year that Prof. Njoka was appointed the VC of the university. During that time, it is believed that while Samuel Ragwa oversaw a corrupt and wasteful county government, it is the Chuka university VC who gave hope for the county residents by taking an initiative and pushing for the implementation of government projects locally. It is telling that during the Chuka town Centenary celebration, the former governor gave the event a wide berth, an event which was attended by the newly elected President Uhuru Kenyatta.
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Many local political analysts castigated the then governor then. It is telling that it is during this event that the tarmacking of Chuka town and local feeder roads was launched. Years later in 2017, the tarmac would lay the foundation for the election of Muthomi Njuki as the Tharaka-Nithi governor with the VC having been a key pillar of Governor Njuki’s campaigns.
It is believed that after his election, the rampant theft of public resources, poor implementation of county-funded projects as well as lack of local community involvement in the execution of county projects drove a wedge between the governor and the Chuka University VC. According to a source close to the VC, the VC was taken aback by the approach that the governor was taking in developing the county: while Njuki had been a project of hope by the residents of Tharaka Nithi County, within no time his government was riddled with theft and embezzlement of funds, “road works were shoddy and the quality of tarmac roads that were being built would not meet the test of time”. In a few months, the governor who had promised his people that his government would not condone corruption was already in the dock over theft of public funds involving him and his family”
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This is believed to have angered the VC, a staunch Christian whose life has been dedicated to public service. And with that, the two former friends turned foes have become the biggest faces of the deep divide within the county. “On one hand, is a governor who operates as a lone ranger and on the other hand is a professor who has been the face of hope for the county,” says one of the residents.
It is however the entry of Prof. Kindiki the current senator of Tharaka-Nithi County that has complicated the matter for the other aspirants. The senator who hails from the Tharaka constituency elicits mixed reactions from local residents wherever his candidature is mentioned. However, according to local political analysts, it is Kindiki’s non-confrontational approach that cod endear him to local electorates and give him an upper hand in the upcoming elections.
Locals we spoke to believe that the race for the governor’s seat is too close to call and anybody wishing Kindiki out could be out for a rude shock. Considering that all politics is local, it will be tricky for both Prof. Njoka and Muthomi Njuki if Kindiki is able to marshal the entire Tharaka constituency in his side. This to them would give the current senator an unquestionable lead in the race for the governor’s office.
“All politics here is ideally local, the Tharaka-people will ideally stand with Kindiki, they view him as their son” he poses. That would leave Prof. Njoka and Muthomi to share the spoils in Chuka-Igambangombe and Maara constituencies. It is believed that as of now, the Chuka VC controls most of the votes in these two constituencies making him the front runner, but underrating Governor Njuki would be a wrong move by any of his competitors.
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While professor Njoka is an easy sell across all the 3 constituencies, and with no baggage of the incumbency, Governor Njuki has the advantage of using county resources to launch development projects in the final year of his term and thus influencing voting patterns in his favor. The fact that Njuki is also a cunning politician makes him tricky to beat. It is telling that after the Governor was taken to court over corruption allegations and asked to step aside from his official duties, the county assembly failed even to initiate an impeachment motion against him, while other counties were impeaching their governors whenever they were mentioned in corruption scandals. However, it is expected that in his final year as governor, most MCAs will turn against him and a high possibility of an impeachment motion against him cannot be ruled out. Even more, the corruption case against him in court could turn out to be the final nail in his political coffin that would rule him completely out of the 2022 elections leaving the contest to be against the two Professors.
For Prof. Kindiki, locals perceive him as weak and poor in his development record. They accuse him of having done nothing for them even after being the senate majority leader for 5 years and his win in the senate seat can be credited to the fact that there was no strong opposition against him in 2017. Even more, the senator has been mentioned (allegedly) as having played a key role in the collapse of the tarmacking of the Chuka-kaanwa-Kaareni road. These allegations if true could turn out as a deny in his political journey, a thing that would deeply harm his gubernatorial campaigns.
That said, sectional and regional issues will determine deeply whoever becomes the governor of Tharaka-Nithi. But a year is a long time in politics.