Political lessons from the fortunes, fates of second-term governors

Political lessons from the fortunes, fates of second-term governors

By Ouma Ojango

It is funny how, two months down the line after the August 9, 2022, General Election, Kenyans are still animated about its campaigns, voting, results, the presidential petition in the Apex Court, the judgment on the petition, the handing over of the instruments of power, the swearing-in of the new President. More than any other elections, these elections have many talking points.

It was, indeed, an election like no other. For instance, the third, after the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution that ushered in Devolution as a new form of governance, presented a massive dilemma to second-term governors who were, by law, exiting after serving two consecutive terms.

The elephant in the room for the second-term county chiefs, most of whom had been career politicians, must have been the question – what next? As Members of Parliament with no term limits, they could serve as long as they lived and won elections. As governors, however, it did not matter whether they delivered; they had to exit after two successful terms.

Most of these second-term governors had come from Parliament, where they had served for not less than two terms. They were lured to the new position of county chiefs by the goodies it came with, a considerable budget that would allow one to implement their blueprint and entrench a legacy being the most prominent.

August 9, 2022, election day was a death knell, so to speak, not only for most of those governors serving their second and last terms but their deputies as well. It was akin to an end to a fiefdom; for a majority, what lay across the river was uncertain.

Having presided over and plundered county resources for the last ten years, some had the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission hot on their heels. Most of them, like Busia County’s Sospeter Ojaamong and his Samburu County counterpart, Moses Lenolkulal, and Migori’s Okoth Obado, had live matters in the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Courts. So did Cyprian Awiti of Homa Bay County. The most viable strategy for them was to align with the incoming government to ‘be safe’ once out of office. Ojaamong, wanting to remain relevant in whichever political dispensation would come next, failed to capture his former seat in the National Assembly. That is how desperate it got for some of these county bosses.

Some, having sat pretty at the top echelons of county leadership, needed to adequately invest to economically secure their futures. The outlook of the time ahead without a steady flow of income appeared bleak.

Besides, others were too young to fade from the limelight, having entered active politics early in their lives. Salim Mvurya and Alfred Mutua of Kwale and Machakos, respectively, at 52; Kilifi and Uasin Gishu’s Amason Kingi and Jackson Mandago, respectively, at 48 and Samburu and Mombasa’s Lenolkulal and Hassan Joho, respectively at 46, for example, must have been at pains pondering what next for them after the General Election.

Mining CS among those whose political gambles paid off.

Yet some were first heading into their 70s and needed something that would engage and keep them active and alive. Governor James Ongwae of Kisii County leads this pack of age mates, including Kivutha Kibwana of Makueni, Wycliffe Oparanya of Kakamega, and Patrick Khaemba of Trans Nzoia, to mention a few.

Other second-term governors in the last General Election included Siaya’s Cornel Rasanga, Cyprian Awiti of Homa Bay, James Ongwae of Kisii, Mwangi Wa Iria of Murang’a, Samuel Tunai (Narok), Paul Chepkwony (Kericho), Martin Wambora (Embu), Josphat Nanok (Turkana) and Ibrahim Roba Ali (Mandera).

Tricky gambles

To some of these former county chiefs, the August 9 General Election presented the toughest decision-making moments in their political careers, if not their lives. To some, it was a matter of juggling the liver in their hands to ensure it did not slip onto the ground through their fingers. This called for unprecedented political calculations. The trophy goes to Governors Kingi of Kilifi, Mutua of Machakos, Mvurya of Kwale, and Turkana’s Nanok. Coming from perceived strongholds of the ODM leader and front-row presidential contender, Raila Odinga, they chose their camp in DP William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Coalition and stuck to it through thick and thin to the extent that it was difficult for President William Ruto to double deal them after rising to power. Mvurya’s nomination to Cabinet and Nanok’s appointment to a role in State House, for example, are no surprise to many.

Oparanya and Ongwae remained steadfast behind their party head, Azimio leader Raila Odinga. Had he made it, they had been destined for greater things and were only but victims of circumstances.

For others, Mutua and Kingi, yet again, it was pure gambling, which, fortunately for them, paid off big time. They shifted sides just before kickoff and gave Ruto’s camp the much-desired perception leverage when it mattered the most. Kingi is currently Speaker of the Senate courtesy of President Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Coalition, and Mutua is a Cabinet Secretary nominee for the prestigious Foreign Affairs portfolio. Chepkwony and Tunai remained faithful to their course in the Kenya Kwanza Coalition, and an appointment to some positions in President Ruto’s Government won’t come as a surprise. Mandago successfully vied for the Senate in Uasin Gishu.

Awiti, Rasanga, Wambora, and especially Wa Iria, who flip-flopped to the last minute, are most likely to feed off the political limelight.

The most significant goof of them all, whoever, came from Makueni’s Kibwana. A professor of law with accolades in the fight for human rights, the rule of law, and constitutionalism, Kibwana had everything going for him. He set unmatched standards in county revenue and human resource management that had become the envy of every county towards the end of the first ten years of Devolution. When most counties’ pending bills at the close of the second term, for instance, ran into hundreds of millions, Makueni’s were less than Sh7m. It must be noted that pending bills have been one of Devolution’s stickiest waterloo. It is today’s greatest problem for new county governments.

Former Makueni governor waxed hot and cold before and after elections.

A professor of his stature, it was hoped that he would gracefully retire. He, however, threw himself back into the mud by vying for the Senate against a much younger contestant, Dan Maanzo, who beat him hands down. He had blown hot and cold in Azimio before he went mute towards the finish line, ending up not declaring a stand. In short, he did not support any of the leading presidential contenders. Surprisingly, he emerged to align with the declared winners when his worth had diminished in the political arithmetic. Professor Kibwana ends up as a character who does not appreciate his worth and ended up irreparably soiling. He emerged as a typical political sycophant whose entire life depended on political survival, whose fate he could not even master. This was way below his dignity.

It will be interesting to watch how these former county bosses reinvent themselves, especially those whose political affiliation failed in the August 9 General Election and those who goofed and are now in the cold. Beyond all, having been the first lot, theirs is a template that current governors will want to archive and draw lessons from in the future.

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