Kenya’s 22 second-term governors face a two-pronged hurdle if they intend to contest other elective seats in 2022, when they will be barred from defending their gubernatorial seats.
A court order that county bosses interested in the presidency should resign six months before the election date, coupled with a fresh push by senators to bar those with audit queries from contesting any other seat, has thrown a spanner in the works for the county chiefs, who will have been county governments’ chief executive officers for 10 years.
According to Justice Weldon Korir, failure by the governors to resign six months to the 2022 elections will make them ineligible for the State House race.
They may also not be cleared by the electoral agency.
In his ruling, Justice Korir said the only holders of political office who can stand in a presidential election without relinquishing their offices are the President, the Deputy President and the MPs.
“Not even a governor or deputy governor is exempted by the provision. The reason is that in the constitutional matrix, governors and deputy governors belong to the same family with MCAs,” said Justice Korir last week, in a ruling that greatly impacts the political careers of the 22 second-term governors.
Some of those who have declared their presidential ambitions are Alfred Mutua of Machakos and his Makueni counterpart Kivutha Kibwana, with word abroad that Kakamega’s Wycliffe Oparanya, Hassan Joho of Mombasa, Mwangi wa Iria (Murang’a) and Amason Kingi (Kilifi) harbour presidential ambitions but haven’t yet concretised their bids.
Dr Mutua was the first to oppose the ruling, terming it discriminatory. He has indicated his intention to challenge it in court.
“This ruling can only be viewed as discriminatory, unfair and unconstitutional and we are going to take measures including going to court to appeal, because why (just) a governor?” Dr Mutua asked.
This, even as Narok Senator Ledama Olekina started a fresh push that seeks to bar second-term county chiefs from running for any other seat if they have pending audit queries.
Mr Olekina, who sits in the powerful Senate Public Accounts and Investments Committee, said governors must strive to answer all audit queries in their counties before seeking any other office.
“Are you a second-term governor considering running for a different office in 2022? We are amending the Public Audit Act to bar you from any elective position if you have a disclaimer or adverse audit report or opinion as well as serious audit queries in case of a qualified opinion,” Mr Olekina said on Twitter.
Senior Counsel Ahmednasir Abdullahi quickly dismissed the senator’s comments.
“Senator, do not waste your ink and time. That is maliciously unconstitutional and the courts will strike it down very early in the afternoon in limine (at the beginning of court proceedings),” said Mr Abdullahi.
But Mr Olekina would not let his point slide.
“Why? The only way to demand accountability, my friend, is to force it! How do you explain a governor organising goons to chase away auditors from doing their job? Locking up offices and taking off?” Mr Olekina posed.
Having held their seats for a little more than seven years now, the 22 second-term governors have not only built a critical backing in their own regions, their support will come in handy for presidential contenders seeking a first-round win.
For one to be declared president in the first round, he or she must get at least 50 per cent plus one vote, as well as at least 25 per cent of the votes in at least 24 counties. The governors will play a crucial part in both of these requirements.
The 2022 election will be the first time the second-term county bosses will not be defending their seats and will be looking to prime themselves for national roles, presenting themselves as up for grabs to presidential contenders searching for running mates and angling for other strategic roles to boost their chances in a country whose elections almost always boil down to regional and tribal arithmetic.
“This is a force that no one can ignore,” Council of Governors chairman Wycliffe Oparanya, himself a second-term governor, said in a previous interview.
“Like in any other country with a devolved kind of system, sub-national systems act as a good training ground for national leadership. As a governor, you have something to show to a national audience in terms of what you did with the little money in your county, and what you can do given a bigger platform.”
Confident the second-term governors will have a big say in the country’s politics in 2022, Mr Oparanya said they had started discussions on how to plan their future going forward, with the first meeting having been held in Kilifi in January this year.
Talk has been rife of the possibility of a formidable third force comprising the governors going against the two established political forces in the country.
“We discussed that possibility of a third force,” Mr Oparanya said. “These governors are people who will have been Chief Executive Officers of their counties for 10 years by 2022, and we do not want that experience to go to waste.”
The Kakamega governor said some of the other options available for the 22 county chiefs include national assignments like Cabinet secretaries, and Senate positions “to further protect the objects of devolution” as well as to “remain in the counties as advisors both at the county level and national level”.
The 22 second-term governors
Wycliffe Oparanya – Kakamega
Alfred Mutua – Machakos
Kivutha Kibwana – Makueni
Hassan Joho – Mombasa
Salim Mvurya – Kwale
Amason Kingi – Kilifi
Ali Roba – Mandera
Martin Wambora – Embu
Mwangi wa Iria – Murang’a
Josphat Nanok – Turkana
Moses Lenolkulal – Samburu
Patrick Khaemba – Trans Nzoia
Jackson Mandago – Uasin Gishu
Alex Tolgos – Elgeyo Marakwet
Samwel Tunai – Narok
Paul Chepkwony – Kericho
Cornel Rasanga – Siaya
Sospeter Ojaamong – Busia
Cyprian Awiti – Homa Bay
Okoth Obado – Migori
James Ongwae – Kisii
John Nyagarama – Nyamira