Saturday, December 22, 2012

Test of strength between technocrats and politicians in Meru

Miraa exchanges hands in Laari town, Meru County. Photo/FILE

Miraa exchanges hands in Laari town, Meru County. Meru produces miraa, which will be a big issue in the General elections. Photo/FILE  NATION MEDIA GROUP

By EMMAN OMARI [email protected] AND CHARLES WANYORO [email protected]

The itanic battle of Meru county is not so much focused on the governorship as on the senatorial position.

The trio of Cabinet minister Kiraitu Murungi, Imenti Central MP Gitobu Imanyara and former Tigania East MP Mathews Adams Karauri will be in the ring for senator.

And the governor’s race is being contested by assistant ministers Kilemi Mwiria and Peter Munya, seasoned banker Reuben Marambii, university don Hezekiah Gichunge, and the youthful Jasto Maore.

In this, it would appear the scales will weigh between technocrats Marambii, Prof Gichunge and Maore versus politicians Mwiria and Munya.

Mr Maore, as the youngest aspirant, will also try to exploit the youth factor.

Mr Murungi is among those pushing an arrangement in which the seats are shared among the regions of the county.

“Power-sharing between the Imentis and the Tigania is the solution which we have agreed upon,” Mr Murungi says.

But Mr Karauri holds a divergent view: “No, we should not talk about power-sharing at this stage; let the Meru people elect us on individual merit. Thereafter, we can talk about sharing positions in the county government.”

According to Mr Murungi, the governorship should go to the Tigania while the senatorial seat should go to the Imentis.

Indeed, all aspirants contesting for the governorship come from Tigania and Igembe, which was earlier collectively known as Nyambene.

Except for Mr Karauri who comes from the same region, those in the Senate race come from Imenti. It is thus understandable why he would oppose the power-sharing deal because it will disadvantage him.

Dr Kilemi Mwiria, who comes from Tigania, and who is in the race for governor, backs power-sharing between the Imentis and his kinsmen.

“It might be undemocratic, but we do not want a Tana River situation where we have to fight,” he said.

Ms Charity Gacheri Muthaura, who is in the race for women’s representative, says power sharing will help unite the sub-tribes in the county.

The senate aspirants are going to the election on different party tickets, meaning they will fight all the way to the ballot box.

Mr Murungi is on his Alliance Party of Kenya (the bus), Imanyara on the Orange Democratic Movement and Karauri on The National Alliance.

In the governor’s race, Mr Mwiria is vying on TNA, Mr Munya on the APK, Mr Marambi on United Democratic Forum while Prof Gichunge is yet to decide his party. Mr Maore is in ODM.

It is the senate race that is matching up the county’s political veterans.

Mr Murungi and Mr Imanyara were first elected to Parliament in 1992.

Both were elected on Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s Ford Kenya party although Mwai Kibaki’s Democratic Party was the party of choice in the region.

Mr Karauri, who had been elected in the 1988 poll contested on the Kanu ticket and lost.

In 1997, Mr Murungi shifted to DP and successfully defended his seat. In 2002 and 2007, he was with Narc and Party of National Unity respectively, the political vehicles of President Kibaki.

With Mr Kibaki retiring from politics next year, Mr Murungi has formed his own APK. He initially formed APK for Uhuru Kenyatta but has stuck with the party after Mr Kenyatta snubbed it and instead formed his own TNA.

The two parties have had a love-hate relationship with Mr Murungi complaining of bullying from Mr Kenyatta’s party.

Today, TNA is one of the most popular in the region, meaning Mr Murungi has to work extra hard to counter it.

But defying the odds in local politics is nothing new to Mr Murungi and Mr Imanyara who also won on a Ford-K ticket in 1992 and on the little-known Chama Cha Uzalendo in 2007.

The two now face an uphill task against Mr Karauri who is in the more popular TNA.

Many believe that voters in the county will evaluate the three aspirants and elect them based on their individual capabilities and not on party tickets.

But will the power-sharing formula work for the two most powerful jobs in the county?

The factors at play involve numbers rather than political issues in the campaign.

The Tigania and Igembe put together argue they have more votes than the Imentis.

However, registration figures as at Tuesday show that the two regions are neck-and-neck. The five constituencies of Igembe and Tigania had registered a total of 236,291 while the four in the Imentis had registered 247,226.

Then, there is disparity in economic development between the two regions. The Imentis have had better infrastructure than Tigania and Igembe since independence.

The major factor in this is the fact that they have produced most of the leading politicians and civil servants since independence.

These have included ministers Jackson Angaine, David Mwiraria and Kiraitu Murungi and former head of the Public Service Francis Muthaura.

It is for this reason that there appears to be consensus that the chief executive of the county should come from outside the Imentis.

The women’s representative position has attracted six aspirants.

They are Florence Kajuju Gitonga, Emily Makena, Halima Muthoni Mucheke, Susan Munya, Charity Gacheri Muthaura and Secondina Kanini Bundi.

Meru is one of Kenya’s biggest producers of coffee and naturally, how this cash crop can earn more for farmers is a big issue here.

The 1980s marked the start of steady decline in production following poor prices and increase in cost of farm inputs.

Thousands of coffee trees were cut down to pave way for acres of bananas and macadamia plants.

But in recent years as international prices soared, farmers devised methods to cash in and these will become even more important in the new era when the county needs revenue.

Farmers in Meru are now trooping back to growing the cash crop.

“Things have changed and coffee is now starting to fetch good money. Many people have planted coffee bushes after realising that the industry is making a come-back. We now have to focus on improving production and the quality of our coffee,” says Mr David Gikunda, chairman of a leading coffee union and the man behind an awareness programme aimed at making the turn-around.

These efforts, many say, must continue under the new dispensation.

And the challenge for the leadership, according to people like Mr Gikunda, is getting young people to buy into coffee cultivation.

The youth have traditionally shunned the crop yet it has the potential to solve their chronic joblessness problem.

“We can become the leading producer of coffee. We are targeting an annual income of Sh1 billion for coffee farmers to bring back the prestige that went with coffee farming. I know we can achieve it. We want to bring back the elusive wealth,” Mr Gikunda says.

Meru also produces miraa, which will be another big issue. Dr Mwiria wants the crop to be processed locally into sweets, beverage and chewing gum.

“This will add value by creating jobs,” he says.

Mr Karauri says miraa should be classified as a crop by law “so that we can market it all over the world like tea and coffee”.

Ms Florence Kajuju Gitonga, an aspirant for the women’s representative seat, says she will work to eliminate brokers in the miraa business so farmers can benefit more.

Dr Mwiria also wants an airstrip in each constituency plus link roads to the Isiolo Airport to link the county directly to export markets.

Sunday: Bungoma

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