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Insecurity and irrigation top of the Kirinyaga agenda

Thursday December 13 2012

Kirinyaga County has a history of volatile politics, with previous MPs trading blows in Parliament; now its youths are in Mungiki. Photo/GRAPHICS

Kirinyaga County has a history of volatile politics, with previous MPs trading blows in Parliament; now its youths are in Mungiki. Photo/GRAPHICS 

By GEORGE MUNENE [email protected]

Kirinyaga has a history of volatile politics with its election campaigns often marked with fierce competition and violence.

In the past, it was the battleground of politicians like James Njiru and Nahashon Njuno whose supremacy wars saw them come to blows even in the precincts of Parliament.

The two old guards have long exited the stage, but the fierce competition for elective positions in the region remains.

The gubernatorial seat has attracted six wealthy politicians among them Finance minister Njeru Githae, a close ally of Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta.

Others are Mr Joseph Ndathi, the former director in charge of administration in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who is in the Kenyatta camp, former Ndia MP James Kibicho (Narc Kenya), businessman John Kiragu (Narc Kenya), former managing director of Kenya Planters Cooperative Union, Mr James Nyaga (DP), and Bedan Kagai of Grand National Union.

The aspirants are spending huge sums of money to campaign. There are rallies and other public functions almost every day as they sell themselves to voters.

The senate seat has attracted former MPs Kibugi Kathigi, Daniel Karaba and Matere Keriri who are campaigning on The National Alliance political outfit.

Others in the race are a land economist, Joseph Mwaniki and Willy Mwangi, the former also in the Kenyatta-led party, and the latter in UDF.

Since the return of pluralism, parties led by Mwai Kibaki or sympathetic to him have always carried the day in the region.

In the 1992 and 1997 elections, DP, then led by Mr Kibaki carried the day.

In 2002 and 2007, the Narc and PNU alliances which backed Kibaki were the most popular.

But with Kibaki retiring next year, the fight for dominance is between TNA and Martha Karua’s Narc-K.

Although TNA is creating waves, it will have to work extremely hard to vanquish Ms Karua who has been in elective politics since 1992.

Mr Kenyatta is working hard to establish grassroots networks for his new party which he formed after ditching Kanu this year.

He has been on an aggressive campaign in the county and central Kenya in general, charming rival parties to join TNA and warning those who resist that they will be swept away.

While some have succumbed to these approaches, Ms Karua has remained steadfast and refused to be intimidated.

She insists she is in alliance with 40 million Kenyans and does not need to be railroaded into links with other parties.

“Voter registration is a personal undertaking and not a coalition affair,” she said last week.

Many see her party and that of Mr Kenyatta as the dominant ones in the county. It is no wonder then that most aspirants for positions are identifying themselves with either of them.

Mr Githae is widely seen as the man leading the Kenyatta troops in the county while former MP James Kibicho is in Ms Karua’s camp.

Two other MPs in the region — Mr Gachoki Gitari (Kirinyaga Central) and Mr Peter Gitau (Mwea) are also in Uhuru’s camp.

In addition to party choice, security and economic issues, including farming, infrastructure and land will play a big role in the elections.

The county is one of those which has suffered the ravages of crime which is blamed on unemployed youths who joined the outlawed Mungiki gang.

Scores of people have been killed in attacks by suspected members of the sect and in revenge attacks by villagers.

Like many other counties in Kenya, Kirinyaga’s economic mainstay is agriculture and this will naturally be among the top issues in the campaigns.

Tea, coffee and rice farming are the main economic activities.

Half Kenya’s rice

The Mwea Irrigation Scheme produces more than half of Kenya’s rice needs. Mr Hosea Wendot, the scheme manager says rice growing injects some Sh2.5 billion in the county every season.

It is no wonder that statistics released recently by the Ministry of National Planning ranked Kirinyaga among Kenya’s richest counties at position three.

This is not to say everything is rosy in the rice fields. There are many challenges including getting enough water so farmers can produce twice a year, introducing modern farming methods and improving growers’ profits by cutting out exploitative brokers.

Yet attempts to increase water capacity by building a Sh10 billion dam in Gichugu are bogged down in issues of compensation for people being moved to create room.

The farmers at Rukenya village have refused to vacate their farms because the alternative land they have been offered is less productive.

The dam is in Gichugu where the climate is favourable and the land fertile yet the government plans to settle them in the lower part of Mwea which is semi-arid.

Mr Wendot, the Mwea scheme manager, says farmers who are not willing to take the available land in the lower parts of the county will be compensated with money equivalent to the value of their farms.

It is clear that whoever cracks this and helps improve the lot of farmers will score well not just next year, but in subsequent elections.

Then there is the issue of land. The controversial 28,000-acre South Ngariama Ranch has been at the centre of politics and violent confrontation in Kirinyaga for decades and will once more come up.

Nine clans and the Kirinyaga county council claim ownership of the fertile land and have been fighting for its control since the 1970s. Some six people have been killed in the battles.

The council wants to maintain control but clan leaders who include George Njeru, Mugo Kabeu, and Josephat Ngirichi are fiercely opposed to this.

Mwea MP Peter Gitau has accused the council of allocating the land to squatters and influential personalities when the dispute is not adequately resolved.

“This land belongs to the clans and we shall not give up the fight,” Mr Njeru who is the clans’ chairman says.

Mr Kabeu, the secretary of the clans said the land was set aside by the clan leaders for grazing livestock in 1957 and later the clans formed the South Ngariama Cooperative Society.

The society continued managing the ranch until 1978 when the council took over.

There is no end to the controversy surrounding the land, and the issue will prominently feature in campaigns.

Whoever addresses it and amicably comes up with a lasting solution is almost certain to carry the day.

Another issue is that of the Kutus-Kerugoya-Karatina road which is in a pathetic condition.

A number of people have been killed and injured on this road in accidents. In addition, the movement of goods to markets is difficult, severely disrupting the economy of the region.

Consumption of illicit brews is another issue especially for those in the race for women’s representative.

Confronted brewers

The brews have reduced men into zombies in the area and women have occasionally rioted and confronted brewers, accusing them of being responsible for the woes they faced in their homes.

Due to drinking men are unable to perform their marital duties and even educate their children.

The brews have also led to breakage of homes and battering of husbands and wives. Suicide cases frequently reported in the area are attributed to the brews whose consumption is widespread.

Among those who have declared interest in the seat are  retired primary school heads, Winnie Njuguna and Ms Christine Nyawira and a Nairobi-based businesswoman Ms Beth Ngunyi.

Others are a former secondary school principal Pauline Gatimu, Catherine Maribe who is a nominated civic leader with the Kerugoya-Kutus municipal council, Rosiliet Wanjiru, Grace Nyaga and Ms Irene Gathuku.

All the candidates will battle it out on a TNA ticket.

Saturday: Siaya County