A video of a massive rotating table in a palatial house with guests spoilt for choice on the food and drinks on offer was recently widely shared on social media.
It was later revealed that the undated images were taken in Governor Okoth Obado’s private house in Migori County.
More than five years after devolved governments were created, counties are grappling with the question of building official houses to governors and other senior officials.
In the meantime, some governors have opted to spare no expense in putting up private mansions.
Some of the imposing buildings are hard to ignore and are estimated to cost upward of Sh40 million.
The interest, it seems, has in some instances extended to the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission. The agency recently said it is investigating how Mr Obado, who is facing murder charges, constructed the massive and house in his village.
Most governors and their aides were reluctant to give details of their houses or even allow photos to be taken.
The Senate recently limited the cost of constructing governors’ official houses at Sh45 million after some counties proposed dwelling places costing Sh100 million to Sh300 million.
The Senate Budget and Finance Committee asked the Controller of Budget to suspend funds for the construction of residences for governors, their deputies and county assembly Speakers appropriated in the 2018/19 financial year.
Governors are expected to forego house allowance from July 2019.
While Kenyans might be mesmerised by the jaw-dropping houses that some governors have built, political scientist Winnie Mitullah says it did not start with county bosses “since the ruling class is often known to flaunt wealth, resources and power”.
She said owning houses, cars and other possessions that dwarf the rest is a favourite tool for Kenyan politicians.
“Being a governor, you are like the president of that region. Definitely, when you want to put up something you will go for glamour,” Prof Mitullah, the director of the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Nairobi, said.
“Our leaders are not modest. They are not (Tanzania’s founding president Julius) Nyerere. They do not struggle to be like us. It is like they must stand out.”
Prof Mitullah said governors are among the elite being created by devolution.
“Others are county executives and ward representatives,” she said.
However, some governors like Narok’s Samuel Tunai live in rented houses.
Whenever he is in Nairobi, Mr Tunai stays in his Karen house.
“The governor is here three or four days every week,” Mr Tunai’s close aide who didn’t want to be named said.
Nyandarua Governor Francis Kimemia operates from his house in Mirangine, a mansion he built while he was in the provincial administration.
Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana also operates from his Mwanyani village home. A four-bedroom mansion in Wote which was to serve as his official residence is not complete.
The Sh40-million house, whose construction began during the governor’s first term, stalled when ward representatives raised the red flag over its cost.
Here is a sample of private houses of current and serving governors.
Mike Mbuvi Sonko — Nairobi
Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko's family home in Mua Hills, Machakos County, is on a hill, dwarfing the nearby homes in elegance and magnificence.
The mansion, spotting a dominant golden theme on the perimeter wall is now an unmistakable landmark in Mua Hills.
Mr Sonko built the house when he was Nairobi senator but has recently done the finishing touches.
The house on the hill has come with benefits to the entire neighbourhood as a road, which branches off Mombasa Road to Sonko's home and to Kaseve was tarmacked in record time.
At the gate are three life-size sculptures of lions resting on the wall. Beyond the gates is a parking bay where Mr Sonko's fleet of not less than 10 cars are parked.
One can view the breathtaking scenery all the way to the Nairobi-Mombasa road. At night, the mansion lights up the swathes of land neighbouring it, well beyond Mlolongo trading centre.
A basketball court, an ostrich pen and a mausoleum of Sonko's father Kioko Kivanguli are some of the attractions in the compound.
The main house is an imposing two-floor castle. There is a generous use of tinted glass for the walls and windows.
The name ‘Sonko's Family Farm’ is prominently embedded on the front of the house. Inside the building, names of family members are engraved on the floor.
Fountains and ornamental fish in a glass cage decorate the reception, which has a fully stocked bar.
A swimming pool and a gym are in the house which also has a conference hall recently used by Nairobi executives.
There's a gazebo outside the main house where drinks are also kept. A fireplace near the gazebo helps to ward off the cold from the hills.
The building could be valued at Sh150 million or more.
Okoth Obado — Migori
Governor Obado’s majestic residence in Rapogi village has been dominating talk in private and public forums.
Tucked between sugar cane plantations, the one-storey imposing home took about a year to be completed. Mr Obado moved in three years ago.
Initially, the county boss lived in a rented BAT Kenya house in Migori town next to his old two-bedroomed house which he built during his tenure as Kenya Sugar Board chairman.
The house, with a unique architectural design, sits on a two acre farm, just kilometres from Rapogi township in Uriri constituency.
It has several living rooms and bedrooms on both floors, complete with a modern gym.
Most of the materials used in its construction were sourced from China. The furniture too is imported.
EACC says the building cost Sh100 million or more. The old house is used by guests and his security team.
The governor has on more than one occasion fended off reports that he built the house using resources pilfered from the county government.
"I worked as a teacher before joining Kenya Sugar Board. I have saved some money which I could use to put up a house. My critics are just out to malign my name," he said at a past event.
James Ongwae — Kisii County
It is no secret that Kisii Governor James Ongwae lives large.
Mr Ongwae has three houses: the main one at his ancestral home in Rioma, Marani, Kitutu Chache South constituency in Kisii County.
The highly guarded home overlooks a stream and is heavily fenced.
The mansion was built after the governor ordered the demolition of the smaller house. He moved into the new building around March last year.
After his victory was confirmed by the Court of Appeal, Mr Ongwae warned journalists whom he invited to his homestead against taking photos.
"Who has told you to take photos here? This is a private residence," he said, as he reprimanded a journalist who had taken out his camera.
A rough road leads to the home. There is also the official governor's residence in Maili Mbili.
Another of his homes is at Simbauti Farm in Kijeuri, Borabu constituency in Nyamira County.
At Borabu, Mr Ongwae's residence is hidden among many trees. It has several fences and one has to pass through several gates to get to the main house.
It is magnificent, but you only to see the red rooftop from a distance.
Besides the main house is another big building, with a green roof, which locals say is a cow shed.
"Boss rears dairy cows. He has invested a lot in modern farming," said a county employee who did not want to be named.
This particular homestead is on a 15 acre-piece.
John Nyagarama — Nyamira County
Mr Nyagarama has two homesteads, one in Tente near Nyamira town and another in Riamanoti, Borabu constituency.
Riamanoti is an old home which he built while he was still in the tea industry. The Tente one is new and magnificent.
The governor’s official residence at Geseneno is deserted.
The Tente home is on the Konate-Nyamira road and a path leading to it has several light masts. More are in the compound.
The two homes are about a kilometre apart.
“Our governor moved here recently. He is our good neighbour, but we never enter his homestead as it is highly protected. He consolidated small pieces of land to get the more than 10 acres,” a neighbour told journalists.
The second term governor is known for dairy farming. It is in his Tente homestead that he rears cows. A green cowshed is next to the main building.
The home is surrounded by maize farms.
Sospeter Ojaamong — Busia County
In Busia, Governor Ojaamong’s palatial mansion is the talk of town.
The two storey ‘palace’ is built on a two-acre piece in Mr Ojaamong’s rural Okilidu home in Teso South constituency.
The imposing mansion stands tall at the edge of the well fenced compound accentuated by the beautifully manicured lawns.
Deputy President William Ruto, Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa and Foreign Affairs Chief Administrative Secretary Ababu Namwamba are among few high profile guests who have visited the home since it was completed a few weeks before last year’s General Election.
However, the cost of the building, which has more than 15 rooms, remains scanty.
Mr Ojaamong is believed to own homes in Uganda and South Africa, allegations he has dismissed.
“The Sh300 million house in South Africa is non-existent. How can one transfer such cash without the government knowing? Some things are not practical,” he said.
Moses Akaranga, former governor —Vihiga
Mr Akaranga has always defended the source of the money he used to put up his private house in Elwunza village, Sabatia Sub-County in 2014, maintaining that it was built using personal resources.
Soon after he constructed the palatial residence, perhaps only rivalled by that of Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi, the then governor allayed fears from residents that he had used county resources for its construction.
Mr Akaranga said he single-handedly funded the construction of the house after he acquired a loan from Kenya Commercial Bank.
To complete the construction, estimated at more than Sh30 million, Mr Akaranga said he sold his house in Nairobi and channelled the proceeds to the Sabatia residence.
Isaac Ruto, former governor — Bomet
For the entire five years Isaac Ruto was in office, he commuted daily to the county headquarters from his private home in a sleepy village in Chepalungu constituency.
The imposing house in Tumoi village, some 12 kilometres from Bomet town stands out.
It took Mr Ruto, the first Council of Governors chairman, six years to build the seven bedroom mansion with well paved walkways, a drive way and parking areas which have over the years been undergoing renovations and upgrades.
“I started building the house in 2002 when I was still an MP and got stuck at some level once the foundation was done. Its construction was completed in 2008 and I moved in on December 26 of that year,” Mr Ruto said.
During his tenure, Mr Ruto repeatedly stated in public that he did not need an official residence.
He held private and public meetings at his home where he has converted a house within the compound into a conference hall.
Mr Ruto has hosted many leaders at the residence, including Deputy President William Ruto, ODM leader Raila Odinga and Baringo Senator Gideon Moi.
“There is absolutely no need for me to use millions of taxpayers’ shillings to construct an official governor’s residence when I can operate from my private residence,” Mr Ruto said.
“The money which would have been used to buy land and construct the house should be channelled to development projects to the benefit of the people.”
Servant quarters, an external kitchen, a modern dairy unit and well maintained lawns with indigenous trees dot the compound.
He was driven to the office every morning and back home in the evening while serving as governor.
Report by Elvis Ondieki, Stephen Muthini, Derick Luvega, Pius Maundu, Gaitano Pessa, Vitalis Kimutai, Mwangi Gachane, George Sayagie and Waikwa Maina