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Monday, 4 February 2013

Laikipia Elections: Focus on Gubernatorial Race

By Dennis Kipkirui
 Laikipia County is one of the counties that will heavily influence the political landscape in the upcoming General Election. The county borders Samburu County to the North, Isiolo County to the Northeast, Meru County to the South, Nyeri to the South, Nyandarua County to the Southwest, and Baringo County to the west. It has a population of 400,000 people and 153,274 registered voters. 
Poster of Mwangi Kiunjuri

Poster of Nderitu Muriithi
Being the only ‘white man’s county’ in the country due to the heavy presence of white ranchers, Laikipia boasts of unique economic prowess. Over half of all Kenyan-registered planes are owned by ranch owners from this county. Giant dairy, wheat and horticultural farms call this area home, as does the biggest military air base in the country. The British still use this county for their tropical armed forces training. However, the poverty level in the county stands at 46%. This has been attributed to poor leadership.

Although the county is cosmopolitan it has traditionally been influenced by the trends of political happenings in Central Kenya where majority of its occupants came from. In the past four elections for example, the county voted overwhelmingly in favour DP, NARC and later PNU. These parties reflected the influence it had in Central Kenya and subsequently spilled over to Eastern Rift Valley.

Poster of Joshua Irungu and running mate
The National Alliance party (TNA), United Democratic Front (UDF) party and Grand National Union (GNU) are seen as the major contenders in the county and are already on the ground ready for a bruising battle. 

The gubernatorial seat has attracted a lot of attention in the county owing to the presence of political giants in the race. GNU’s boss and fiery politician Mwangi Kiunjuri (immediate former Laikipia East Constituency MP and Public Works assistant minister ) is running for the seat against his immediate counterpart in Laikipia West UDF’s Nderitu Muriithi. TNA has also field little known Joshua Irungu. 

Mr. Kiunjuri is seen to have an upper hand owing to his development record while the voters may have a bone to pick with Mr. Nderitu. The Industrialization assistant minister who is the UDF’s candidate and point man in the region is hard pressed to explain to the constituents the reasons for the rising insecurity and low development in the area. Poor road network in Laikipia West constituency has sent him scratching his head. Nderitu who is the nephew to the out-going president Mwai Kibaki is largely blamed for luck-luster leadership despite the cosy relationship he has with the head of state.  Although Kiunjuri’s bid may have an edge over the rest, the recent remarks by Jubilee presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta urging the residents to vote ‘six-piece’ may send the 3-time Laikipia East MP to political oblivion.

All aspirants are in agreement that Laikipia is enriched with resources and need good leadership to benefit the residents. Three-quarter of Laikipia people occupy a quarter of land and vice-versa. This is also one of the challenges that need to be addressed. The presence of absentee landlords has over time plagued development agenda in the region. Most of the lands remain unoccupied. Human-wildlife conflict has in the past stood in the path of harmony between the ranchers and the farming communities. The in-coming governor will have to strike a delicate balance between these two groups who contribute to the economic development in the county.

Road network remains the determinant factor in the race. This is a critical economic vehicle in the region. Only 139.3 Km of the roads in the county is under tarmac while 353.7 Km is gravel surface. The rest is earth surface. The governor will have an uphill task in developing meaningful road network that will serve the residents as most roads are impassible during rainy seasons. 

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