Kenya: Candidates picked, the race is on for Nairobi’s next governor

By Victor Abuso

Posted on Thursday, 28 April 2022 18:15, updated on Monday, 20 June 2022 11:36
A general view shows the central business district of Kenya's capital Nairobi
A general view shows the central business district of Kenya's capital Nairobi, April 10, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

The race to win the county governorship post in Nairobi, one of Kenya's most important regions, has begun after the two leading political coalitions - Azimio la Umoja and Kenya Kwanza - announced their candidates.

William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza has settled on Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja, while Raila Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja has entrusted Polycarp Igathe, a corporate executive and businessman, with the task of vying for the seat.

Unlike other counties where primaries were held by individual parties to settle on candidates, the two coalition parties held discussions and selected their respective candidate for the capital’s top seat.

Ruto was the first to name his candidate after internal talks led to Bishop Margaret Wanjiru (Sakaja’s competitor) agreeing to drop her bid. The Nairobi senator is the only candidate in Kenya Kwanza who has been directly nominated. “We believe in Sakaja’s capability, we have settled on him as our candidate,” Ruto said.

Azimio la Umoja has been criticised for directly selecting more candidates instead of holding primaries. Igathe – who once served as Nairobi deputy governor and resigned just months after the 2017 elections – was selected following a series of discussions.

“After intense talks, we have settled on Polycarp Igathe to be our candidate,” Raila said.

Why is Nairobi County important ?

With a population of more than 5 million people, Nairobi is the largest city in Kenya and is also considered the financial capital, the country’s business centre.

It is where government officials and members of parliament sit and it also hosts a number of international organisations, such as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Nairobi is a tough place to lead, you must understand this city well.

Herman Manyora, a lecturer from the University of Nairobi, says the county needs a smart leader who understands the city and can carefully engage investors, business people and residents, who still face many challenges. “Nairobi is a tough place to lead, you must understand this city well.”

Manyora feels that Nairobi needs a leader who connects with its residents and who can sympathise with their challenges. Based on that, he believes Ruto’s choice of Sakaja better meets that criteria than Raila’s Igathe, a technocrat brought in from the corporate world to serve individual interests.

A new city

Each candidate is promising a new city if elected in the August polls. Youth unemployment, high cost of living, eradication of slums, ending traffic jams, and improving the sewage system are among the many challenges they want to tackle.

“Nairobi deserves better, I will deliver,” Sakaja said after he was handed the candidate ticket. For his part, Igathe said: “I come with ideas that will change Nairobi for good.”

Paul Nzioki, who will be voting for the first time and has just completed college in Nairobi, sees Sakaja as a strong candidate who will win the governorship position because of his popularity. “Sakaja has been campaigning for so long in this city, I will elect him, I’m sure he will win,”  he tells The Africa Report.

John Mwanza, who owns a small shop in Nairobi’s South B Estate and who will be voting for the second time, is placing his hope in Igathe. “He will win the seat, he is well connected to rich people in this city,” he tells The Africa Report.

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