A scheme by Mt Kenya governors tilted the scales in favour of Embu Governor Martin Wambora in the dying days of campaigning for the Council of Governors’ boss.
President Uhuru Kenyatta wanted a chairman from Mt Kenya who would drive BBI. He also wanted someone who would help him, even taking late-night calls in Kikuyu about everything from BBI to county finances.
The polls last Friday were preceded by heightened lobbying in which the President’s hand loomed large in successful efforts to take control of the strategic forum.
The Star has established that governors from Uhuru’s backyard had clear instructions from ‘above’ to instal one of ‘their own’ at the helm of CoG to succeed Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya.
The CoG’s strategic role in the Building Bridges Initiative campaigns appears to have been the primary reason for Mt Kenya’s push to occupy the crucial chairman’s post
On Thursday, former Githunguri MP Njoroge Baiya told the Star the chairperson’s position was critical for the President as he undertakes the last lap of his term.
“The CoG position would be very instrumental in articulating county positions on matters BBI and also quite important in lobbying governors to back the referendum,” Baiya said.
The former chairman of the Constitution Implementation Oversight Committee of the National Assembly said the President no doubt has a major interest in securing a friendly chairman.
“When you look at the whole of Mt Kenya region, Wambora is the most experienced governor because he is serving his second term and has been an MP before,” he said.
The BBI proponents who swept all the key CoG positions also plotted to have Kisii Governor James Ongwae, a second-term governor and former career civil servant, deputise Wambora.
Ongwae has experience in human resources management, having served as a permanent secretary, Teachers Service Commission boss and director of personnel management. He is expected to handle strikes and industrial action roiling the counties.
Like Wambora, Ongwae started his career in the civil service as a district officer before he rose through the ranks to occupy plum public service posts including director of the Civil Service Reform Programme.
The second-term governor was also ODM boss Raila Odinga’s chief campaign manager in 2013 elections before he resigned months to the polls to run for Kisii governor.
Elgeyo Marakwet Governor Alex Tolgos, an engineer and a BBI pillar in the Rift Valley swept by an anti-BBI wave, was installed as CoG chief whip in part of a deal to counter Deputy President William Ruto.
Rift Valley is also Ruto’s home turf.
It has emerged that President Kenyatta, who is pushing for BBI to amend the Constitution along with ODM boss Raila Odinga, were keen to have a BBI ally at the CoG helm.
The current BBI dynamics unfolding in the President’s Mt Kenya counties complicate chances for any radical proponent landing the post, leaving Wambora the most natural heir to Oparanya.
“The BBI process was key in the election of Wambora as our new chairman,” a Mt Kenya governor said. He sought anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue
The second-term governor was categorical that the head of state wanted a CoG chairman who drive the BBI referendum campaign and be available to the President whenever the need arose.
“With the President doing the last 17 months of his term, he needed someone he can call even at night and speak to him in his mother tongue to agree on some issues ranging from the BBI to county funds,” the governor added.
The country’s economy has been hard hit with the coronavirus pandemic that has affected cash flows to counties from the National Treasury triggering protests from governors.
President Uhuru was forced to renege on his promise of an additional Sh53 billion to sweeten the revenue-sharing deal and break the stalemate. But there’s no money now and there’s trouble ahead as the Treasury has not paid counties for three months.
With a radical or independent governor as CoG chairman, the forum would become a thorn in Uhuru’s flesh at a time he is battling a myriad of issues bogging down the economy.
Wambora, a former District Commissioner and a career civil servant, was endorsed by his peers from the Mt Kenya as the region’s candidate for chairman last week after Uhuru’s approval.
The decision by former Chief Whip Kivutha Kibwana of Makueni to step down despite having been seen as the favourite by DP Ruto’s camp eased tension during last Friday’s polls.
Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago, who was eyeing the whip post, is said to have also backed down at the last minute for undisclosed reasons, giving the pro-Uhuru and Raila forces an easy ride.
Other than Wambora, Murang’a’s Mwangi Wa Iria is the other only second-term governor from the 10 Mt Kenya counties, including Nakuru, which is considered a diaspora county.
Wa Iria who has been the CoG vice chairman for the last two years declined to run, saying he needed time to launch his 2022 presidential campaign..
“I did not offer myself for election because I have declared my interest to contest for the presidency and I don’t want a position that would tie me down,” Wa Iria said.
Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru, who has been a key BBI proponent from Mt Kenya region, did not run. She served as former CoG vice chairperson.
The governor told the Star she needed time to deal with the interests of the Kirinyanga people who elected her.
With Wambora and Ongwae at the CoG helm, their official task will be to champion the interests of counties and protect devolution – and do the President’s bidding.
In his inauguration speech, Wambora said his approach will be consultation and cooperation among all stakeholders to benefit the counties.
“I will spearhead negotiations to ensure adequate resourcing to county governments to at least 35 per cent of the national revenue. I will be doing a lot of consultations with my colleagues, the National Government and partners.”
He added, “if you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go together.”