The entry of former Land and Housing cabinet secretary Charity Ngilu into the gubernatorial race for the Kitui County sets the stage for a bruising political battle with the incumbent Governor Julius Malombe.
Mrs Ngilu, who is expected to contest on her Narc party ticket, has in the recent past been addressing a series of public rallies and meetings with leaders from the county in her bid to oust Governor Malombe.
The ex-minister who was hounded out of Jubilee government last year on corruption allegations has started campaigns early with 17 months to go to the next general elections, an indication she is leaving nothing to chance.
“I am going around engaging the people on their concerns but many have encouraged me to run because they feel the incumbent has failed to deliver on their expectations,” she said in telephone interview.
Having been the first woman presidential candidate in Kenya, her gubernatorial bid is widely seen as rather political climb-down amid dwindling fortunes.
Many see her running for governor as the only viable political option in the hard choices she has to make in reviving her political career which took a down-turn following defeat in last elections and her subsequent sacking from cabinet.
Her Narc party, which was among four parties that formed the Jubilee coalition, may not field a presidential candidate and analysts say it would be illogical for her to run for Kitui Central parliamentary seat which she held for a record four terms.
“From a presidential candidate in 1997 to a cabinet secretary in national government and then to an aspiring governor, she seems to be settling for less,” said Mr Kitheka Mulatya, an economic advisor to Governor
Mr Mulatya said the former minister is trying “to get a new lease in political life after being shown the door by Kitui voters and subsequently losing favour with the Jubilee leadership”.
But, Dr Joshua Kivuva, a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi, said if Mrs Ngilu is elected governor, that would be the highest political office she would ever have occupied.
According to Dr Kivuva a governor is head of County Government and, therefore, Mrs Ngilu will have the chance to implement the socialist policies she has been advocating all through.
“It is true, she has limited options given her age and diminishing political clout but governorship is more senior and will give her a free hand to do things her way,” he said.
Mrs Ngilu, who is currently not holding any elective post, is keen to correct the political mistakes that saw her lose the senatorial contest in 2013 to Kitui Senator David Musila, and that explains why she has embarked on
the campaigns so early.
In her candidacy, Mrs Ngilu faces a huge political test of dislodging the dominant Wiper party from Kitui politics which has both the incumbent Dr Malombe and Senator Musila running for governor as well.
Except for Dr Malombe who joined elective politics in 2013, both Mrs Ngilu and Mr Musila pride themselves in having wide political experience, immense resources and an extensive network of supporters across the county.
Until her defeat by Mr Musila in 2013, Mrs Ngilu has in the past survived great political odds to serve as the Kitui Central MP for a record 20 uninterrupted years.
She is known for being an effective mobiliser but chances of winning elections depend on voting trends across the eight constituencies and whether she will convince voters that she can manage the county resources prudently.
Mrs Ngilu’s record at the ministries of Health, Water and Lands where corruption allegations stained her tenure including the graft charges she is currently facing in court may complicate her campaigns.
Kitui being one of the vast counties in the country, voting trends indicate that the three constituencies of Mwingi with almost half of the county votes, will determine who wins the governor’s seat.
With both Mrs Ngilu and incumbent Dr Malombe coming from the same Ithookwe location in Kitui Central and Mr Musila hailing from Mwingi side, she begins the campaign as an underdog with more work to reach out to rural voters.
Out of the nine Kitui MPs, she enjoys only the support of one; Kitui South MP Rachael Nyamai, who was elected on her party Narc ticket while the rest support Mr Musila.
However, Mrs Ngilu may benefit from the imminent fallout in Wiper Party nominations as both Mr Musila, who is party’s national chairman and Dr Malombe, are seeking the same ticket.
MPs Charles Nyamai (Kitui Rural) and Makali Mulu (Kitui Central) said Mrs Ngilu is welcome but her record in the national dockets she led previously has a huge dent on her career and that voters were wiser than before.
“In 2013, she tried to mislead the Kamba community into supporting Jubilee but now after her sacking, Wiper party has been vindicated that Jubilee had no serious agenda for the region,” said Mr Nyamai.