Nairobi race: Hot contest to lead Kenya’s richest county

Capital city’s contribution to the national cake has grown from 21.7 percent in 2017 to 27.5 percent by 2020, underscoring the importance of the devolved unit to the country


The stage is set for Nairobi governorship race debate, with 10 candidates set to make a pitch on their suitability to be the next governor of Nairobi County.

The gubernatorial debate, to be held at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa on July 11, will see the candidates outline their plans for the country’s capital, a county that has not been so lucky when it comes to leadership.

The candidates include outgoing senator Johnson Sakaja on a United Democratic Alliance (UDA) ticket, Polycarp Igathe of Jubilee Party, businesswoman Agnes Kagure, running as an independent; Kenneth Nyamwamu of United Progressive Alliance, and tech-entrepreneur Harman Grewal of Safina Party. Others are Cleophas Kiio of Ford Kenya, Nancy Mwadime (Usawa Kwa Wote Party), Esther Thairu Waringa (Independent) and former journalist Denise Kodhe who is running for the seat on a Liberal Democratic Party ticket.

While the field looks crowded, the contest has narrowed down to a two-horse race pitting Mr Sakaja against Mr Igathe, with polls giving the two nearly 80 per cent of the vote.

The battle for the 2.41 million votes is, therefore, between Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party, led by Raila Odinga, and Kenya Kwanza Alliance, led by Deputy President William Ruto.

Governance of Nairobi County is important for Kenya in many ways. Not only is the county the country’s capital and seat of government. It is also the richest, with the governor controlling the highest revenues.

According to the latest Kenya National Bureau of Statistics gross county product 2021 report, Nairobi’s contribution to the national cake has grown from 21.7 percent in 2017 to 27.5 percent by 2020, underscoring the importance of the county to the country.

Further, Nairobi receives Sh19.24 billion, starting from the last financial year, up from Sh15.91 billion since the inception of devolution in 2013, from the national government in shareable revenue allocation while it collects on average Sh10 billion in own-source revenue. This means the governor controls more than Sh30 billion annually when conditional grants are also factored in, twice the amount controlled by the next governor.

So important is the county that during previous governor Mike Sonko’s term, the government seized control of the critical functions of the devolved unit through the Nairobi Metropolitan Service (NMS).

According to an Infotrak poll released on July 6, Mr Sakaja’s popularity stood at 39 per cent, a drop of one percent from the 40 percent he had from a Tifa poll released on June 21, 2022.

The senator’s loss was Mr Igathe’s gain as the former Nairobi deputy governor’s popularity increased by a single percentage from 32 percent by Tifa to 33 percent. The other candidates polled below one percent.

With a population estimated to be more than five million, having grown from 4.37 million according to the 2019 census, service delivery has been dominating campaigns in the city, with the politicians eager to eat into the large swathe of undecided voters, standing at 24 percent according to Infotrak. The number was a decrease from the 28 percent shown by Tifa, a clear sign that the pool is contracting as the August 9 elections near.

Aside from party strength, how best candidates articulate key issues bedeviling the capital city will give them an edge in the race which could go down to the wire.

This is in part because the city residents continue to grapple with critical issues revolving around solid waste management, water shortages, access to health services, high unemployment rates, insecurity, inadequate housing, access to education, enabling business environment and infrastructural challenges in informal settlements.

Others are incessant traffic jams, low own-source revenue collection, relocation of matatu stages, sewer and drainage problems, and street families.

The other issue is the Nairobi Metropolitan Service, whose term comes to an end on August 24, 2022 when a new governor will have been sworn in. However, the entity will have another three months to hand over. Eyes will be on what the candidates have to say about NMS: Whether they are open to have it around or wish to bid it goodbye.

With the challenges in mind, Mr Sakaja has packaged himself as a governor who will herald a county government that will work for the residents and ensure quality services to the people is delivered, with a tagline “let us make Nairobi work”.

He says ease of doing business will be a priority, all county services will be devolved to the sub-county level, he will fix sewerage problems, tackle congestion and water problems. He pledges to fight corruption at City Hall, which he says has denied past regimes the much-needed cash to deliver services to Nairobians, by fully digitising revenue collection services.

Further, he is championing a free school feeding programme that will provide lunch in all 209 public primary schools in Nairobi in order for children from poor homes to get education.

On the other hand, Mr Igathe has also been campaigning on the platform of transforming the city with a focus on service delivery.He says he will provide solutions for ease of doing business by introducing incentives to improve business performance while also reducing the multiple licences which traders in the city grapple with. Further, under his leadership, all revenue streams will be digitised to ensure City Hall collects maximum own-source revenue to enable it deliver essential services.

Alive to the work ahead, the two leading candidates have included in their tickets individuals with management skills as well as one with political background as a way of balancing both the political and management axis.

The 37-year-old Sakaja comes into the race with a chequered political background which is where his strength lies, having served in the city for the last nine years.

Having made his political debut in 2013 as a nominated MP under The National Alliance (TNA), of which he was chairman, he made the leap in 2017 when he was elected as the second senator of the city.

Mr Sakaja’s work experience is nothing to write home about as he has only held an audit job at PricewaterhouseCoopers and worked in his aunt’s cybercafé while also dabbling in small businesses while at the University of Nairobi.

He has made up for his lack of managerial experience by picking former Absa Bank Kenya Limited Chief Operating Officer James Njoroge Muchiri as his running mate.

Politically, Mr Igathe is a lightweight having only been a deputy governor for four months at City Hall where he served under Mr Sonko between August 2017 and January, 2018 before the two fell out.

However, he has former Kibwezi MP Prof Philip Kaloki from Wiper party as his running mate. The Igathe-Kaloki pairing is a boardroom deal within Azimio.

But for what the 49-year-old lacks politically, he makes up for with his managerial skills that he intends to leverage on to turn the tides on his main competitor. He boasts a distinguished career in the corporate world spanning close to 20 years, having served in different managerial positions in Vivo Energy, Equity Bank, Africa Online, Coca-Cola, Kenya Breweries Limited, and Haco Industries.

He has also chaired some institutions like Kenya Association of Manufacturers, Petroleum Institute of East Africa, the Anti-Counterfeit Agency, Special Economic Zones Authority of Kenya, Director and Trustee of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance.

Academically, Mr Igathe has a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Sociology from the University of Nairobi, and an Advanced Management Programme qualification from Strathmore University, while questions continue to dog Mr Sakaja’s academic credentials, with authenticity of his degree from Uganda’s TEAM University under probe and a case on the same still in court.

According to the Presidential Debate Secretariat, the debate will be in two stages with the first tier, involving the eight candidates with a popularity rating of below five percent, kicking off at 6pm. It will be moderated by Serfine Achieng’ from KBC and K24’s Ayub Abdi. The second tier, which will see Mr Sakaja and Mr Igathe face off, will be from 8 pm to 9.30 pm. It will be moderated by NTV’s Mark Masai and Zubeida Kananu of KTN News. Citizen TV’s Waihiga Mwaura will be lead moderator.

This will be the second such debate after a similar one in the lead-up to the 2017 general election at Daystar University involving Dr Evans Kidero, Mr Sonko, Peter Kenneth and Miguna Miguna, which was moderated by Joe Ageyo, then of KTN.