Njonjo Kihuria @PeopleDailyKe
When the going got tough for Mwai Kibaki’s government after the chaotic 2007 elections, few could stand the barrage from the Opposition, led by Raila Odinga. A formidable ODM brigade was threatening to walk all over a State machinery that seemed equally intimidated. But then one woman happened.
The then Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Martha Karua stood her ground at the National Tallying Centre at the KICC. At the end of it all, the face-off that secured Kibaki’s second term in office also earned her the label of ‘The only man in Kibaki’s government’.
A lot of water has since passed under the bridge with Karua having gone to the Opposition and returned to the ruling side, along the way losing her grip of her home ground base in Kirinyaga.
However, she remains the same old tough-as-nails fighter. Now, if the 2007 battle for Kibaki was her toughest at the peak of her political career, she faces another Herculean task as she tries a comeback at the gubernatorial level, where she has to wrestle newly-emerged Kirinyaga maestro, former Devolution Cabinet secretary Anne Waiguru.
It is almost certain that Kirinyaga will be among few counties expected to vote in the first women governors. Even though incumbent Joseph Ndathi is fighting to retain his seat, the mood on the ground has narrowed the battle to Waiguru and Karua.
Karua inadvertently coined the slogan for the campaign, when she compared herself to a local staple cereal, green gram (ndengu) noting it was sturdier than the exotic green pea (minji), meaning Waiguru.
Fresh peas may be appealing to the eye and more palatable, but grow only in short rainy seasons, while green grams are hardy and last the whole season. Waiguru, far from be rattled, seized the imagery of the popular peas to market herself as ‘minji minji’, discrediting ‘ndengu’ as not tasty.
And the ‘minji, minji’ slogan has caught on, appearing in posters, banners, T-shirts, caps as it became the rallying call in her campaign meetings.
The two assertive ladies, who were powerful ministers in the Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta regimes respectively, are viciously campaigning against each other and have almost an even number of loyal followers.
Karua, calling herself ‘karagita ka wira’ (farm tractor) is selling her long track record as a politician who gallantly fought for the ‘Second Liberation’ from the former Kanu regime, was Gichugu MP for two decades, served diligently under Kibaki and even tried her hand at presidential campaigns in 2013.
Waiguru, who appears well resourced, exudes charm and is marketing her service as a former performing Cabinet secretary. She has often been stepping out of her convoy to walk into villages, campaigning door-to-door, sometimes picking tea with villagers and helping them carry it to weighing centres.
Majority of voters are young people and the two are mainly targeting this group. Waiguru would have the people of Kirinyaga believe that Karua is an old guard, but the latter counters that it’s her work and record that matter.
Karua, a lawyer, is a seasoned politician who heads a political party, Narc-Kenya, while Waiguru, a technocrat who horned her skills at the Treasury, is a political greenhorn but with the might of Jubilee Party behind her.
Her detractors accuse Karua of not having done much in her 20 years as an elected official, while those who support her say Waiguru does not have the required experience. Their competition and following has left President Uhuru in a dilemma as he left it upon the Kirinyaga people to make their decision when he toured the area.
Both are claiming a connection with the people and appear to be enjoying themselves on the campaign trail, though it’s obviously a gruelling and bruising undertaking. They have almost equal chances of clinching the seat and the end result depends on how persuasive each will be.
Along the way, issues of corruption allegations from her days as CS have come to haunt Waiguru, while Karua’s dalliance with the Opposition and her failed attempt at the presidency in 2013 has been played out against her.
Karua has continuously flashed the integrity card and accused her opponent of not being able to take care of public funds as a Cabinet secretary.
Waiguru, on her part, will claim she whistle-blew on the National Youth Service scandal and that those culpable were taken to court and they did not include herself.
Kirinyaga is largely agrarian and farmers are looking at the two to tell them how they would assist them improve their lot. But, for now, all that rings from the campaign trail are slogans of ‘minji, minji’ and ‘ndengu, ndengu’.