15 March 2007

Kenya: Bruising Battle for Key Seat in Heartland Zone

Nairobi — A bruising battle is expected in Mukurwe-ini constituency, mainly pitting Information minister Mutahi Kagwe against former chairman of Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company Kabando wa Kabando.

Mr Kabando has maintained his presence in the constituency after losing to Mr Kagwe in the 2002 General Election. Subsequently, his actions have kept the minister on his toes.

Mr Kagwe's stature was boosted by his elevation to the Cabinet soon after the Government lost the 2005 referendum on a new Constitution.

The duo's fight will begin at the nomination stage, as both are expected to seek the ticket of the party on which President Kibaki will defend the presidency - widely believed to be Narc-Kenya.

Mr Kagwe has the flag, local support, resources and influence.

Mr Kabando is popular, has a good network in the constituency and is a strategist. Regularly, he mounts door-to-door campaigns.

The nomination process might lead to a fallout in Narc-K, with the loser possibly moving to another party. This could see the two rivals ending up on the ballot papers.

Though Mr Muhika Mutahi, the man Mr Kagwe beat in 2002, has not stated whether he is in the race, he has lately been close to the minister, who even supported him to become the Narc-K sub-branch chairman before elections were put off. He could still become a force if he enters the race.

Ms Njoki Kairu, who might vie on a Democratic Party ticket, is yet to make an impact.

The rivalry between Mr Kagwe and Mr Kabando heightened last May when the latter started sponsoring trial examinations in primary schools. The tests were prepared by a panel of teachers in the constituency.

The minister quickly "banned" the examination papers (which bore the sponsor's name) during two separate meetings at Kiriti Stadium and at Muthuthi-ini trading centre.

But 52 out of 68 schools defied the minister, leading to hurried transfers of selected head teachers.

Lately, Mr Kagwe has retreated to the constituency from Nairobi, visiting development projects.

Issues which will come to the fore centre mainly on coffee and dairy farming. The two are thorny, and partly led to Mr Mutahi's loss to Mr Kagwe in 2002. Mr Mutahi opposed a split of the giant Mukurwe-ini Coffee Growers Co-operative Society.

Mr Kagwe has steered clear of coffee controversies, preferring to offer help where necessary.

Good use of constituency development fund (CDF) money is a boost to Mr Kagwe. Several projects have been initiated - schools, markets and others.

The MP is credited for inviting donors from the United States to construct Kiahungu Market.

Celtel and Safaricom companies have also put up schools, markets and other projects at the invitation of the minister.

Mr Kabando made his first attempt at the seat in 1997 and lost to Mr Mutahi. In 2002, he vied on a Safina ticket and lost to Mr Kagwe.

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