The Nation (Nairobi)

Kenya: It's a Contest of the Rich in Masinga

Nairobi — Unlike many constituencies where the race for Parliament is just gaining momentum, the campaigns for the Masinga seat began right after the 2002 General Election.

Since that time, the sitting MP Mr Benson Mbai has been kept on his toes by a team of aspirants, most of whom are rich and have deployed their wealth to initiate development in the area.

The seat has attracted lawyers Boniface Mutinda Kabaka and Joel Kyatha Mbaluka and businessman Bernard Muia Kiala and Joe Kithyaka.

Others in the race are former MP Mr Ronald Kiluta, Kenyatta University lecturer Mrs Lois Wambua, Mr Simon Kitheka Kiilu, Mr Peter Masila Katu, former Kenya National Union of Teachers Machakos branch official Mr Benjamin Ndolo, Mr Joseph Mutisya, Mr Joshua Mwalio and Councillor Mrs Jane Syovata Ngungu.

The aspirants have been criss-crossing the constituency popularising their agenda among the people.

Economic activity

Masinga is in Yatta District, which was recently hived off Machakos District. It has two divisions, Masinga and Ndithini. Sand harvesting seems to be the major economic activity, causing land degradation.

Environmentalists say the sand trade has left the locals poorer and only benefits traders in Nairobi where the commodity is sold. Agriculture has not been fully exploited and fishing has only benefited middlemen.

Mr Kabaka has spent a fortune sinking boreholes in eight locations. He has assisted 10 primary schools, completed some stalled health projects, donated money to local churches and sponsored secondary and university students.

Mr Mbaluka, on the other hand, blames the past leadership for the underdevelopment of Masinga.

He has initiated the Kithyoko-Musini Water Project and helped formulate sand harvesting rules to ensure sustainable use of the resource.

He has also been mobilising women and young people to engage in economic and social activities. He fronted the planting of jatropha for bio-diesel production along River Tana in Masinga and Kivaa locations. Mr Kiala is a graduate economist from the University of Nairobi and runs several businesses.

He formed the Kiala Foundation in 2002, which he uses to launch activities for poverty alleviation.

The foundation has also been helping the locals to start businesses and promote sports and cultural activities.

But he got a setback when his Kiala Foundation Academy annual awards to honour the best school performers was discontinued by the Machakos District Education Board on the grounds that it was going against the education policy.

Mr Kiala and Mr Mbai were then engaged in what came to be known as the "Sunflower Wars".

Through his foundation, Mr Kiala encouraged farmers to grow sunflowers and sell their harvest to him at Sh20 per kilo. The venture attracted so much interest that Mr Mbai made a counter-offer of Sh30 per kilo.

During the branch elections for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) two teams - one led by Mr Mbai and another by Mr Kiluta - held elections separately at the same venue.

Mr Kiluta was elected chairman, Mr Kabaka secretary and Mr Mbaluka the organising secretary of one faction and Mr Mbai's was elected chairman of the other.

When both factions presented their lists to the LDP headquarters, the Mbai group was declared the bona fide branch officials.

Mr Kithyaka claims that he was denied a chance to run in 2002 after the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) nomination certificate he had been given was annulled at the eleventh hour and Mr Mbai cleared to vie for the seat.

He sees Masinga constituency as most undeveloped in the country. He says it needs a leader who can help eradicate poverty, HIV/Aids and insecurity.

He has initiated a project in partnership with a non-governmental organisation, which saw the construction of dams and a major bridge across River Mukengesya.

He has also participated in famine relief distribution, provision of hospital equipment, education and other community projects.

Man to beat

Mr Mbai, while admitting that he is facing rich opponents, says he still the man to beat. He acknowledges that some of them have initiated projects that match his but points out that some of the projects have not been helpful.

He claims that some boreholes have dried up in spite of the millions of shillings sunk in the projects.

Mr Mbai's critics accuse him of losing the opportunity to develop Masinga through Constituencies Development Fund.

The MP says he has spent the CDF money well and challenges anyone with doubts to check with the local District Development Office.

He explains that using CDF cash, the constituency development committee has built classrooms in secondary and primary schools and constructed three big dams, new roads and bridges.

The CDF kitty has also helped put up police posts at Milaani, Kikumini and Kivaa locations.

Mr Kiluta, who won the seat in 1992 and 1997, was ousted by Mr Mbai on a Narc ticket in 2002 when he stuck with Kanu.

Just like Mbai, he has stayed close to ODM-K presidential hopeful Mr Kalonzo Musyoka.

Mr Kiluta is known to be a staunch member of Kanu despite the fact that he contested the LDP Masinga branch polls.

And now, with Kanu saying it might go it alone and field civic and parliamentary candidates in the coming General Election, he might find himself at a crossroads.

Mrs Wambua is a founder member and patron of Ndithini Community Development Association whose mission is to empower the rural community.

She has been involved in HIV and Aids awareness programmes both in the constituency and at the national level.

Mrs Ngungu who is a Machakos County councillor, entered into politics in 1997 when she beat a host of male candidates to be elected the first woman councillor in Ekalakala ward.

She repeated the feat in 2002 when she was elected councillor for Ekatini/Ekalakala ward.

Mrs Ngungu says Masinga is endowed with wealth but past political leaders have closed their eyes to this fact.

The poor road network, she points out, has not helped areas like Ndithini where the land is agriculturally productive.

She says it is ironic that the constituency in which we find Masinga dam lacks clean drinking water.

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