A number of professionals and politicians in central Kenya have kicked off 2022 governorship campaigns in earnest, promising an epic duel with incumbents who will seek re-election.
The battle for the coveted seat is gaining momentum in several counties, with some contests involving friends-turned-foes.
The campaigns are discreet and include charity works, meeting grassroots opinion shapers, youth leaders and elders, together with dishing out money during fundraisers in the villages. The battles are also being played out on Kikuyu language radio stations.
Other than political battles, most of the incumbents are also facing audit queries on utilisation of public funds, corruption allegations and skewed budgetary allocations, among other improprieties.
For instance, Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga is under siege after tycoon Daniel Wamahiu announced his bid for the top seat.
The former Kenya Pipeline chairman has already kicked off his campaigns and has been attending radio interviews at Kikuyu vernacular radio stations, where he has been using the platform to censure Mr Kahiga's administration.
He made his intentions clear during a meeting with Kikuyu Council of Elders in Narumoru.
In 2017, he vied for the senatorial seat as an independent candidate but lost to Mr Ephraim Maina, who is also touted to be eyeing the governor's seat.
Mr Wamahiu has been taking a swipe at Mr Kahiga's government, saying it was insensitive to the plight of entrepreneurs, but the governor has also been dismissing him, saying he will not be distracted. Speaking recently in Chaka during an event organised by the Kenya National Highway Authority (Kenha), the governor, while referring to the tycoon as "the man who wears bling bling", said his administration was keen on serving residents, and not politicking.
The Nyeri governorship race in 2022 is likely to be a contest between road construction billionaires -- as both the senator and Mr Wamahiu are contractors.
Last month, the senator held a meeting at PCEA Nyamachaki hall, where his 2017 campaigners, religious leaders and community opinion shapers pushed him to vie for the lucrative post.
The attendants included former MCAs, who exerted pressure on the senator to oust Mr Kahiga. They cited Mr Maina's performance as Mathira MP between 2007 and 2012 and in the current position at the Senate.
In response, Mr Maina failed to confirm or deny he would vie for the seat, perhaps for fear of the voters' reaction, but he was not kind to Governor Kahiga and his administration.
He took a swipe at Mr Kahiga, accusing him of under-performance.
"How do you fail to stock hospitals with drugs and equipment and instead tarmac the road that leads to the mortuary and expand the mortuary?" posed Senator Maina, adding that education and agriculture sectors were also falling.
Though in 2017 elections Mr Kahiga and the senator were political soulmates under Jubilee Party, the emerging turf war is a pointer that the union is no more, a move that has heightened political temperatures in the county.
Others said to be in the race to oust Mr Kahiga are former senator Mutahi Kagwe, chairman of the National Government Constituency Development Fund (NG-CDF) in Mathira, Mr William Wahome, city lawyer Peter King'ara and Nairobi businessman Stephen Gachie.
Senator Maina and Mr Wahome are from the populous Mathira constituency, while Mr Kahiga is from the vast Kieni constituency, Mr Wamahiu and Mr King'ara are from Othaya, while Mr Kagwe and Dr Gachie are from Mukurweini constituency.
Dr Gachie was a member of Dr Wahome Gakuru's campaign secretariat and played a major role in securing the Gakuru-Kahiga victory in the August 8, 2017 elections.
However, the doctor fell out with Mr Kahiga following Mr Gakuru's demise. At the same time, Mr Wahome is a paternal cousin to deputy governor Caroline Karugu.
In Murang'a County, among those touted to be gunning for the governor's seat held by Mwangi wa Iria are Senator Irungu Kang'ata, Woman Representative Sabina Chege, former PS Irungu Nyakera, former senator Kembi Gitura and two-time contender Moses Mwangi.
The senator has turned to be the main critic of the Council of Governors (CoG) vice-chairman, mostly on questions raised by the Auditor General. Senator Kang'ata and Mr Kembi come from the populous Kiharu constituency.
Mr Nyakera is from Mathioya constituency while Ms Chege is from Kigumo, but is married in Mathioya.
Mr Nyakera, a close ally of tycoon Peter Munga, is the deputy leader of the Democratic Party of Kenya. He has been moving around the county doing charity work, mostly on environment, education and helping the vulnerable under the Irungu Nyakera Foundation.
In Kirinyaga County, Governor Anne Waiguru is under siege from most of the county leaders, led by Woman Representative Wangui Ngirici. Former minister Martha Karua is yet to leave the ground while Ms Ngirici is widely said to be warming up for the seat.
Most of the county leaders, save for Senator Charles Kibiru and Gichugu MP Githinji Gichimu, boycotted the governor's traditional wedding. Former governor Joseph Ndathi and former deputy governor Julius Njiiri are also training their eyes on the position.