Kenya’s presidential contender Raila Odinga has moved to broker a pre-election power-sharing deal in Nairobi among the political parties in the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party, defusing tensions that threatened to derail his campaign.
Under the agreement announced by Mr Odinga on Thursday, his ODM party withdrew its candidate Tim Wanyonyi from the race for Nairobi governor in favour of Equity Bank executive Polycarp Igathe.
Mr Igathe, who resigned as the city’s deputy governor in 2018, is being fronted by the ruling Jubilee Party and will now take on Senator Johnson Sakaja of Deputy President William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza coalition in the August 9 elections.
Kenya’s business elite is said to have been behind Mr Igathe’s last foray into Nairobi politics in 2017, when he was paired with former governor Mike Sonko on the Jubilee ticket.
The project failed after Mr Igathe quit City Hall barely six months after their election victory, citing irreconcilable differences with Mr Sonko.
The coalition party has also yet to agree on the choice of Mr Odinga’s running mate. The rift appeared to grow wider earlier this week after a section of politicians in the ODM party protested Mr Igathe’s late entry into the contest.
Mr Wanyonyi, a second-term Member of Parliament for the city’s Westlands Constituency, had been actively campaigning for months, venturing deep into tough slums to address public meetings.
Recent media reports of behind-the-scenes negotiations to have the MP run as Mr Igathe’s deputy have upset his supporters, with a group of politicians from his Luhyia ethnic community saying at a press conference that they may reconsider their backing of Mr Odinga’s candidature.
Nairobi gets the lion’s share of devolved funds allocated to the country’s 47 counties based on the population, poverty levels and other parameters.
The city is currently governed by a caretaker administration, known as the Nairobi Metropolitan Service under a military general, and a politically installed county government led by Governor Anne Kananu at City Hall.
Jubilee says it should produce the Azimio candidate for the next Nairobi governor having sacrificed its interests in the presidency for Mr Odinga.
The party’s chances of producing the presidential candidate’s running mate also seem uncertain in the wake of reports suggesting Wiper Democratic Movement’s Kalonzo Musyoka and Narc Kenya’s Martha Karua are the front runners for the position.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, who doubles up as the Jubilee party leader and the coalition council chairman, is also keen to pacify his political base in the Mt Kenya region and secure the interests of the influential business elite with roots in the region.
The business lobby views some of the career politicians seeking to govern Nairobi as too corrupt, incompetent or disruptive to be entrusted with the affairs of a county that contributes close to a quarter of Kenya’s GDP.
The city’s strategic importance to the country’s economy is set to rise, with plans to set up the Nairobi Financial Centre and tech giants such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft investing in regional hubs.