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Gubernatorial races in next year’s General Election are turning out to be a billionaires’ contest even as top public servants begin to quit plum jobs to challenge wealthy incumbents.

With the power and prestige of the governor’s seat making it one of the most coveted positions, many of the current 47 county chiefs are thought to have stashed war chests to run what could be the most expensive campaign in the country’s history.

Control of huge budgets is one of the attractions, with county governments estimated to have gobbled up about Sh900 billion in the last four years.

Indications on the amount of money needed for the campaigns can be gleaned from the caps on campaign financing and spending recently released by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

For example, Nairobi County, where Governor Evans Kidero of Cord is expected to face a serious challenge, has its spending ceiling locked at Sh432 million, but multiple sources interviewed for this article indicated the budget could be higher.

Senator Mike Sonko, Dagoretti South MP Dennis Waweru, Bishop Margaret Wanjiru, nominated MP Johnson Sakaja and Water Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa are among those expected to feature in next year’s Nairobi gubernatorial polls.

Several aspirants are pushing for an early launch of campaigns to gain relevance as they plan to counter the wealthy county chief executives in next year’s elections.

In Homa Bay County, wealthy businessman and former director of economic affairs at the National Intelligence Service Sammy Wakiaga announced he had quit his job to start campaigning for the governorship of the county.

“I think I can make a meaningful contribution by stepping in to lead our people in the right direction. I prepared to face my opponents and fight together with our people to ensure in the next administration we make meaning out of the hard earned devolution cash,” Mr Wakiaga said.

The businessman said that though the gubernatorial campaign is promising to be an expensive venture given the amount of wealth accumulated by incumbents, he was ready to use everything he has to win.

Mr Wakiaga, who served as the national intelligence’s chief accountant for years, runs multibillion-shilling investments in the tourism and transport sectors.

The race will not be a walk in the park as incumbent Cyprian Awiti is already campaigning for his re-election.

Also campaigning for the Homa Bay governor’s seat is Kasipul MP Oyugi Magwanga, who is already running vote-seeking missions in the eight constituencies in the county.

FORMER TOP CIVIL SERVANTS

Other current and former top civil servants lining up for the gubernatorial races include former head of Public Service Francis Kimemia, who is already campaigning in Nyandarua, former National Irrigation Board Managing director Daniel Baraza, who has set his eyes on Busia, and Alexander Forbes director Wyclife Wangamati, who is set to enter the race against Ken Lusaka in Bungoma.

The Murang’a race, pitting former Cabinet minister Jamleck Kamau against incumbent Mwangi wa Iria is also billed to be a battle of titans.

Mr Kamau, the Kigumo MP, last month hosted his constituents at his home to thank them for supporting him during the two terms he has been in Parliament.

“I know that a lot of money will be at stake. But people should also know that the incumbents will be splashing stolen public funds; we have seen that before. You may dish out money but still be defeated,” Mr Kamau said.

Another big-money contest is expected in Kisii County, where Governor James Ongwae is expected to face off with Senator Chris Obure.

Mr Obure has been leading a team that is crafting an alliance against Mr Ongwae, but the Kisii governor has been working to counter them.

“In Kisii we have done our best. It is difficult to please everyone but if you drive around Kisii you will see that devolution was a blessing here. We will work with our people to ensure we retain the seat. We will not support initiatives geared towards creating discord amongst the good people of Kisii,” said Mr Ongwae.

His deputy Joash Maangi is the spokesman of the team assembled by Mr Obure, seen to be leaning towards the Jubilee Party.

“Our unity is aimed at making the best out of the next government. We do not want to operate in the opposition again,” Mr Maangi said.

The Obure group is thought to enjoy the backing of several wealthy individuals, including the family of Simeon Nyachae.

In the vast Turkana County, Senator John Munyes is strategising to floor Governor Josephat Nanok, who is also an ODM vice-chairman. Mr Munyes, known for heavy investments in the hotel and aviation sector, has defected to the newly created Jubilee Party.