Coalitions jostle for a piece of Kisii vote
Kisii County has been the centre of political activity for the past six months with the key presidential candidates making trips there in search of votes.
For instance last weekend, Cord Coalition presidential candidate Raila Odinga and his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka addressed a rally at Gusii Stadium, urging the entire Gusii community to rally behind Cord.
This came less than a month after Jubilee leaders Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto toured the farming region.
The county, which voted for both President Kibaki and Mr Odinga in the 2007 election, is considered among those holding the much-needed swing vote that could decide the next election.
While Mr Odinga has put up a spirited fight to ensure Nyanza region — including Kisii — vote as a bloc for him, Mr Kenyatta and his group see the county as one that could give them the 25 per cent vote from Nyanza.
The Constitution demands that for a presidential candidate to be declared winner, he or she must garner 25 per cent support in at least half of the country’s 47 counties.
The contest is shaping up to be largely a two-horse presidential affair in which Mr Odinga appears to be having the upper hand.
His Orange Democratic Movement retains majority of immediate former MPs in the county with eight constituencies.
They include Public Works minister Chris Obure (Bobasi) assistant ministers Richard Onyonka (Kitutu Chache), Simon Ogari (Bomachoge), Manson Nyamweya (South Mugirango), James Gesami (West Mugirango) and Bonchari’s Charles Onyancha.
The ODM secretariat director, Ms Janet Ong’era, who is on the list of possible nominees to Senate is also from the region.
The Jubilee side is banking on Foreign Affairs minister Sam Ongeri of Nyaribari Masaba and Dr Robert Monda of Nyaribari Chache as well as former Ford People MPs Stephen Manoti (Bobasi), Joel Onyancha (Bomachoge) and Hezron Manduku (Nyaribari Masaba). Prof Ongeri is seeking to be senator of the county.
Political mobilisation here largely revolves around clan interests, parties, the state of agriculture, unemployment and an individual’s development record.
The other is the issue of money, in an enviroment where voter bribery is the order of the day.
However, all these seem to be outweighed by the effects of the post-election violence of 2008.
The violence displaced members of the Abagusii from their farms in the Rift Valley, the stronghold of Jubilee Coalition running mate William Ruto, have become a major campaign issue.
The government has been accused of ignoring the plight of Kisii IDPs even as it settled the rest.
The race for Senate, which pits ODM’s Obure, Ongeri of The National Alliance and Omingo Magara is interesting.
Ten candidates are seeking the governor’s seat, one of the densely populated in the whole country.
They include former ODM chief campaign manager James Ongwae, former DC Peter Ndemo (Ford People), businessman Shem Machoka (KNC), educationist Zaddoc Ogutu (UDF) and Justry Lumumba Nyaberi (TNA).
Others are Lucas Ondieki Sese (Narc-Kenya), Francis Mecha (WDP), Samuel Nyakundi (PICK), Alfred Nyangweso (URP) and Henry Machoka (Independent).
The region is seen as a battleground due to the fact that it has never voted as a bloc except in 2002, when it overwhelmingly voted for one of its own, Simeon Nyachae.
This historical background has given hope to all contenders, despite the gravity of the issues at hand that seem to favour Mr Odinga.
The politicians are criss-crossing the region with promises of revamping the soapstone industry and creation of value-addition to agricultural produce.
Others include poor infrastructure, deteriorating education standards, clannism and diminishing family land sizes.
Mr Ongwae got a shot in the arm after his rival contender Foreign Affairs assistant minister Richard Onyonka dropped out of the race.
The two come from the same constituency (Kitutu Chache), a fact that would have split the Kitutu vote.
The majority of voters in the county argue that the governor should be a technocrat and a manager with a proven track record in public affairs.
Mr Ongwae banks on his 32-year experience in public service where he rose to the position of PS for Agriculture before contesting the Kitutu parliamentary seat in 2007.
There is a general consensus that Mr Ongwae is the man to beat.
His supporters argue that he helped revitalise agriculture when he served as PS.
Mr Ongwae promises to put up cooling facilities for fresh produce, create light industries and seek donors’ support for women businesses.
Value addition to tea and coffee which are the main cash crops is his target as a springboard to prosperity.
He is also campaigning on the platform of education, and pledges closer relationships among learners, teacher, parents, government and sponsors.
Mr Nyaberi promises to turn around the economy of the county within 100 days in office.
He says that he will target the village economy by pumping to every village with Sh10 million as capital.
Top priority is upgrading the Suneka Airstrip into an International Airport and seeking markets for local produce.
The nomination of Ms Ong’era has become an issue in the senate race between Cabinet ministers Ongeri and Obure. Both Ms Ong’era and Mr Obure are from Bobasi constituency.
Prof Ongeri’s campaign has asked the community to ignore Mr Obure, saying his constituency — and the Ababasi — has already secured a place in the senate.
However, Mr Obure has dismissed the suggestion, saying Ms Ong’era’s nomination would only be possible if ODM clinches many seats in the country, including the Kisii senate slot.
Ms Ong’era says her possible nomination was calculated to boost women’s representation in senate and accused Prof Ongeri’s campaign of spreading cheap propaganda.
“The nomination is not based on clans as Prof Ongeri’s campaign is suggesting. I urge all my supporters to remain firm, refuse to yield to any propaganda and vote for ODM candidates to ensure that we secure the deserved victory.”
Mr Magara has put up spirited efforts to beat the two senior leaders on grounds that they have failed to unite the community.
He is riding on generational change and politics of inclusion. Mr Magara says that Prof Ongeri and Mr Obure belong to the past of Kisii politics and should be voted out to pave the way for young and energetic leaders.
He might be a beneficiary of the clan factor. Coming from a marginalised clan, he wants to take advantage of the swing votes from Bomachoge and Bonchari.
Already Nyaribari has had two candidates, Mr Nyanweya and Prof Ongeri, Bobasi has Mr Obure and Mr Raini, South Mugirango has Mr Oyondi and Magara.
Mr Magara and Obure, who are both in Cord coalition, are embroiled in battle of party supremacy with Magara claiming that Mr Obure is playing politics of exclusion. He says if elected he will transform the leadership of the county to rise above clannism.
Mr Magara and Mr Obure come from Gucha region while Prof Ongeri is from Kisii central where residents are keen to take the gubernatorial seat.
Most locals feel that Gucha should produce a senator while central Kisii should be left with the governor’s seat.
Mr Magara is banking on his reputation as an avid debater in Parliament to convince the electorate that he can effectively represent them in the senate.
Prof Ongeri, who is TNA presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta’s point man in Kisii, is banking on his past record to sell his policies.
He says that he created the town council in Kisii while minister for Local Government. He also opened up dispensaries when he served as minister for Health.
The minister rides on the promise of uniting the clans and distributing resources equitably.
“I have a track record, I have never discriminated against any clan during my tenure as a minister.”
Prof Ongeri says that he has all along identified himself with issues that affect the people.
However, politics being about numbers, the professor of medicine has a tough job selling Jubilee in the county, with the baggage of unresolved IDP issues and the Cord wave riding high in the vote-rich county.