How sugar defines politics in Kakamega
Sugar politics is the biggest single issue in the race for governor of Kakamega County.
This has even been reflected in the choice of running mates for the leading candidates.
In Bungoma and Vihiga, the choice was also motivated by the need for ethnic balancing.
Three of Kakamega’s five candidates have picked running mates from the Mumias sugar zone.
Cane farming is the county’s main economic activity, with Mumias Sugar, Kenya’s largest producer located here.
Housing minister Soita Shitanda of New Ford Kenya, former Nyanza PC Paul Olando of UDF and Dr Simbauni Ndombi of the Federal Party of Kenya all chose running mates from the Mumias sugar zone region.
The vote from the five constituencies of Mumias East, Mumias Central, Matungu, Butere and Khwisero is considered crucial in determining the winner. Of the 568,813 voters registered in the county, nearly 220,000 are from this region.
Mr Shitanda has settled on the youthful David Wamatsi from Mumias East constituency, while Mr Olando’s running mate, Mr Mohammed Mukhwana, a former director of the Kenya Sugar Board is also from the region.
Dr Ndombi, from Navakholo constituency, picked Francis Kangwana as his running mate.
Mr Kangwana has unsuccessfully contested the Mumias parliamentary seat in the past elections.
Mr Shitanda also hopes to attract youth votes because at 34, his running mate is the youngest.
“Our strategy is to ensure a large number of youths identify with our candidate ... our choice is a clear indication that the minister will give priority to the issues of unemployment and training needs to empower them,” Mr Alex Khamasi of the minister’s campaign team said.
Mr Olando’s campaign team said Mr Mukhwana’s choice was motivated by his rich experience in the sugar industry, which is at the heart of the region’s economic lifeline.
He served for two terms as a director for the Kenya Sugar Board and is familiar with the intrigues that shape the politics in sugarcane industry.
“For us, our choice of a running mate was rather obvious since we wanted somebody with a rich professional background that will compliment Mr Olando’s experience as an administrator so that they can be able to deliver a bloc vote from the five constituencies in the sugarcane growing zone,” explained Mr Ben Ahinda, one of Mr Olando’s campaigners.
Dr Ndombi, a son of former trade unionist Wasike Ndombi went hunting for his running mate from the same region, underlying the significance voters in the sugarcane growing zone will play in determining which way the race is likely to go.
ODM’s Wycliffe Oparanya settled on university don Dr Philip Kutima from Malava.
Dr Kutima, a former lecturer at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology unsuccessfully contested the Malava parliamentary on Kanu ticket in the 2002 elections.
Mr Shitanda could have a head start over his opponents because of his strong support among sugarcane farmers. He has been consistent in ensuring that they are not exploited by millers.
The Housing minister has been re-elected three times, largely due to the support he enjoys among cane growers who form the biggest chunk of votes in Malava constituency. If he attracts similar support from the farmers elsewhere then he will challenge seriously for the position.
Mr Albert Mwilitsa of URP has picked Mr Caleb Chiluka. The Moi university graduate is from Malava and is making his political debut.
In neighbouring Bungoma, ethnic balancing was the main factor in the selection of deputy governors.
The four candidates in the race for governor are all Bukusu, while their running mates are Sabaot from Mount Elgon.
New Ford Kenya’s Ken Lusaka picked former school principal Hillary Chongeywo while his closest rival Alfred Khang’ati of ODM selected Mr John Mukhooli, a businessman.
Mr Jack Tumwa of Ford Kenya picked Kennedy Maruga, also a former school principal, while UDF’s Wabwoba Walinywa picked Mr Joshua Ndhiwa, the outgoing chairman of Mount Elgon University Students Association.
With a population of 1.6 million people, it has 490,795 registered voters.
The race is widely seen as between Mr Lusaka, a former PS and Mr Khang’ati, the outgoing ODM MP for Kanduyi.
Mr Lusaka had a head-start in the campaigns and for a long period, he was seen as the front runner. But Mr Khang’ati’s fortunes changed when Ford-K joined ODM in the Cord alliance.
When Cord’s presidential candidate Raila Odinga campaigned in Bungoma, he declared that Ford-K leader Moses Wetang’ula is the coalition’s candidate for the senate and Mr Khang’ati for governor.
Even though Mr Tumwa is the Ford-K candidate, support for him from Mr Wetang’ula has been lukewarm.
Indeed, Mr Tumwa was not Ford-K’s first choice. Initially running as an independent, he only joined the party after its preferred candidate, former Friends School Kamusinga principal and high commissioner to Canada Simon Nabukwesi was knocked out on a technicality.
He failed to beat the deadline set by IEBC for civil servants joining politics to resign.
The race has been fierce and full of intrigues, especially between Mr Lusaka and Mr Khang’ati.
The ODM man appeared to shoot himself in the foot recently when a story appeared in a local newspaper allegedly quoting him saying he will quit the race due to financial constraints, and campaigning that his party was not supporting him.
The story spread like wildfire in the county and on social media, doing a lot of damage to his campaign.
Although Mr Khang’ati rushed to deny it, it is obvious that the damage had already been done.
An idea had already been planted among voters of a candidate who is not sure of himself.
Mr Khang’ati stopped short of accusing Mr Lusaka of being behind the alleged quit story.
“My competitors are worried because of my strength on the ground. There is no turning back,” he said.
“I had only gone to Nairobi to strategise and organise my campaigns when the propaganda came out. I can’t betray my party and people,” he added.
Mr. Lusaka has denied any involvement in the affair describing it as a sideshow he does not want to distract his campaigns.
‘‘If he can’t stand the heat, he should get out instead of looking for scapegoats,’’ he said.
Mr Tumwa, a former Commissioner with the defunct ECK says he believes his agenda for the county is the best.
“I want to invest in infrastructure, job creation and revival of industries to boost the economy of Bungoma County,” he said.
“Those who think I will take position three will be surprised since I am the strongest candidate,” he says.
In Vihiga, UDF’s Jairus Amayi went for former Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) Vihiga secretary Tom Kisia instead of former PS Geylord Avedi.
Dr Amayi, a former lecturer at Maseno University said he preferred a youthful running mate he could mentor for the position in future.
Kisia is from the populous Maragoli tribe in the county while Dr Amayi is from Bunyore.
“A proposal was made to me to pick Mr Avedi as my running mate but I resisted it because that would amount to denying the youth a place in the leadership of our county and that is why I settled on Tom,” Dr Amayi said.
ODM’s Kenneth Butiko picked Dr Patrick Lumumba Saisi from the Tiriki sub tribe in Hamisi constituency.
“The decision came as a surprise at first but I later understood that Mr Butiko needed someone who would complement his background as a banker by working with somebody who has experience in community work and agriculture.
Dr Saisi is a Phd holder in Agriculture and has implemented several community projects funded by the UNDP.
Dr Inonda Mwanje of Ford Kenya has picked Mr Asava Ligenga while evangelist Reuben Kigame of Restore and Build Kenya selected Mr Aggrey Agoi.