One of the most anticipated duels in the forthcoming elections is the Bomet governor’s race which will pit the incumbent Isaac Ruto against either National Assembly Deputy Speaker Joyce Laboso or former Konoin MP Julius Kones of Jubilee.
Elected in 2013 on the United Republican Party ticket, Governor Ruto has since fallen out sharply with Deputy President (DP) William Ruto and gone ahead to launch his own Chama Cha Mashinani (CCM) party whose candidate won the Nyangores ward seat in 2015 to the chagrin of Jubilee leadership.
Governor Ruto, who cut his political teeth as a student leader during the 1982 attempted coup and would have run-ins with retired President Daniel arap Moi as MP for Chepalungu in the late 1990s, has come out as the fiercest critic of DP Ruto.
And, while Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, too, doesn’t see eye to eye with the Jubilee deputy leader, the former’s rebellion has rattled him the most because of the constituency he represents.
The Kipsigis, from South Rift, are the most populous, accounting for nearly half of all other sections combined. Occupying parts of Bomet, Kericho, Narok, Nakuru and Nandi counties, the thinking that it has often been marginalised despite the numbers it contributes to the Kalenjin bloc, often resurfaces during election times.
This is the nationalism that Governor Ruto hopes to ride on in charting his political path. He counts on his side Kuresoi South MP Zakayo Cheruiyot and Emurua Dikirr MP Johana Ng’eno.
What worries the DP more is that Governor Ruto has in recent months cultivated considerable friendship with the Maasai, also of the South Rift.
So considerable, indeed, is the CCM wave in the region that Patrick Ntutu, the Narok West MP, is running for the Narok governor’s seat on the party’s ticket. Ms Lydia Ntimama, the daughter of the late Maasai political kingpin William ole Ntimama, is also running for the Narok Woman Representative seat on a CCM ticket.
Bomet, with an estimated population of one million, has two main geographical zones. On the one hand is the high potential Konoin, Bomet Central and parts of Sotik and Bomet East constituencies with some of the lushest tea bushes in Africa, while on the other side are the low lying semi-arid Chepalungu, parts of Sotik and Bomet East sub-counties which rely on a fledgling dairy and a battered maize farming perennially ravaged by disease and drought.
These lowlands are also plagued by poor roads. “Hatuko pamoja – we are not together. How can we be one when we hear of roads being launched across the country even in areas which already have a serious road network like Kisii,” Mr Justus Langat, a teacher, told the Nation at Chebunyo. Mr Langat was referring to the Jubilee slogan of ‘Tuko Pamoja’, turning it on its head.
Such sentiments are some of the arsenal in Governor Ruto’s armour as he takes aim at Jubilee, and in particular, his name-sake for “using the community for his selfish gain” as he put it during a recent visit to the county.
Apart from some audit queries, Bomet has often been rated as one of the best performing counties in absorption of devolution funds to the chagrin of his opponents. His supporters praise him for the big stadium in Bomet town and constructing roads that have gone to nearly every village. Boda boda and matatu operators are also proud of him for dismantling road blocks and kicking out extortionist police from the roads.
But his critics accuse him of awarding tenders to his family members and small circle of friends. “It might be true that he has done these roads, but if you check, whose machinery is doing those roads? It is his,” said Joseph Mosonik, a resident in Sotik.
But there is also a strong pro-DP Ruto sentiment in the county, preparing ground for what is shaping up to be one of the most hotly contested counties in 2017.
Ms Cecilia Ng’etich, the County Woman MP, says there is an understanding in the community that they have a leader who has since 1997 fought and now he is on the cusp of being president.
“Losing it will mean we restart,” she said.
She added that CCM was a product of the personal differences between the two Rutos and that, initially, residents used to call on the two to make up. That was before the relationship appeared irreparable.
Governor Ruto’s critics also accuse him of doing little in the area of Early Childhood Education.
“30 per cent of tenders are not going to the vulnerable people as required,” says Paul Savimbi Bii, the MP for Chepalungu.
Dr Ng’etich, the Woman Representative, also believes more should have been done.
“One simple idea is a massive poultry project. I wanted us to build a slaughterhouse and do deep freezing. A cooperative ought to have been there to buy chicken in plenty and look for markets,” says Dr Ng’etich who wants to be MP for Sotik.
Dr Laboso promises to battle poverty by creating employment. She pledges to go big on agriculture, the mainstay of the county.
“18 out of the 25 wards grow tea, whether wholly or in part. And while the national government has done quite a lot, pricing and quality remains a challenge,” says Dr Laboso.
Dr Laboso sees a high role of poultry in alleviating poverty, and promises to support farmers through cooperatives.
“ECD is another key sector which has been neglected by the outgoing administration,” Dr Laboso says.
She promises to support the Bomet University College to create employment.”
“On the road network, we need to go beyond the gravelling and tarmac some of the roads. We have seen other counties do it,” she said.
Dr Laboso was last year appointed to the now disbanded team of President Kenyatta’s elite campaigners, a move that made many in the county see her as the “blue-eyed boy” of the administration?
Dr Laboso, a former linguistics lecturer at Egerton University, says Bomet has been in the news for all the wrong reasons and that her leadership would tone down temperatures and bring about sobriety.
As a female aspirant for the coveted seat, Dr Laboso has also come under sexist attacks from some in the county who say she should vie in Kisumu where she is married.
“I am not selling my womanhood, I am selling my leadership, but that said, they are bringing all manner of things which a male candidate is not told. I am used to it now,” she said.
She said her strategy is not to under-estimate her opponents.
“We can never under-estimate our opponents, but if you follow the history of the Kipsigis voting patterns, Jubilee will carry the day,” she says.
She says that by consorting with the opposition alliance Nasa, Governor Ruto had shown where his heart is.
This is a tag Governor Ruto doesn’t challenge. “When Jubilee says ‘Tuko Pamoja,” how can we be together in this corruption going on? How can we be together in these empty promises?”
He says he has come under intense propaganda and hate campaigns from Jubilee and that he would support any presidential candidate who supports devolution.
“We have used resources prudently. The only time I went out of the country last year was when I went to South Africa for treatment,” he said, referring to an incident which saw him injured during a scuffle at Solibwet Stadium.
He denies doing little on ECD, saying the money allocated to it was hardly enough.
“We are also guided by public participation. If toilets have collapsed and classrooms destroyed by either wind or other calamities and parents want the buildings reconstructed and nurseries hold on for a while, so be it,” he says.
He says he has improved five-fold the amount of revenue collected in the county.
“Even though we have waived and cut by half market fees for mama mbogas and boda boda operators, we have still raised revenue from the Sh40 million we found to the present Sh200 million.”
Dr Laboso will have to contend at the nomination stage with Dr Kones, the mathematics lecturer who bitterly contested nomination results that gave Mr Ruto a win in 2013. He defected to the Kenya National Congress and came second.
Those who support the chairman of the National Water Conservation and Pipeline Corporation cite his gentle mien and approachability. He is also the favourite of those in Jubilee who see Dr Laboso as the establishment choice.
Dr Kones says his development record as a one-time MP for Konoin is visible to date and that, if elected, he will ensure equitable development in all the county’s five constituencies.
“I will also guard against nepotism and favouritism in the employment of the local youth. I am a mathematician and I assure you that no single cent of your money will land in my pocket,” he adds.
In a statement targeted at his competitor for the Jubilee ticket, Dr Kones says he has gained experience handling millions of shillings in the water sector.
Analysts say the ongoing campaigns for the Jubilee ticket could hand Governor Ruto arsenal during the campaigns proper as he will have picked choice words from the name-calling between Jubilee aspirants.
A student of political science, Governor Ruto is also a streetwise campaigner with a way with words.