National Super Alliance co-principals Raila Odinga and Moses Wetang’ula are facing a challenging balancing act in Kakamega County as their deputies, Governor Wycliffe Oparanya and Senator Boni Khalwale, respectively, face off in the August polls for the county’s top seat.
Mr Musalia Mudavadi, also a Nasa principal, is fielding lawyer Michael Osundwa on an Amani National Congress (ANC) ticket.
At the onset, the battle could be shaped by whether Nasa allies conduct joint nominations. If they agree on this, whoever gets the ticket is almost assured of victory in the polls.
But the race could be very competitive if all the parties field their own candidates, possibly giving Jubilee a glimmer of hope.
Mr Oparanya deputises Mr Odinga in the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) while Dr Khalwale is Mr Wetang’ula’s deputy in Ford Kenya.
“What is Ford Kenya? Really? You cannot compare these things,” Governor Oparanya told the Nation, firing the first salvo in the internal Nasa battle.
Meanwhile, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party, which has a growing influence, is hoping to reap from “political cannibalism” in Nasa. The battle to rule Kenya’s second most populated and largest rural county will, however, not be entirely a Nasa or Jubilee affair.
Those battling Mr Oparanya have made audit queries an integral part of their campaign, with the health docket and various bids to revive the multi-billion sugar industry expected to play critical roles in the campaigns.
Dr Khalwale, a former chairman of the Senate’s powerful Public Accounts and Investments Committee, says the August election will boil down to whether the governor has answered queries to everyone’s satisfaction.
“The recent Auditor General’s report has ranked Kakamega as the second most corrupt county, with Sh8.5 billion unaccounted for. I want to rid Kakamega of this ghost of corruption. I want to show them how to think big in development and not eat even a single cent,” the senator said in an interview.
Recently, the auditor gave the county an adverse opinion, terming corruption as the “kiss of death”.
But Mr Oparanya said audit queries were normal in any government and they don’t mean there has been theft of public funds. “Even if an angel is here as a governor, there will be audit queries,” Mr Oparanya said, adding: “I do not control the whole county. People spend and sometimes fail to account”.
To which Dr Khalwale said: “I will have audit queries, alright, but I will clear them, because I will not steal. As they say in law, I want to be as trusted as a doctor”.
Dr Khalwale, famed for his love of Isukuti dance and bullfighting, said Mr Oparanya had made all the wrong moves in his five-year rule. “I will not be myopic and lacking in imagination. I will make Mumias, Butali and West Sugar companies work. The cess from them is enough to rehabilitate feeder roads. I will then build five county roads, one every financial year,” he said.
Those battling to unseat Mr Oparanya base their chances on their development agenda for the county.
Deputy President William Ruto, who has visited the region about 20 times since 2013, holding as many as three rallies a day, has attracted MPs Benjamin Washiali (Mumias East), Bernard Shinali (Ikolomani), Emmanuel Wangwe (Navakholo) and David Were (Matungu) to his fold.
Former Butere MP Amukowa Anangwe, who was floored by Mr Oparanya in 2002, and Ms Mabel Muruli, a UK-based trader who had been stopped from running when her degree certificate was questioned in 2013, will battle it out for the Jubilee ticket.
Prof Anangwe will bank on his experience as a former Health minister and a general feeling that western Kenya “no longer wants to be in the Opposition”.
Kanu, though supporting President Kenyatta’s re-election, wants to field candidates for all other seats. It has Major (Rtd) Suleiman Sumba, an ex-soldier and former county executive for urban planning, and later sports and social services, to fly its flag in the polls.
The aspirants will try to woo the 12-constituency county spanning 233 sub-locations and covering 3,050 square kilometres, with an estimated 2,028,324 people of whom 746,877 are projected voters.
While Mr Oparanya says his past experience as a Planning minister helped him get elected in March 2013, the forthcoming polls will be about his achievements as governor.
“We have done our part. We promised to do things and we have delivered. We have transformed Kakamega,” he told the Nation in his at the county’s headquarters.
Top on the governor’s agenda is an ambitious Sh6 billion hospital adjacent to the Kakamega Teaching and Referral Hospital, a huge undertaking billed to be the biggest in the region. He plans to build 1,000-houses for doctors and to bring specialist doctors from India.
The governor has also launched the Sh336 million Oparanya Care programme that gives 33,000 poor, HIV-positive and underage mothers Sh2,000 in six instalments if they give birth in a hospital. The governor also has plans for 12 level four hospitals of Sh40 million each, a Sh55 million CT scanner at the county hospital, and Sh500 million spread over five years to build maternity centres.
In education, the county has built 484 early childhood education classrooms in 242 centres, with 1,901 teachers, Sh20 million per year higher education loans to at least 1,200 students, training of 12 bright students in foreign and local universities and twelve Sh30 million polytechnics, one in each sub-county.
Meanwhile, Major (rtd) Sumba has promised a 10,000-bed capacity hospital, revival of the sugar industry, protection of Kakamega Forest and grooming of footballers.
“I bring all of a soldier’s disciplined pursuit of outcomes, learnt and honed in the armed forces, to drive Kakamega to the top of development charts,” Major (rtd) Sumba says.
Jubilee’s Ms Muruli promises to go “big on the health sector”, provide lunch to every school pupil in Kakamega, and attract Foreign Direct Investments owing to her UK background.
“I will ensure resources allocated to the county are put to proper use and will work closely with President Kenyatta to attract support from the government for infrastructure improvement,” she said.
Prof Anangwe, a former Kanu point man in the region, plans to create a Sh1 billion Women Fund, roll out jobs for the youth, subsidise agriculture and push for 45 per cent of sharable revenue to be devolved to the counties.
“The key signature programmes of my term will be to facilitate sugarcane farmers to grow the crop on their own by subsidising farm inputs and agricultural machinery,” said Prof Anangwe.
Similarly, Dr Khalwale said that he will make the county a “medical tourist county”, explore dormant tourist sites, open up water in Lugari and Likuyani, and upgrade the sugar and maize industries.
“I did it while Ikolomani MP: Built the best schools, a stadium, five standard bridges, with only Sh595 million over four years,” Dr Khalwale said.
But at the end of the day, analysts said, it will all be a game of numbers, and an interesting game of choice of deputies.
Mr Oparanya has the super loyal Prof Philip Kutima, while Dr Khalwale has picked 2013 Lugari aspirant James Lisamamba, both from Malava constituency.
ANC’s Mr Osundwa, is from Mumias, a key stronghold of Mr Oparanya.
But when the chips are down in the expansive, populous county punctuated by a series of sugarcane and maize plantation and a people that are so entwined with the Isukuti tunes, it will be what a candidate will do for the agriculture and health sectors, two critical devolved functions, and Mr Mudavadi’s and Mr Wetang’ula’s clout in the county.
Will they be able to dethrone their counterpart Mr Odinga, by using their fronted men to remove his deputy?
Or will Kanu or Jubilee, both allied to President Kenyatta, pull a surprise?
For Kakamega, it is all a wait-and-see.