The thorny land issue, perennial water shortage, health services and agriculture are key issues that the electorate in Tana River County would pay special attention to while deciding who among the five candidates should be their governor after August 8 elections.
The race for the biggest seat has attracted five candidates after the sixth one, Mr Anania Karhayu Deye, bolted out in unclear circumstance, leaving the incumbent Hussein Dado to face four others, who are viciously seeking to unseat him.
Already the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has cleared all the five including Mr Dado, County Assembly Speaker Nuh Nassir, former assistant ministers Danson Mungatana and Dhadho Godhana and former County Finance Executive Ismail Jillo Algi.
Governor Dado is seeking re-election on a Jubilee Party ticket while Mr Mungatana, who emerged second in the 2013 elections with 14,076 votes, is making a second attempt on a Kenya Patriots Party ticket.
Mr Algi, a new face in the race, is gunning on Party for Development and Reforms ticket, which are allied to the ruling party.
Mr Godhana and Dr Nassi, who in 2013 unsuccessfully contested the for the Galole and Bura parliamentary seats respectively, are seeking the seat on National Super Alliance (Nasa)-allied Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and Wiper Democratic Movement respectively tickets.
The main focus of the electorate will be on who among them would address the social and economic issues that have a bearing on their daily lives, especially the land question that remains emotive and source of bloody conflicts in the arid and semi-arid region.
The candidates are cautious in their public utterances on how best to resolve the long standing land adjudication issue.
The rest is a walk in the park and each of them is proposing various solutions, with Governor Dado already stating his administration’s achievements addressing water issue through drilling thousands of boreholes and constructing dams.
Mr Dado has linked the water crisis experienced most part of the year to the prolonged drought that led to boreholes and dams drying up amid accusation from his opponents that “he failed to think outside the box”.
Similarly, his administration struggled in containing cholera outbreaks but has since addressed the situation, but provision of quality health services still remain elusive in the expansive county that is also struggling with skilled health workers.
Agriculture is the main part of Tana River’s economy where 90 per cent of the residents are either cattle keepers or farmers with a comparative few in the business and employment sectors.
But they are all expecting their next governor to turn the county into food basket.
While leaders are expected to address the mentioned issues, successive elections in the county have always been determined by tribal and clan variables and this one is not exceptional.
The elders are already setting the stage to determine who should be elected in various key positions, particularly the gubernatorial.
The county is not a stronghold of either Nasa or Jubilee unless they negotiate with Pokomo Council of Elders (Gasa), the Orma Council of Elders (Matadeda) and Wardei Council of Elders, who also influence the direction their respective communities follow in the national politics.
Those cleared by the council of elders are almost sure of victory while those who miss out are not only left to lick their wounds but suffer future political setback in the event they fail to respect the elders’ verdict.
This has effectively portrayed Tana River County as a bedrock of negotiated democracy in the coast region.
In the 2013 general election, Mr Dado garnered 23,739 votes to clinch the top seat after his Orma elders entered into political agreement with their Wardei neighbours, resulting in him forming the current county administration with his deputy Jire Siyat, a Wardei.
Now in 2017, a lot has changed and different realignments have emerged after disintegration of that agreement under the auspice of ‘Irdida Baretum’ when a section of dissatisfied Wardei elders endorsed the county assembly Speaker, Dr Nassir, for the top seat.
Dr Nassir’s endorsement opened the race wider, dashing Mr Dado’s hope of getting block votes from the Wardei community, with pundits pointing out that it isn’t going to be a walk in the park for the incumbent to solely rely on his Orma community’s votes.
ELDERS’ APPEAL TO JILLO
However, deputy governor Siyat’ decision to oppose Dr Nassir’’s candidature, and firmly remain with his boss has cast a ray of hope for Mr Dado to share spoils with the Speaker in the race for the Wardei community votes.
On the other hand, Mr Dado is also facing opposition from Mr Jillo in getting block Orma votes.
Mr Jillo resigned in 2015 as the county finance and planning executive member to join the race.
Although Orma Council of Elders unanimously endorsed Mr Dado’s re-election, Mr Jillo has defied their persistent appeal to withdraw his bid and stand a better chance of remaining the community’s sole candidate in 2022 elections.
POKOMO NEW PLAN
On the other hand, the farming Pokomo community suffered political setback in 2013 after losing key elective seats to the combined force of the Orma and Wardei political block, which clinched all National Assembly and Senate seats and 10 out of the 15 elected MCAs.
This time around, the community had a semblance of unity, especially after vetting several candidates and allowing a few to battle it out for various elective seats.
They are also closely watching the political fallout between Orma and Wardei hoping that the situation would be detrimental to all incumbents and favour them.
However, disagreement between their two key leaders, Mr Mungatana and Mr Godhana is being viewed as their big headache and a hurdle to one of their own being elected as the next county chief executive officer.
TIME TO LEAD
Two groups of the Pokomo Council of Elders (Gasa) separately endorsed them for the big seat leaving them to share spoils in the battle for the community’s votes.
Political pundits observe that failure by the Pokomo to settle on one candidate will favour Mr Dado, who is closely monitoring their fallout.
Mr Mungatana is from the Malanchini sub-tribe (Lower Pokomo) and Mr Godhana from Wantu wa Dzuu/Juu sub-tribe (Upper Pokomo).
The former, who are a hundred per cent Christians, have dominated local politics since independence.
“There has been internal differences between the two major Pokomo groups. The Malanchini have dominated Tana River politics since independence and the Wantu wa Dzuu feel that this is their moment to produce the flagbearer,” a local administrator said.
Besides the three main tribes of Orma, Pokomo and Wardei, minority communities like Somali, popularly referred to as Somali-wein (pure Somali) with projected 10,000 votes, Ilwana with more than 4,000 votes, Munyoyaya with nearly 7,000 votes and upcountry voters will also influence the outcome of the gubernatorial elections.
Already Mr Dado, Mr Mungatana, Mr Godhana and Dr Nassir have entered into pre-election agreements with opinion leaders and elders from the four communities hoping to cash in substantial votes to add to their respective voting constituents to be victorious.