The race for the Kisii gubernatorial seat has intensified ahead of this year’s General Election, with the battle lines clearly drawn.
Already, nine candidates have been cleared by the electoral commission to contest the position. Governor James Ongwae (ODM) faces a test in defence of his seat in the wake of a spirited campaign mounted by his main challenger — Senator Chris Obure (Jubilee Party), one of the most senior politicians in the region.
Also in the race are Mr Manson Nyamweya (KNC), Mr Kepha Mogeni (PPK), Mr Lumumba Nyaberi (Wiper), Mr Samwel Nyamao (Independent), Mr Charles Bagwassi (Chama Mwangaza Daima), Mr Boniface Omboto (Maendeleo Chap Chap) and Dr Charles Omwega (NLP).
Mr Ongwae, in an interview with the Daily Nation, scoffed at Mr Obure’s challenge while expressing confidence that he would easily be re-elected, owing to his “sound development record”.
“I have transformed this county since I took over in 2013. Residents can attest to this fact,” he said.
He said his administration has, for instance, improved health care services and that residents do not have to travel far to seek treatment.
“We have specialised treatment at Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital, among other medical facilities. We no longer have to travel to Nairobi or Eldoret for treatment,” he said.
Mr Ongwae further pegged his re-election bid on the fact that the region is largely an ODM zone, having voted overwhelmingly for its party’s presidential candidate — Raila Odinga — in the 2013 election.
“Kisii is now a Nasa zone. We will ensure our flagbearer, Mr Odinga, garners 90 per cent of the votes,” added Mr Ongwae, who was handed a direct ticket by ODM to contest the seat.
In the last elections, he garnered 230,181 votes against Mr Nyaberi’s (TNA) 63,752 votes, while UDF’s Zadock Ogutu managed 16,478.
But the campaigns this year will not be a walk in the park, considering that Mr Obure, who supported his bid in 2013, is his main challenger.
Mr Obure, who coincidentally was a diehard supporter of ODM before decamping to Jubilee, is considered by many to be a seasoned politician with extensive networks in the region.
The long-time serving politician was the Kisii County ODM chairman before defecting to Jubilee Party.
In an interview, he vowed to “humiliate” Mr Ongwae at the polls. Shortly after being cleared by the electoral commission, Mr Obure said his opponents had tried tooth and nail to have him locked out of the race.
“I am very happy that I have proved them wrong,” he said.
He added that he would now focus on winning the election “to liberate the county from poor leadership”.
“We are aware many promises by the incumbent have remained unfulfilled. Most of the flagship projects — like the avocado and banana processing factories and construction of a sugar company — are yet to take off, five years after devolution,” he said.
He added that there was skewed employment in the county, with appointment letters being issued two months to the General Election in a ploy to woo the electorate.
“We are aware of the hundreds of people who have been employed yet lack specific duties. They continue to pocket thousands of shillings in salaries, money that could be used to spur development,” he said.
During the Jubilee primaries, Mr Obure garnered 208,091 votes against opponent Alfred Nyangweso’s 4,782 votes. However, some people have questioned Mr Obure’s figure on account that no major queues were seen in the county during the Jubilee primaries.
Mr Nyangweso withdrew from the race after unsuccessfully trying to contest Mr Obure’s win in court.
Mr Obure expressed confidence he would win the governorship seat, saying the current county leadership will be swept by a Jubilee Party wave come August 8.
“Let us all rally behind the ruling party. We have gained nothing in the Opposition and we stand to benefit more while in government,” he said.
But Mr Obure’s election faces a major test — that of stubborn voters who feel they have gained nothing during the few months they have courted the ruling party.
They say most of the projects launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta, who on Tuesday toured the region, have not yet kicked off. Residents are equally angry with the Jubilee government for allegedly doing little to resolve the rising cost of living. This has led to an increase in the price of basic commodities.
Another hurdle is the gap left by Kisii Deputy Governor Joash Maangi, who decamped from Jubilee back to ODM. “I have listened to the mood, feelings and wishes of the people of Kisii and decided to rejoin ODM,” said Mr Maangi, who will be Mr Ongwae’s running mate.
He had earlier been named as President Kenyatta’s key campaigner in the region and had, more than 10 times, hosted Deputy President William Ruto in his local tours.
The party has now been left on shaky ground, considering that some Jubilee Party officials in the region are allied to Mr Maangi.
Also in the race is Mr Nyaberi, a Wiper Party candidate, who has equally vowed to show Mr Ongwae the door.
He came second last elections after garnering 63,752 votes. He says he will give Mr Ongwae a run for his money, having mastered the tricks needed to win the poll.
“I will not repeat the errors I made last time, which made me lose the poll. I am now wiser,” he said.
“We lack clean water despite receiving heavy rainfall. This is in addition to poor roads and high poverty levels,” he added.
Mr Nyamweya, the KNC governorship candidate, is equally formidable. He is currently the South Mugirango MP.
The KNC party leader is equally moneyed, just like Mr Ongwae, Mr Obure and Mr Lumumba, and seems to enjoy the support of young people
He says the current county leadership is mired in corruption, poor performance and integrity issues, and should be sent packing.
He is banking on a consistent and impressive development record in his South Mugirango Constituency.
Speaking after receiving his nomination certificate, Mr Nyamweya said he would ensure equity in the distribution of resources, saying all residents should benefit.
“I have properly utilised the meagre funds allocated to the constituency for development. Not even the governor has come close to me in terms of efficiency and best practice,” he said.
He added: “My track record in South Mugirango is open for any person to see and even criticise. The same cannot be said of the incumbent, who has mismanaged funds meant for development of this county.”
A new political entrant, Mr Samwel Nyamao, who is an independent candidate, is the youngest among the aspirants, at 25 years.
He has vowed to ensure complete transformation of the county through devolution and says the youth have for long been ignored. “My leadership will ensure inclusiveness,” he said.
Political watchers in the region believe the defection of veteran politician Sam Ongeri to the Opposition is likely to boost Mr Ongwae’s numbers.
Prof Ongeri, who comes from Nyaribari Masaba, is seeking the Senator’s seat under ODM and is facing off with Jubilee’s Charles Nyachae, who comes from Nyaribari Chache.
It will be interesting to see who between Prof Ongeri and Mr Nyachae delivers the Nyaribari vote to the gubernatorial contenders on either side of the political divide.