By VINCENT BARTOO and FRED KIBOR
The collapse of talks aimed at reaching a deal to share elective offices between the Keiyo and Marakwet communities are likely to complicate the matrix in the race for election of the inaugural Elgeyo/Marakwet County governor.
Individuals seeking the voters’ nod to manage the county resources and power could now be forced to turn to political affiliation and track records to endear themselves to the electorate.
The county seat, alongside that of senator, was initially to be shared out between aspirants from the two communities before the talks ended in a stalemate due to what political analysts term as “competing ethnic interests”.
Initially, the governor seat had attracted 15 aspirants but as the elections date draws nearer, some appear to have backed down.
Career civil servants and businessmen are outdoing one another, flaunting their records either in academics, public service or corporate world to win the voters’ favour. There is no woman candidate in this race, but thiere is one (Tabitha Seii) the senator’s.
Those seeking election for governor include Joseph Litamoi, Nicholas Chepkiyeng, Thomas Torosi, Alex Tolgos, Pius Kipkore, Gabriel Bargechir and Simon Komen. Others are former Tana River Development Authority managing director Moses Changwony, former Egerton University don Joel Kiboss, former KRA commissioner Abraham Talel, a Mr Yano Pangana, Timothy Biwott and Albert Kochei.
Most of the aspirants are seeking the URP ticket. The party is perceived to be most popular in the region and analysts say whoever wins its nomination could have higher chances of winning the election.
However, because of the competition for the URP ticket and apprehension about the conduct of the party’s primaries some have chosen other parties.
Recently, the aspirants were subjected to a public interrogation at Iten County Council hall on how best they could be trusted to manage the county resources.
The Elgeyo/Marakwet County Development Stakeholders’ Forum (ELMADEF) chairman Jonathan Chesesio says they organised the meeting to help the electorate assess the aspirants.
“Management of the county resources will be in the hands of the governor and we cannot afford to get it wrong at the ballot. The governor should be a person with proven track record, devoid of corruption record and must be able to fast-track development in the region,” said Chesesio.
The county is home to world-beaters in athletics and has high milk and horticultural production potential. However, the region has poor infrastructure, low transitional levels to institutions of higher learning and residents live in relatively high poverty level.
Almost every aspirant has promised to turn around the fortunes of the agriculture-rich county. However, whoever wins the election must prepare to improve the region’s fortunes by tapping unexploited resources and potentials such as the sporting prowess to attract investors.
The proposal to share seats was initially mooted by elders in the county who argued that it was the best way of promoting mutual coexistence among the residents.
Majority of the aspirants, however, described the move undemocratic, saying it would lock out potential candidates.
The elders had proposed the governor and women representative seats go to the Marakwet community while those of the senator and deputy governor reserved for the Keiyo.
Opinion among the residents concerning sharing of seats also remains divided.
Proponents say consensus would unite the Keiyo and Marakwet communities and speed up development goal while opponents say it would be a setback to the expanded democratic space.
The National Cohesion and Integration Commission had listed the county among those that needed to share seats through what it called ‘negotiated democracy’ for continued peace and development.
ODM aspirant Biwott and Talel of the National Vision Party are the only aspirants not competing for URP’s ticket.
Biwott said among his first priorities would be to tap the county’s potential in athletics and tourism to rebrand the area. He also promises to initiate a value addition programme to increase incomes of farmers.
Biwott said he is keen on opening up the county for potential investors by building the necessary infrastructure.
Kiboss says his main agenda, if elected, is to turn around the economic status of the residents through exploitation of existing vast resources and tapping of other sources. Also in his priority list is women and youth empowerment through provision of low-interest loans to promote entrepreneurship and innovations.
He says he also intends to value add agricultural products like fruits, milk and potatoes which are in plenty supply across the county so that farmers can reap highest besides enhancing the production of cash crops like coffee and tea.
Greater percentage of the county revenue, he says, should be tapped from athletics and sports tourism which can only happen if Kerio Valley was opened up. He promises to help establish a state-of-the-art sports university at Kamariny.
He vows to push for reorganisation of forest resources in line with national policy to deliver tourism, carbon credits and wood industries. The county has an expansive tropical forest which together with the picturesque Kerio Valley can add variety to tourist attraction.
Changwony promises to revolutionise the county economy through vibrant agro-industry development measures. He plans to mobilise communities living in the highlands to shift from over-reliance on maize production and try out tea and other cash crops. He also plans to expand fruit production in Kerio Valley and introduce large scale farming of vegetables for export within his third years of office.
Changwony says he aims to boost irrigation farming and embark on forest conservation with a few of increasing water to generate electricity from potential rivers like Arror and Torok.
Open up region
At 32, Tolgos says his pursuit for the seat is driven by the need to change leadership for ineffectiveness. If elected, he says, his first priority will be opening up the county for investors by improving the existing road networks.
He also plans to increase student transition rate to institutions of higher by equipping schools for competitiveness and championing for medical insurance and equipping medical centres.
The URP aspirant says he is determined to promote local tourism through construction of wildlife conservancies and exploit tourist sites besides using athletes to market the county during international events.
Like his counterparts, Kochei aims to improve infrastructure to attract investors into the county thus increasing revenue collected and ensure the roads are well-maintained.
Accessibility to piped water and electricity in rural areas is another area Kochei plans to invest greatly in along with improving livelihoods of residents.
He promises to restructure the marketing system by encouraging farmers to form saccos to cushion themselves from exploitation by middlemen and increase their bargaining power.
And as always in Kenyan politics, the promises are in abundance but whether the winner will deliver remains to be seen.