By ROBERT WANYONYI and GRACE WEKESA
The political duel between CORD and Amani alliances of Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his deputy Musalia Mudavadi will dominate campaigns for the election of the Bungoma County governor.
The third most populous county offers a stage for the showdown between the former allies now heading rival factions, which are battling for supremacy in western Kenya.
Mudavadi pressed the advantage when he secured the support of Justice minister and Saboti MP Eugene Wamalwa but Raila has also pulled Sirisia MP Moses Wetangula and Lugari’s Cyrus Jirongo to his corner.
But although the two camps will go head-to-head in the national contest, the county competition is likely to herald a free-for-all after efforts at joint nominations failed.
Mudavadi’s UDF and Wamalwa’s New Ford-Kenya parties will each field a candidate for governor as will Raila’s ODM and Ford-Kenya of Wetangula although the parties are in partnerships.
As such, party politics will have a crucial role but analysts reckon personality and charisma of the individual candidates might be the deciding factor in the tough battle for governorship.
The race has attracted five contestants, including Internal Security assistant minister Alfred Khangati, former Livestock PS Ken Lusaka, former North Eastern PC Maurice Makhanu, a former commissioner of the defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya Jack Tumwa and former journalist Wabwoba Walinywa.
Khangati is running on ODM’s ticket, Tumwa (Ford-Kenya), Lusaka (New Ford-Kenya) while Makhanu and Walinywa are fighting it out for UDF’s sponsorship.
Khang’ati and Lusaka are banking on their experience in the Grand Coalition Government to win the voters’ favour.
Prof Egara Kabaji, the Director of Public Communications and Publishing at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, views the race as having been reduced to a contest between CORD and Amani alliances.
The scholar insists whomever wins the contest will be the candidate or party that sells best its policies to the electorates.
He says for over two decades the county has been associated with Ford-Kenya party and this seems to have taken root, a scenario that is likely to give CORD an upper hand in the region.
Dr Edward Kisiang’ani, a political analyst, echoes the sentiments pointing out that the Bungoma governorship race will ideally be between Mudavadi-Wamalwa team on one side and Wetangula on the other.
Kisiang’ani states that party affiliation by the five aspirants would play a key role in influencing the winner.
“It will be an interesting scenario to watch how the two alliances will brace themselves to clinch the governor seat,” he says.
Kisiang’ani singles out former Lusaka and describes him as a strong candidate but he is quick to hold reservations on his choice of party.
According to him, New Ford-Kenya is yet to force a meaningful following in the county and this may serve to cripple his chances of clinching the seat.
He affirms that Wamalwa’s entry to Amani coalition was a result of his frustrations with Uhuru Kenyatta and his perceived fallen plans to split the Luhya votes for the second time by frustrating Mudavadi.
He says Wamalwa cannot influence the Bungoma vote in determining whoever wins the governor seat because residents feel betrayed by his political undergoing and shelving his political ambitions.
Other factor that will feature strongly is the historical bare bones of the differences between the two major tribes in the region, the Bukusu and Maragoli.
The Bukusu were angered by Mudavadi in 1997 for failing to support their son, the late Kijana Michael Wamalwa, who was vying for the presidency and opted to back former President Moi.
Kisiang’ani claims Uhuru’s core aim in the political arena was to divide the Luhya vote in the next General Election by displacing Mudavadi and Wamalwa, something he achieved.
However, he says the Luhya vote will be spread out to all aspirants regardless of their political parties because Western region tends to vote in an unpredictable pattern.
The analysts also say Wetangula’s political star and survival would rise because of his political calculation and move to CORD should the coalition win the March polls.
“Ford-Kenya is an old and strong party in the area. Wetangula’s move to join CORD was well calculated and would give him a plus in his political career should CORD win,” says Kisiang’ani.
Bungoma County is dominated by the Bukusu who are the largest Luhya sub-tribe. The Sabaot, who are minority, also live in the county mainly in Mt Elgon.
Observers, however, contend the Sabaot factor cannot be overlooked in this race.
Kabaji says the Sabaot community’s role in the county is complex and the scales will tilt depending on how parties will choose to negotiate with the minority.
“It will be a plus for the party that will reach out to the minority and offer something to them,” he says.
Kisiangani, however differs with Kabaji on the role the Sabaot community in the race. He says this community associates itself much with the Rift Valley region more than the Western.
He says, the Sabaots suffer from inferiority complex and only hunt to be given free lee ways instead of battling for their rightful place with the Bukusu.
“The Sabaot community have not presented credible candidates for top seats; they are likely to be deputy governors. They should change their political operations, wake up and start associating themselves with Bungoma,” urges Kisiangani.
Other tribes residing in the county are Teso and Tachoni.