Aspirants are using big money and glamour to raise stakes in the Rift Valley ahead of Jubilee Party primaries next week.
From colourful posters and huge billboards, branded 4x4 vehicles and choppers, the aspirants are not leaving anything to chance as the fight to woo voters goes to the wire.
The frenzied activities have left residents in stupor as speakers with music boom in caravans snaking their ways into villages and towns, announcing the arrival of an aspirant after another.
Splashing out millions of shillings, some politicians have shown that it takes some cost to win a vote.
Gubernatorial campaigns have particularly been intensive, with aspirants digging deeper into their pockets.
On Friday, Uasin Gishu gubernatorial hopeful Zedekiah Kiprop, also known as Buzeki, hosted what would arguably be a multi-million event at the Eldoret Club where top musicians and comedians thrilled his supporters.
The more than 20 artists are said to have been paid a few millions cumulatively for the one-day event.
Buzeki, who wants to unseat Governor Jackson Mandago, has held high profile campaigns that include televisions commercials at prime time. He has several branded cars.
“Buzeki has taken this campaign to a whole new height. I wonder how many millions he has spent so far,” said Mr Daniel Chepsiror from Moiben.
Mandago has not been left behind. He has erected bill boards on all entries and exits of Eldoret town and has several high rider cars.
The two rivals have branded their supporters. In every village, residents wear Buzeki and Mandago T-shirts. “You hardly can go beyond 10 people in the village before you find one with branded T-shits or caps,” said Amos Koech from Kapseret.
In the neigbouring Nandi County, former ministers Henry Kosgey and Felix Koskei and Senator Stephen Sang are fighting tooth and nail to unseat the incumbent Governor Cleophas Lagat.
Kosgey, Koskei and Lagat have run what is more like ‘who has more money’ campaigns. Mr Henry Chepkwony, a resident of Kapkoros in Nandi Hills, remembers Lagat’s visit to his village a few days ago. “He came and enumerated his achievements to us, then he asked women, youths and men to stand in groups. Everybody who was there including children got a thousand-shilling crisp notes,” said Chepkwony.
Shook the trail
But, it is Kosgey who has shaken the campaigns. On a normal campaign day, he will attend meetings where people would be allowed to speak before he takes to the podium.
In several villages that the Sunday Standard visited, villagers recall Kosgey’s visit with admiration.
“He came here and we told him some families had problems paying school fees for their children. We also mentioned a villager who was ailing and we requested for a school bus for Kapsoo Girls Secondary School,” said Laban Bet of Aldai constituency.
To their chagrin, Kosgey gave out Sh3 million for the school bus with a pledge an extra Sh1 million.
“He also sat down and started issuing cheques of betwen Sh20,000 and Sh100,000 for school fees and other projects in the village. He wrote until the cheque book was finished. After he left, the village was not the same again,” said Bett.
Koskei has not been left behind. He rides in a chopper and criss-crosses the county to support village projects.
“Koskei gave our church Sh1 million in cash. We wanted to do a harambee but we shelved the idea,” said a representative of the ACK church mothers union in Kapsabet.
Parliamentary aspirants have also upped their game. Kesses MP aspirant Swarrup Mishra (also known as Kiprop) has left tongues wagging. From bill boards to his presence in the villages, the Indian-born Kenyan has been a crowd puller thanks to his deep pockets. Mishra, who started his campaigns in 2016, recently promised every homestead a dairy cow.
“He is wealthy. He has been paying millions of shillings in school fees for needy children. He splashes money and has helped numerous families in need,” said Michael Leting from Chereber village. But despite the excitement of heavy spending, one of the candidates in Uasin Gishu County has been charming his way into the hearts of voters by campaigning using a bicycle. Solomon Maritim Kiptarbei traverses the county using his bike fitted with two posters, one in front and another at the rear.
“I will not succumb to the misplaced belief that leadership is about money. The two are very distinct. I am true to myself and I represent the ordinary Kenyans,” he says, after excusing his supporters to speak to the Sunday Standard along Eldoret’s Oloo Street at the weekend. Another aspirant is flamboyant Begi Gesicho, who is eying the Emgwen parliamentary seat. The former Eldoret-based shoe shiner who now does business in Nairobi regularly flies to Kapsabet.
He is taking on incumbent Alex Kosgey and former athletics champion Wilfred Bungei. Alex is not a walk over either. Two weeks ago, he offered 300 boda boda riders Sh3 million in cash to enroll in a driving school. And just like his father, he writes cheques worth millions of shillings to fund development projects in villages.
“The people of Emgwen have embraced youthful leadership and are looking beyond tribe, race, religion or gender. All they are looking for is development conscious leadership,” Begi says. In Nakuru, Governor Kinuthia Mbugua has rolled out an expensive campaign with high rider cars, a fleet that at any given time ranges from between 15 and 20 cars.
Nakuru County Assembly Speaker Susan Kihika has also invested in expensive SUVs. Occasionally, the aspiring senator traverses the county in a helicopter.