Hot contest looms as Rift big guns eye governors’ seats

Elgeyo Marakwet Governor Alex Tolgos and his Uasin Gishu counterpart Jackson Mandago at a past function. Many candidates have started campaigning for their seats ahead of 2022 General Election. [Stephen Rutto, Standard]
The stage is set for tough governor succession politics in most counties in the Rift Valley.

Deputy President William Ruto’s home county of Uasin Gishu is brazing for a crowded contest and has already attracted leading forces in the political arena. 

Governor Jackson Mandago’s fiercest competitors in the 2013 and 2017 elections, Kenya’s Ambassador to Pakistan Julius Bittok and businessman Zedekiah Bundotich, popularly known as Buzeki, have already declared interest.

Heir apparent

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Senator Margaret Kamar, Deputy Governor Daniel Chemno, politician Jonathan Bii and Kesses MP Swarup Mishra are also interested.

Buzeki gave Mandago a run for his money in 2017, losing by a small margin.

Many widely touted Buzeki as Mandago’s heir apparent until recently when he decamped to former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto’s Chama Cha Mashinani (CCM) party in readiness for the 2022 contest.

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The move to CCM, where he was given the secretary general post, received mixed reactions in Uasin Gishu.

“We had seen Buzeki as best suited to succeed Mandago, but when he bolted out of Jubilee, his chances dwindled,” said Tony Biwott, a local political commentator.

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Buzeki defended his move to CCM, saying sustained attacks against his bid by Ruto’s allies had made him look elsewhere for associates with whom he shared ideologies.

“There are individuals who are gravely intolerant and thrive in retrogressive politics. I am not that kind of politician,” he said when he decamped.

Having skipped the 2017 contest, Ambassador Bittok told Sunday Standard he is now ready for the 2022 contest.

“I have a solid manifesto and I am ready to work with all residents and more particularly with the youth and women. I am ready for the 2022 race on Jubilee after suspending my candidature in 2017 when opinion leaders reached out to me to let Mandago complete his two terms,” said Dr Bittok, who lost with a narrow margin to Mandago in the 2013 URP nominations.

Joel Chelule, a political confidant of Senator Kamar, said last evening that the Senator will be in the race to succeed Mandago.

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Political affiliation and tribal arithmetic are among key factors that will largely determine who will clinch the coveted seat in the respective devolved units. 

In Trans Nzoia, the field is crowded with two current legislators leading the pack of those angling to succeed Governor Patrick Khaemba.

Kiminini MP Chris Wamalwa, Woman Representative Janet Nngabo, Ruto’s legal advisor Abraham Singoei and 2017 first runners up Kakai Bissau are among those who have publicly declared their interest.

Devolution CS Eugene Wamalwa is widely expected to make a stab at the seat though he is yet to declare his bid.

In Elgeyo Marakwet, Governor Alex Tolgos’s political adviser Kipkoech Karamai, his current and former deputies Wesley Rotich and Gabriel Lagat respectively, KVDA board chairman Jackson Kiptanui and politician Moses Changwony have all declared their candidacy.

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New rivalries

In Turkana, all MPs have shown interest in succeeding Governor Josphat Nanok.

So far, Senator Malachy Ekal, MPs John Lodepe (Turkana Central), Jeremiah Lomurkai (Loima), James Lomenen (Turkana South) and Epuyo Daniel (Turkana West) have indicated that they would vie.

Mining CS John Munyes has not come out to declare his interest but is expected to vie.

“The current governor is from the Greater Turkana South and other regions (greater Central and Greater North) would feel that it is their time to take the seat,” said Daniel Ereng, a political observer based in Lodwar.

In Kericho, the race is slowly shaping up as Governor Paul Chepkwony completes his second and final term.

The race to succeed him will be one of the most hotly contested.

Kericho is home to Energy CS Charles Keter who served as the inaugural senator before his appointment to the Cabinet in 2015.

Speculation is rife that Keter’s name will be on the ballot paper come 2022.

Keter is a key political alley of the DP and played a pivotal role in ensuring that the youthful Senator, Aaron Cheruiyot, succeeded him.

Although he has not made it public, Mr Cheruiyot, who is a darling of the youth in the county, is said to be eyeing the governor’s seat. This will put him in direct competition with his mentor.

His associates say Cheruiyot is careful not to offend his mentors, the DP and Ktere, and has chosen to hold his cards close to his chest. 

The appointment of former Kipkelion East MP Magerer Langat as the Kericho Municipal Board chairman by Governor Chepkwony was taken a s an indication that the governor was propping him for the seat.

Magerer, a former ODM official who defected back to the Jubilee Party, has been attending public functions alongside the governor. 

The seat has also attracted National Security Social Fund (NSSF) boss Richard Lang’at, popularly known as RK, and former Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) board member Fred Kirui. They both lost to Chepkwony during the Jubilee primaries in 2017.

Another governor serving his final term in the South Rift is Samuel Tunai of Narok.

Second term

Interior Cabinet Administrative Secretary Patrick Ntutu is one of those  highly billed to succeed him.  Mr Ntutu, a brother to the former Narok Senator Stephen Ntutu, was second in the hotly contested 2017 race. 

Although Governor Lee Kinyanjui will be seeking his second term in office,  it will not be a walk in park for him.

Last Friday, a section of local leaders and women parliamentarians from the Inua Mama political group that is aligned to the Tanga Tanga wing of Jubilee Party rallied their support behind Kihika for the governor’s seat.

The Senator has been keeping the governor on toes, questioning  the purchase of courtesy buses which she said were a missed priority.

Kihika had also taken issue with the Governor’s boresha barabara, pyrethrum revival and commercialisation of avocados projects as white elephants that have not brought actual benefit to the residents.

She criticised Kinyanjui’s administration for failure to spend Sh5.3 billion on development projects in the 2018/19 budget, saying the governor lacks proper planning for the county.

“The Sh5.3 billion rollover in the 2018/19 financial year is a clear indication that this administration has failed. I want to be governor to ensure that money is utilised on projects that will benefit women and youth,” she said.

[Fred Kibor, Titus Too and Steve Mkawale]

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Rift ValleyDeputy President William RutoUasin GishuNakuru county