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Bungoma County: Nightmare over 'negotiated democracy'

By - Daniel Psirmoi | October 11th 2012
  Sabaot elders are of the view that numerically they don’t qualify for the top three county seats. [PHOTO: DANIEL PSIRMOI/ BUNGOMA]

By Daniel Psirmoi

 At every corner of the vast Bungoma County, the ongoing talk is about the impending General Election and how the two communities – the Bukusu and the Sabaot – will share the county seats.

Whereas all is quiet in the neighbouring Kakamega, Vihiga and Busia Counties of Western region, the scenario is different in Bungoma County.

The County is dominated by the Bukusu, the largest Luhya sub tribe and the Sabaot community who reside in Mt Elgon region.

Because of their small number, the Sabaots fear their brothers will snatch all the seats in the county and have been piling pressure for a negotiated democracy that could help them get fair representation in the devolved government.

The community’s disadvantage in number has weakened their bargaining power in the sharing of the seats.

In Migori County, some 200 kilometres away, the Kuria community who consider themselves a minority and vulnerable tribe fear they may be swallowed by the Luos and are crafting power sharing deals with their neighbours.


In Bungoma, it is emerging that aspirants from the Sabaot community are shying away from contesting for the available top three County positions.

No candidate from this sub- has offered his or her candidature for governor, senator or women representative posts.

 Recent developments have seen politicians from the area jostling for the non-elective deputy governor seat, a scenario that has elicited mixed reactions from the Sabaot council of elders, elites and professionals from the community.

Recently a meeting convened at Kibuk Girls High School, by the area MP Fred Kapondi in collaboration with stakeholders that was meant to decide the political destiny of Mt Elgon region ended in a disarray after the participants failed to agree on what county posts should go to the Sabaots.

The participants were drawn from the Kenya Primary School Heads Association, Kenya Secondary Schools head association, Mt Elgon Pastors Forum, Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organisation, Youth and elders representatives.

Things turned nasty as Mr Kapondi allegedly told the forum that they have no numerical strength to go for the top three county seats.

Mr Kapondi had a hard time convincing the participants that they should be contended with being running mates to one of the governor aspirants from the populous Bukusu community.

“Let us be realistic, we do not have numbers, we are less than 25 per cent in Bungoma County. We risk being locked out of leadership position in the county if we insist that we go for the top elective seats. We shall continue to lament about marginalisation,” he advised.

Recipe for anarchy

He was quick to add: “Anybody from the community has a democratic right to vie for the senator, governor or women representative slot. Let people not say that the MP has stopped us”.

  On the other hand another faction led by Amos Tulgon, the Mt Elgon County Council chairman, disagrees with the area MP and instead insisted that the members of the community should back one of their own for one of the top seats.

“Mt Elgon is the grain basket of the county, we feed almost the entire Western Kenya, markets like Chwele are entirely dependent on what we produce from our farms and we got more untapped resources, should we entrust all this to somebody else when we have a lot at stake?” he challenges.

Dr Moses Ngeywa agrees with the county council chairman reckoning that if caution is not taken Mt Elgon risked getting back to where it was in 1992 before it was made a district.

“Let the mistakes that were done that led to clashes in 1992 between the Bukusus and Sabaots that led to our people demanding their own district and autonomy from Bungoma County not be repeated,” he says.

“Being excluded from the leadership positions is a recipe for anarchy. In the spirit of inclusivity the three substantive positions as envisaged in Constitution ought to be distributed,” said Dr Ngeiywa who is a lecturer at Chepkoilel University.

Mr Hillary Masai Arap Bokose, the Chairman Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) Bungoma County, says the Sabaot community are a minority in the county and cannot make it in competitive politics.

But he fears that the ghosts of violence that have haunted Mt Elgon in the past may return if the political representation was not done properly.

 “Bungoma County is one of the cosmopolitan counties. Historically we have had strained relationships in the recent past because of resource allocation and leadership positions. The top three seats should be shared and this can be achieved through negotiated democracy,” he states.

Political analysts say that it would be a difficult task for Bukusu community to give out top seats to the Sabaot.

They argue that campaigns by top leaders from the Bukusu community for the positions are in top gear with some of the aspirants quitting senior positions in the government and it would not be easy to convince them to drop their ambitions to accommodate leaders from the other community.

Cleverly negotiate

“I am foreseeing Sabaot being allocated the women representative seat plus deputy governor,” says Lumala Masibo, a Moi University lecturer.

 He adds: “Politics is numbers and those with numerical strength dictate. In this case, the Sabaots are disadvantaged and they must cleverly negotiate with the Bukusu.”

Dr Masibo notes that he was sure leaders would reach an agreement on how to share the seats to avert an outbreak of violence that has been experienced in the county before.

Frank Matanga, a lecturer at Masinde Muliro University shares the same sentiments adding that Bukusu community have been regarded as rigid in supporting an ‘outsider’.

“The Bukusu would definitely go for top seats and leave the others to other communities,” he adds.

He proposes that the Council of Elders from both communities should structure the talks.

 “It is my opinion that Bungoma County spares the position of senator for the people of Mt Elgon. The women representative position is an affirmative action for women and it should be left to them to decide,” he says.

He adds:  “The deputy governor’s position is not substantive. They are running mates and their fate is dependent on the election of governor. This presents a better way of establishing a cohesive county.”Bungoma County: Nightmare over ‘negotiated democracy’

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