Democracy test for ODM as heavyweights battle for Homa Bay governor’s job

Homa Bay Woman Rep Gladys Wanga was speaking to Women at Goono Konyuka Resort in Homa Bay Town Constituency. [James Omoro, Standard]

With only a few weeks to the much-awaited ODM party primaries, a major showdown looms in Homa Bay where key lieutenants in ODM leader Raila Odinga’s inner circle seek to succeed Governor Cyprian Awiti.

In a contest bound to test democracy in ODM, grassroots mobilisations have intensified with seven aspirants traversing the eight sub-counties.

The race to become the next Homa Bay governor is arguably the most competitive in Nyanza this year as ODM stalwarts battle it out. It has put the party high command in an awkward position and caused a major rift among other leaders contesting other seats.

ODM is now weighing its options to determine how best to approach nominations in Homa Bay so as to stem a fallout. Those eyeing the seat include Woman Representative Gladys Wanga, ODM chairman John Mbadi, former Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero, Awiti’s deputy Hamilton Orata and former County Secretary Isaiah Ogwe.

Others are former Kasipul MP Oyugi Magwanga, Kuppet Secretary General Akello Misori and businessmen Jared Kiasa. They are all eyeing the ODM ticket.

And although the Orange party has promised free and fair primaries, voters wait to see how each of Raila’s lieutenants will fare. It also remains to be seen how the sibling rivalry plays out.

All claim to be key people in ODM and are optimistic of clinching the coveted ticket which promises victory in the General Election.

While some contenders hold key positions in ODM, others have been involved in Raila’s national campaigns for the presidency both directly and indirectly.

Wanga is in Raila’s presidential campaign team and is one of his most loyal lieutenants. She is also party branch chairperson and has been burning the midnight oil to beat the political stalwarts to the prize.

While Wanga and Mbadi are senior party officials, Dr Kidero is said to be a key financier of Raila’s campaign machinery. Misori has been rallying the vast teaching fraternity to join Azimio la Umoja coalition.

Success story

All the aspirants believe they have what it takes to lead Homa Bay and are crafting possible winning strategies ahead of the party primaries.

Wanga is banking on her track record as a Woman Representative and as chairperson of the Finance Committee in Parliament. Observers also believe the gender card could play to her advantage, but she insists that she is a proven performer.

“My main aim is to transform Homa Bay into a devolution success story. My goal is to transform all sectors and revamp agriculture and fishing. I will also prioritise improving infrastructure,” she says.

Mbadi, the National Assembly Minority Leader, believes that courtesy of his long political experience, he is the best suited to succeed Awiti. He has served for 15 years as an MP.

Kidero says he has “the energy and stamina to coordinate and network with various development partners, investors, and people of Homa Bay to attain real development.”

He says ODM is a democratic party that will open the space for all aspirants to contest. “We shall compete and the Homa Bay electorate shall have the opportunity to pick their leader,” says Kidero.

The was talk that Kidero could team up with Magwanga for the seat. But in a phone interview, Magwanga dismissed the claims as mere rumours and maintained that he is still in the race.

Last weekend, Ogwe officially launched his bid and received the backing of local leaders, signaling a tough battle ahead. He was endorsed at a ceremony in Homa Bay town on Saturday, which was attended by religious leaders, the business community, elders, the youth and area MP Peter Kaluma.

Kaluma said the endorsement gives Ogwe blessings to woo voters in the county’s eight constituencies of Ndhiwa, Karachuonyo, Kasipul, Kabondo Kasipul, Rangwe, Suba South and Suba North.

“A politician must have a stronghold and dependable followers at home to enable him win an election. We are confident that our brothers and sisters in the other constituencies will support us in this cause,” Kaluma said.

The nearly two-decade truism that Homa Bay is a strong Orange zone might be tested once again should either of Raila’s soldiers change political sides and contest as an independent.

In 2017, Magwanga fought Awiti tooth and nail as an independent candidate and garnered 189,060 votes against Awiti’s 210,173. Their political fight was also sustained within court corridors and went up to the Supreme Court.

Claims and counterclaims have rocked the contest. Personal attacks have also started with accusations over the track record of the leaders beginning to grow.

Awiti has also been dragged into the contest with some aspirants claiming he is trying to manage his succession.

About two weeks ago, Misori claimed the county chief has been rooting for Ogwe.

Awiti also urged Misori to shelve his ambitions because he too young to go for the seat. He spoke at a funeral in Karachuonyo where he drummed up support for Ogwe.

“It is wrong for the governor to claim that I am too young to go for the seat of governor. He must avoid attacking other aspirants,” said Misori.

Both Misori and Awiti come from the larger Karachuonyo clan.

Wanga and Kidero hail from Rangwe. Mbadi comes from Suba South, Magwanga from Kasipul while Ogwe comes from Homa Bay Town. Orata, Kiasa and Ogingo come from Ndhiwa while K’Oriko and Misori hails from Karachuonyo. 

Clan interests

While the aspirants are making efforts to win, observers argue the victorious team will have to develop a strategy that taps into clan interests. 

Other than clinching the party ticket, the aspirants will have to weigh voters’ needs and clan interests in a county that supported Raila in the 2017 elections with 86 per cent voter turnout.

[Additional reporting by James Omoro]