Only a month to party primaries, contenders for the Uasin Gishu governor seat are seizing every opportunity to sell their manifesto and win voters.
Social media, weddings, funerals, and sporting activities at the county headquartered in Eldoret, also called the City of Champions, are awash with political statements, as candidates seek to outdo one another.
The competition to succeed Governor Jackson Mandago, who is finishing his second term, has attracted two diplomats, a sitting Member of Parliament, an educationist and a devolution expert, among others.
Apart from athletics, Uasin Gishu is famed for agriculture and is christened the Kenya’s grain basket.
Other opportunities in the fast-growing county include Eldoret International Airport, an airstrip, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, several top-notch private hospitals, two public universities – Moi and the University of Eldoret, several tertiary institutions and industries.
The region also has a good road network, and has a highly cosmopolitan and hard-working population that has enhanced economic fortunes. The candidates are promising to enhance the county’s potential and grow the economy further.
The county is in focus since it is the home to Deputy President William Ruto, who is hoping to be president under the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) formation that he leads in the Kenya Kwanza coalition.
Most candidates have opened offices to coordinate their campaigns, besides hosting delegations at their respective homes.
Julius Bitok, Jonathan Bii, Sarah Serem, Soy MP Caleb Kositany and Vescah Kangogo are exhibiting strong campaigns as they jostle for the UDA ticket in the April nominations.
Businessman and politician Zedekiah Kiprop Bundotich (Buzeki) has declared interest in the same seat, but as an independent candidate. He has told UDA to prepare for a tough duel in the August 9 elections.
The aspirants’ agenda revolve around enhancement of agriculture, expansion of health and education sectors, clean water provision and sound management of devolved funds among others.
Prof Bitok, who has served as an ambassador in Pakistan, said his agenda was to be part of the solution to many challenges facing Uasin Gishu residents, including lack of market for maize, milk and horticultural produce, which has aggravated poverty.
His agenda includes revitalising agriculture through provision of subsidies on inputs, including allocation of funds to reduce fertiliser prices from current Sh6,000 to Sh2,000 per 50kg to enable more farmers to invest.
“We want to mobilise agricultural producers to enable them to gain economies of scale through cooperatives for investment in value addition initiatives for cereals and dairy produce,” said Bitok.
Through linkages with other states, Bitok said, he will establish an Internet hub to assist youths engaging in online jobs and address unemployment.
“I will focus on healthcare and create a transformative programme called Mahindi mbili, afya bora, where each family will donate two bags of maize after harvest for them to enroll in NHIF,” said Bitok.
In 2013, the envoy contested on URP but emerged second after Mandago in nominations. He says he chose not to contest in 2017 to enable Mandago accomplish his manifesto in two terms. Mr Bii has on the other hand promised a people-driven administration if elected. Bii, who is popularly known as Chelilim under his ‘Koti moja’ slogan, says he is confident of clinching the UDA ticket in the nominations.
The candidate, who chaired an education outreach programme at Moi University, says investment in value addition would ensure Uasin Gishu county exports all agricultural products as finished goods.
“I intend to empower the population, especially the youth, to engage in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) through open markets and agro-processing ventures to enhance trade on agricultural products,” said Bii.
He says most graduates lack jobs, and he intends to establish a kitty to enable them further enhance opportunities in the job market.
“We will expand bursary funding to Sh300 million to ensure vulnerable children access education,” he said.
Bii is making the first attempt at the governorship, but had offered a tough competition against DP Ruto in parliamentary elections in Eldoret North. Ambassador Serem brings in a wide experience, having worked in government for more than 35 years. She headed the Human Resource at Post Bank for over 20 years and later chaired the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) for six years before being appointed Kenya’s ambassador to People’s Republic of China.
“I gave the best of my abilities in all responsibilities given to me by government, and I have earned experience and tested good leadership, wonderful network and polished my leadership over time. It is now time to go back to my home county and apply the knowledge I have earned,” says Serem.
Her slogan is “Mama Mchapa Kazi”. She says the position is not political but a management one that requires a good steward to ensue devolved resources address the needs of the county.
Her priority is to ensure accountability, ensure food security, affordable health care, job and wealth creation, promotion of industrialisation, education, and social welfare.
Mr Kositany says he has plans to enhance the economic stability of the county’s residents by resuscitating the dairy and rearing of cattle, sheep, and goat for beef.
“We want our farmers to diversify and move away from traditional maize planting and wheat to crops of high value, including coffee, avocado and Macadamia.
He intends to invest in farm machinery that will be leased at subsidised costs to enable farmers to mechanise agricultural enterprises for better yields.
“We want to ensure farms are prepared in recommended standards regardless of size, to ensure good yields per acre,” said Kositany.
Kositany is the first-term MP for Soy and has served as Jubilee party’s national assistant secretary-general.
Ms Kangogo comes in with a wealth of experience in devolution, having served as Devolution CEC in Nairobi City government.
“I want to articulate and advocate for the rights of citizens being a devolution expert, having sat in the committee that was working on the county government laws in 2012. Then, after losing to governor Mandago in 2013, I worked at the Nairobi County government,” she says.
A PhD finalist in leadership and governance, Kangogo has served in Finance and Devolution dockets in Nairobi County and feels experienced enough to serve as governor Uasin Gishu.
She says her priority is to engage residents in public participation in view of identifying priorities in County Integrated Development Plans (CIDP).
Buzeki is already out enlightening voters on the need to elect leaders who will be selfless in service delivery, regardless of party affiliations.?
Buzeki, who is currently out of the county, told The Standard through a text that he is set to face whoever is nominated by UDA.
Other candidates include an MCA David Singoei and Solomon Kiptarbei who has been campaigning since 2017 using a bicycle.