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Party popularity, clan factor takes centre stage in Malava MP race

Some of the aspirants battling to become the next Malava MP.

On Tuesday, an estimated 94,417 voters will cast ballots in a hotly contested Malava parliamentary election.

The incumbent Malulu Injendi, who is defending his seat on Amani National Congress (ANC) will square off with six other candidates. They are Joab Manyasi (ODM), Seth Panyako (UDA), Caleb Sunguti (DAP-K), Benjamin Nalwa (Maendeleo Democratic ticket party), Ngaira Shitanda (Ford Kenya) and Isaac Shaviya (UDP).

Malava has the most registered voters of the 12 constituencies in Kakamega County and has a history of voting for different parties in each election cycle. Former MP Soita Shitanda won the seat on the Ford Kenya ticket in 1997 and successfully defended it on the Narc ticket in 2002. Shitanda, who ran on the little-known New Ford Kenya party, won the seat in 2007. 

Injendi, a former university lecturer, won the seat on the little-known Maendeleo Democratic Party (MDP) ticket in 2013 and successfully defended it on the Jubilee ticket in 2017. He has since joined the ANC.

High voter listing

It is one of the few rural constituencies with high voter registration and turnout, which explains the current focus on it by the major political formations. Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya and Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa have been making frequent visits to Malava to woo voters and counter ANC and Kenya Kwanza’s influence in the area.

United Democratic Party (UDP) leader Cyrus Jirongo has also held several political meetings in the constituency hoping to convince voters to support his governor bid.

According to voting patterns in the past, the ANC may have an advantage because the constituency has a soft spot for Amani party leader Musalia Mudavadi. The former deputy prime minister appears to have unrivalled support among the Kabras, the third most populous Luhya sub-tribe after the Bukusu and Maragoli.

The race has already ignited debate in Kakamega North, with leading contenders leaving nothing to chance in their pursuit of the seat. The clan factor is also expected to play a role in determining the next MP, despite some leaders arguing that it may not work this time because candidates from minority clans, including the late Joshua Mulanda, have previously come from the Abasamo clan.

Abamutama, Basonje, Abakhusia, Bamachina, Abashu, Abamutsembi, Baluu, Batobo, Bachetsi, Bamakangala, and Abatsikha are other minority groups. Malulu, a former tutor at the Catholic University of East Africa, has proven to be an excellent mobiliser, frequently drawing large crowds to rallies.

Injendi believes his track record will work in his favour and that he will win the seat. He has refuted claims that he has not done enough for his constituency. He calls the accusations “disgruntled opponents’ sheer propaganda.”

Unfulfilled promises

The incumbent has many unfulfilled promises that could work against him, including the establishment of a university campus in an area whose economic lifeline is sugarcane, maize, and dairy farming. Malava is home to two of Kenya’s most efficient sugar mills, West Kenya and Butali Sugar Mills, which are located roughly 10 kilometres apart in Kakamega North.

“I don’t blow my own trumpet but the people of Malava have confidence in me as their leader and I am ready for the challenge on ANC ticket,” a confident Injendi says. His ties to Mudavadi have propelled him to the frontrunner’s seat, but he will face a formidable challenge from Manyasi, who narrowly lost to the incumbent by 2,000 votes in 2017. Injendi received 20,000 votes to Mr Manyasi’s 18,000 votes. 

Manyasi, a businessman, is eager to put the disappointments of the 2013 and 2017 elections behind him and capitalize on Malulu’s flaws. He claims that the majority of the youth in the area are tech-savvy but unemployed.

Manyasi, who previously ran on the Ford Kenya ticket, now faces a mountain to climb given ODM’s dwindling fortunes in the area. Nonetheless, his youthful exuberance may endear him to a segment of the electorate seeking “change.”

“I hope to address unemployment issues by establishing an ICT hub where young people can put their skills to use,” Manyasi says. His campaign slogan is the “internet economy.” He promises that if elected, he will establish a kitty for needy students and build modern classrooms to create a welcoming environment for both students and teachers.

He sees agriculture as a neglected resource that he promises to revitalise by investing in cane development, ensuring timely harvesting of mature sugarcane, and diversifying into horticulture to increase household incomes and food security.

“My vision is to improve knowledge and skills in Malava by having a proper education system, creating jobs for youths, enhancing professional skills, and fully utilising CDF funds to benefit locals,” Manyasi said.

On his part, Panyako, for one, believes that people should vote for him not because of his career or position as chairman of the Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN), but because he is a visionary leader eager to change the fortunes of voters.

People-driven projects

Panyako says despite having natural water sources such as rivers and rain, the constituency lacks access to clean drinking water. He also promotes proper cane harvesting and prompt payment by sugar companies. He is emphasising people-driven projects to improve accountability and support.

“There is a need to assess schools and determine which ones require renovation. Some classrooms are collapsing, and some schools do not have toilets. “The majority of them will need to be decongested by adding more classrooms. Clean and reliable water supply is a major issue in Malava that requires immediate attention,” Panyako says in his plans.

“Despite the endowment of human and natural resources, achieving sustainable development has remained a mirage for the people of Malava,” he added. “We need someone to reclaim the lost space because people want to change for the better, not for the sake of clan.” Ngaira, Shitanda’s brother, is hoping to capitalise on the late MP’s development record in the constituency. He, like his competitors, wants sugar millers to address farmers’ concerns, such as delayed harvest, prompt payment, and higher cane prices.

“I will collaborate closely with local sugar factories to ensure timely sugarcane harvesting and prompt payment. We also want sugarcane weighing done at the farm gate,” Ngaira said.

Concerning education and bursary distribution, he stated that the government should allocate more funds to expand the list of beneficiaries.

Optimistic

Mr Sunguti, a former lecturer at the Kenya School of Government, is optimistic about his chances, stating that he has helped many students from the constituency with their education.

“I also obtained SIDA funds for the Kuvasali community water project, dug boreholes for Matioli Primary School, and assisted many talented young people in joining top clubs in the country,” he said.

Nalwa, a project planning geospatial officer, says he will introduce health care services, including free NHIF registration for the elderly, widows, and single mothers. He also intends to build chiefs’ offices in seven wards. He intends to establish an employment bureau to connect young people looking for work in the private and public sectors.

“I will spearhead sugarcane farmers’ banking and saving in Malava, as well as advocate for sugarcane farmers’ rights,” he said.

Mr Shaviya, an educationist, has stated that if elected, his first priority will be to improve educational standards in Malava by equipping schools with facilities and working with the national government to ensure that schools are adequately staffed.