Taita Taveta Governor Granton Samboja can now breathe easy after the electoral commission dismissed a petition challenging his academic credentials.
Samboja, who is seeking reelection, maintained that his 2013 Bachelor of Business Management degree from the University of Costa Rica, is genuine and is recognised by the Commission for University Education.
A petitioner, Jeremiah Kiwoi, accused Samboja of forging his certificate when he sought election in 2017 and again asked the polls agency to disqualify him from the August 9 polls.
This was the second time Samboja was facing the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s (IEBC) Dispute Resolution Committee over his academic qualifications. He faced the same claims in 2017.
However, buoyed by his latest victory, the Jubilee party candidate has embarked on a charm offensive to win over the 155,716 registered voters. Taita Taveta has 354 polling stations.
Samboja’s rivals are his predecessor John Mruttu of UDA, former senator Dan Mwazo (Wiper), Stephen Mwakesi (People’s Empowerment Party), Faustine Mghendi (The Service Party), Patience Nyange (Narc), Agnes Mwang’ombe (ANC), Francis Mwaita (Safina), George Mwandembo (DAP-K) and independent candidates Godino Mwasaru, Onesmus Mwinzi and Andrew Mwadime, who is also the MP for Mwatate.
Even though both have candidates in the race, Jubilee and Wiper are partners in the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition whose presidential candidate is ODM leader Raila Odinga.
Most aspirants for Taita Taveta’s top job have picked women running mates and specifically from the cosmopolitan Voi constituency, where a majority of the county’s voters come from. The Kamba community is the second-largest.
In the last General Election, Mruttu got more votes in Taveta than Samboja who also beat him in Mwatate and Marungu wards. Mwazo got most of the votes in Kasigau ward.
Voi constituency had 52,472 registered voters in 2017 as per IEBC’s records, while Mwatate had 39,031. Taveta had 34,302 voters and Wundanyi had 29,911.
Those who have picked women running mates from Voi are Samboja, Mruttu, Mwadime, Mwaita, Ms Nyange, Mwinzi and Mghendi.
Mwandembo and Mwakesi have also picked women as running mates but they are from Mwatate. Godino has picked his running mate from Taveta. Mwazo’s and Prof Mwang’ombe’s running mates are men from Mwatate.
Of concern to most residents is the recurrent problem of squatters and conflicts over land.
The region is also food insecure and suffers persistent water shortages. Then there is the issue of human-wildlife conflict that has led to the loss of life and property as wild animals invade settlements in search of water and pasture.
There is also high levels of poverty and unemployment.
Paul Olinga, a human rights activist, said voters will elect the candidate who is more inclined to development “because that is what the people want.”
Samboja said he has asked voters for a second term so he can complete the development projects he initiated.
His pick of Priscilla Mwangeka, from Voi town, as his running mate has been touted as a great decision that will bolster his bid also because the former Voi mayor is a known grassroots mobiliser.
“I have pushed for the settlement of squatters in partnership with the national government. I have distributed thousands of title deeds in Mwachabo ward, Mwatate constituency, and Kishushe ward in Wundanyi constituency. Title deeds for the marginalised Kasigau community are on the way,” Samboja said recently.
Samboja and his wife Stella have been holding town hall meetings with residents when they enumerate the county government’s achievements and future plans.
“In some counties, women have fully been empowered. That is why I am urging local women to embrace saving in saccos to improve their lives,” Mrs Samboja recently told over 1,000 Muslim women who endorsed her husband’s bid.
Samboja said he has delivered most of what he promised, some in collaboration with the national government and donors. These include projects in health, agriculture, education, and water.
Ms Nyange, a media personality who is making her debut in politics, has based her campaigns on "trust a woman," which is aimed at mobilising women’s votes.
“The mood on the ground is that the seat belongs to a woman. The male politicians should be prepared for a heavy defeat. We have, for years, been voting for male politicians with no meaningful development outcomes. Change is coming in August. Women have decided to use their numerical strength to vote for one of their own,” said Nyange.
“I will focus on empowerment of youth and women. Also at the heart of my plans is to better the quality of education and enhance access.”
Prof Mwang’ombe has promised to promote climate-smart and dry land agriculture to improve food security, and nutrition. “I will promote innovative management of agriculture to ensure the county is food secure,” she said.
Taita Taveta is a net food importer and largely depends on government and donors for relief supplies due to its erratic weather.
“I am the best candidate to make our farming meaningful. I was among those who developed the Vision 2030 through the Kenya professional women in agriculture,” the former university lecturer said.
“Two-thirds of the county is dry land. That is why we need innovative leaders to ensure we are able to produce more food to improve nutrition and food security.”
As pioneer governor, Mruttu said he delivered on his promises before he was voted out in 2017. At the heart of his manifesto is the revival of the free healthcare programme for the elderly.
“I have solutions to the problems facing our county, including shortage of drugs and delayed salaries for the county staff which I promise to rectify once I assume office,” said Mruttu.
Mruttu also said he will equip public health facilities and provide drugs and all the infrastructure needed to improve service delivery.
Mwadime said his development record in the constituency speaks for itself. “I also want to improve the quality of healthcare and increase the money allocated to bursaries,” said Mwadime.
However, Mwadime’s last-minute flip-flopping, quitting parties, and joining new ones before finally deciding to run as an independent candidate, might work against him.
Youthful politicians Mwakesi and Mwandembo, who are both economists, said the county needs experts to turn its economy around.
“I will focus on investment and value addition on agricultural produce that will also generate jobs and stimulate economic growth,” said Mwandembo.