It has always been considered the hotbed of Kisumu’s politics even during political low-seasons, attracting attention, expensive campaigns, violence and political fanaticism.
And just like in the 2013 and 2017 elections, stakes are high in the battle for Kisumu Central constituency, which sits in the heart of the city as six candidates keen on the seat intensify their campaigns ahead of the August 9 polls.
It is here where Kondele, Obunga, Bus Park, Manyatta, Nyalenda, Jua Kali and Kibuye areas that normally make headlines during political upheavals are found. The cosmopolitan constituency is also in the heart of Kisumu’s economy given the huge investments it hosts, a key factor in defining who holds the MP seat.
So intense has been the competition for the constituency that since it was hived off from the larger Kisumu Town West constituency in 2010, winning for consecutive terms has been a tall order.
With the clock ticking towards the August 9 polls, all eyes are on how the incumbent MP Fred Ouda, will navigate the dicey race on an independent ticket to win re-election.
He has already suffered the first setback in his re-election bid after he was booted by ODM voters in the race to fly the party’s ticket but is optimistic about becoming the first independent candidate to win the seat.
A bruising contest is developing in the constituency as five candidates seek to unseat Mr Ouda, with most of them already rolling out expensive campaign war chests to lure voters into their camp after getting the nod from Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to contest.
Ouda, who became the only MP in the entire Nyanza region to lose the ODM nominations by garnering 5,362 votes against businessman Joshua Oron’s 6,842 votes, is hoping to make amends in the August 9 polls.
ODM is relying on newcomer Dr Oron to wrestle the seat from Ouda and has crafted a team of all its candidates to undertake joint campaigns to sweep all seats.
Among other leaders who have thrown their hats into the ring for the seat are Kisumu County Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) executive secretary Zablon Awange, chief commissioner of Kenya Scouts Association Victor Radido and businessman Eliud Otieno.
Azimio-One Kenya alliance sibling party DAP-K is also hoping to wrestle the seat from ODM and has fielded little-known Brian Peterson to contest the seat.
Ouda is banking in his track record during his first-term for his re-election bid.
“I have implemented several projects during my first-term, including developing several schools within the constituency,” said Ouda.
His entry into the political scene was marked by political theatrics that saw him strip at one point while still serving as an MCA. In 2017, his entry into the Kisumu Central race also followed a similar pattern and even chained himself at the IEBC offices to express his love for ODM.
As his name spread like bush fire across Nyanza and beyond, Ouda quickly weaved his way into the big league politics and sprinted into the fast lane that would see him become one of the youngest MPs in 2017.
Now, however, his political career is hanging in the balance as his opponents begin intense campaigns and are using a number of failures during his first-term to mount a campaign against him.
Change of tack
Keen on retaining his seat, the MP has now changed tack. He has toned down on controversies and is working behind the scenes to develop the constituency using the National Government Constituency Development Fund (NG-CDF).
“I want to leave a legacy and my area of great concern is education. If you want to impoverish a community, deny them education. This is why I am investing heavily in education,” he said.
The ODM party he once defended by even stripping and chaining himself at the IEBC offices is keen to ensure he is sent home. ODM leaders are poking holes in his performance and rallying behind Oron to unseat him.
Interviews with the candidates established that the need to address unemployment, improve infrastructure in several sprawling slums, insecurity and education are among the issues that will define the race.
Awange, an educationist who hopes to successfully transition from teacher’s union politics into national politics, told The Saturday Standard that the constituency is in a sorry state.
He said the constituency had borne the brunt of electoral violence in past years and has dragged in development despite being in the heart of Kisumu.
“There is a lot that needs to be changed. The constituency hosts almost all the slums in Kisumu but little efforts have been done to improve them,” said Awange.
Unlike other hopefuls who unsuccessfully sought the ODM ticket before opting to contest as an independent, Awange said his mind to contest as an independent had long been made up.
“Kisumu Central is a cosmopolitan area and there are investors who do not want to be associated with any party. I am contesting as an independent to give them an alternative,” he said.
He believes some of the issues that need to be addressed is the violence that affects the constituency during electioneering periods.
In the current campaigns, supporters of some of the candidates have clashed at various functions, including a clash at a hotel in Milimani Estate, which left one supporter with stab wounds.
Oron, the ODM nominee is also confident of clinching the seat and says he has plans to improve bursary distribution, roads, improve the infrastructure in schools and address unemployment.
Some of the issues he intends to address are restoring order in the boda boda industry, which has employed several youths.
“My administration will see all boda boda operators within Kisumu Central acquire riding licence, up-to-date insurance, fully-fledged Sacco and have a well-structured sector,” he said.
For him, the creation of a joint ODM team led by Governor Anyang Nyong’o to undertake joint campaigns has given him a competitive advantage.
Radido, who getting into competitive politics for the first time, said he has a strong conviction that he would clinch the seat and focus on education, infrastructure and improving the lives of residents.
In the 2017 elections, Ouda won the seat after garnering 82,186 votes. His closest challenger, Yusuf Ooro who contested as an independent candidate, got 3,950 votes.
According to IEBC, the constituency had 120,023 registered voters in 2017.