Epic battle looms as party stalwarts eye ODM ticket in Homa Bay governor race

Homa Bay Woman Rep Gladys Wanga arrives with leaders during the launch of her gubernatorial campaign in Homa Bay town on February 13, 2022. [James Omoro, Standard]

A mouth-watering political battle is taking shape in Homa Bay as a total of 11 ODM stalwarts seek to succeed Governor Cyprian Awiti in the August 9 elections.

The Raila Odinga-led party has indicated that it may use consensus to pick its candidates for the various seats in some areas, especially if the outfit finds that the nomination process would be acrimonious and lead to a fallout that will affect its chances of winning.

Based on the number of those seeking the ODM ticket in the governorship race, analysts have predicted that Homa Bay is likely to give Raila the biggest headache as he tries to balance interests while still ensuring that the most popular candidate wins the party ticket for the seat.

It is also in Homa Bay that some have said ODM may opt for consensus but reaching that agreement is likely to turn out to be the party's biggest test.

In 2013, ODM adopted "negotiated democracy" to settle on Awiti who was fighting for the party's ticket against Woman Representative Gladys Wanga and former senator, the late Otieno Kajwang.

People will be watching to see if the same works this time around.

Those in the race for the county's top job, who are seeking the nod of the larger Azimio La Umoja movement, include ODM chairman John Mbadi and Wanga, who launched her governorship bid on Sunday.

Awiti's deputy Hamilton Orata, former Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero, former Kasipul MP Oyugi Magwanga, County Secretary Isaiah Ogwe, Finance Executive Nicholas K’Oriko, and Kenya Union of Post-Primary-Education Teachers (Kuppet) secretary-general Akelo Misori have all expressed interest in the seat.

The race has also attracted businessmen Jared Otieno, Luis Ogingo, Mark Obar, and Jared Kiasa.

All the candidates are bracing themselves for a showdown for the ODM ticket.

In the 2013 arrangement, it was agreed that the larger Rachuonyo, comprising Karachuonyo, Kasipul, and Kabondo gets the governorship, Suba was given the senate, Rangwe got the woman representative while and Ndhiwa took the deputy governor's seat.

The county assembly speaker’s position was reserved for Kasipul.

Homa Bay, part of the larger Nyanza region that is Raila's political base, is key to the ODM leader as he braces for a battle with Deputy President William Ruto of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA), who is campaigning under the Kenya Kwanza alliance that has also roped in Musalia Mudavadi of Amani National Congress and Ford Kenya's Moses Wetang'ula.

It is one of the most populous counties in the region with a population of 1,131,950, according to the 2019 national census.

Other counties are Kisumu (1,155,574), Migori (1,116,436), Siaya (993,183), Kisii (1,266,860), and Nyamira (605,576).

Leaders split

The battle in Homa Bay has consequently split local leaders who have since grouped themselves in camps as both MPs and MCAs take sides.

The aspirants have already hit the road running, some after unveiling their multi-million campaign war chests.

Huge fleets of cars have been spotted at their events as they mobilize support ahead of nominations.

The aspirants are also courting political bigwigs whom they have been inviting to their events as they seek to raise their political profiles with a view of convincing voters that they are the best suited for the governor's office.

The race will be determined by what is happening in the national political arena, one's past development record, and clannism, among other factors.

The biggest battle for aspirants is in winning the ODM ticket.

Winning the party's ticket for any seat in the region is as good as winning it, ODM being the most popular party in the area.

Wanga, the only woman among the 11 aspirants, is likely to pull a gender card to gain an advantage against her opponents.

Azimio backing

On Sunday, Wanga drew the first blood when she hosted several Azimio La Umoja movement heavyweights during the launch of her bid in Homa Bay.

Some of the leaders who attended the event announced their support for Wanga.

The officials, from Raila’s presidential campaign team who attended the event, included Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu, businessman SK Macharia, and Narok Senator Ledama Ole Kina.

However, some of Wanga's rivals were unhappy with the presence of Azimio La Umoja presidential campaign team members at the event saying it was tantamount to endorsing her to their detriment. 

If she wins, Wanga said, her administration will pay special attention to the growth of the blue economy.

"Time has come for Homa Bay to be a devolution success story. The future belongs to those who implement devolution correctly and that is what I intend to do,” said Wanga to rousing cheers from supporters.

Voters will also be looking for a candidate with a solid plan to revive fishing which, despite being a major economic activity in the region, has been on a steady decline.

This has partly been caused by the water hyacinth that is choking Lake Victoria, illegal fishing, lack of storage facilities, lack of markets, and poor prices.

Kidero, who is also optimistic he'll clinch the ODM ticket, said he is banking on his experience. 

The former Nairobi Governor is also a senior member of ODM and a major financier of the presidential campaign.

Kidero said he decided to shift his political base because he desires to develop his home county.

"My team and I have established what ails Homa Bay and we are determined to address these challenges and fix the county once and for all," said Kidero on Wednesday.

Competitive advantage

Magwanga is riding on his newfound friendship with Awiti he hopes will give him a competitive advantage.

In the 2017 polls, Magwanga gave Awiti a run for his money, losing by just 20,000 votes in the ODM primaries.

He went on to contest the General Election as an independent candidate and again lost to Awiti who got 210,173 votes against Magwanga's 189,060.

Both Awiti and Magwanga hail from the larger Rachuonyo that comprises Kasipul, Kabondo Kasipul, and Karachuonyo constituencies.

Magwanga appears keen to pull the clan card after mending fences with Awiti.

Magwanga says he wants to revamp key industries including agriculture.

Mbadi has accused the current administration of not achieving much even after promising to transform the county and believes he has what it takes to lead the county.

“Healthcare will be given first priority in my administration. I will transform the county,” Mbadi said on Wednesday.

Kiasa said he will prioritise youth empowerment programs by creating employment opportunities.

"The youth are the most energetic people and it pains to see that many of them are jobless. I am going to put in place a proper development plan that will transform the lives of Homa Bay people,” Kiasa said.

Orata, on the other hand, is reportedly working hard to disassociate himself with the failures of the current administration.

"I understand governance and after being in office for 10 years, I have gained enough experience to take this county to the next level. Among other things, I want to empower women," said Orata who comes from Ndhiwa constituency.

Ogwe who comes from Homa Bay Town constituency said he'll strive to complete projects initiated by Awiti’s administration.

“My experience in the public service for the last 35 years puts me in a good position to be the next governor,” Ogwe said.

K’Oriko who hails from the Karachuonyo constituency said his financial management skills will enable him to undertake development projects in the county.

“I have laid down my strategy on implementing development projects which will change the lives of the people of Homa Bay,” K’Oriko said.

Ogingo argued that devolution has not been implemented properly in the county saying he will endeavour "to rectify the anomaly if he is elected".