Nicholas Gumbo, James Orengo to face off in hot battle for Siaya

Former Machakos Senator Johnston Muthama chats with Siaya Senator James Orengo and Former Rarieda MP Nicholas Gumbo. [File, Standard]

With 74 days left to the August 9 General Election, a bruising contest is shaping up in Siaya County where the United Democratic Movement (UDM) is hoping to wrestle the governor’s seat from Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).

After ODM handed Siaya senator James Orengo the party ticket, focus now shifts to whether he will beat UDM aspirant, Nicholas Gumbo.

In 2017, Mr Gumbo narrowly lost the seat to Cornel Rasanga who is now serving his final term.

The former Rarieda MP will be swimming against the ODM tide after he fell out with the Orange party following shambolic nominations ahead of the 2017 elections and went ahead to team up with independent candidates.

According to political pundits, what ticks for Mr Gumbo is the image he cuts of being an enthusiast who is also passionate for change and development.

“He has a perception around him that he is development conscious and given an opportunity, he will move Siaya to the next level,” says Salim Odeny, a political commentator.

However, what is more likely to affect Mr Gumbo’s showing in the region is the Oburu Oginga factor.

This would add significant support for Mr Orengo as the ODM party would boost him with an additional 90,000 votes from Bondo.

The support that Mr Orengo is getting from Ugenya, Ugunja, Alego Usonga and Bondo also puts him ahead of his competitor, unlike Mr Gumbo who is not getting backing from his own MP, Otiende Amollo.

Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi, who shelved his ambitions to back Senator Orengo, has exuded confidence that his constituency will vote for him as a bloc.

“I am not worried about Ugunja at all. We will definitely vote for Orengo at 95 per cent. We are going to vote for only ODM candidates in the August elections,” adds Mr Wandayi.

His Ugenya counterpart, David Ochieng’, who is vying on a Movement for Democracy and Growth (MDG) party ticket, has also thrown his weight behind Mr Orengo.

He was initially supporting Mr Gumbo who had announced that he would vie through his party before withdrawing and moving to UDM.

In Alego Usonga, Gem and Rarieda constituencies, Mr Orengo has been on the campaign trail with the respective MPs Sam Atandi, Elisha Odhiambo and Otiende Amollo.

Driven by negotiated power deals involving clans, as well as the scramble for the vote-rich Alego-Usonga, Mr Orengo has picked his running mate, 50-year-old William Oduol, who is from the area.

Mr Gumbo had initially picked former police spokesman Charles Owino, who later withdrew after going back to the police service.

Mr Gumbo has now settled on veteran journalist David Ohito who comes from Ugenya, which is the backyard of Mr Orengo.

Mr Ohito is also a relative of Mr Orengo and a close ally to Mr Odinga. He vied for Ugenya parliamentary seat in 2017 during the ODM party primaries and lost the ticket to businessman Chris Karan.

In a letter to ODM National Elections Board dated May 10, Mr Orengo said: “I have nominated Oduol as my running mate for the seat of deputy governor in the General Election to be held on August 9, 2022, following my nomination by the ODM party to contest for the seat of the governor of Siaya County.”

In 2017, when Mr Rasanga who comes from the Alego community competed against Mr Gumbo for the same seat, residents of Alego voted for the former as a bloc.

Mr Oduol vied against Mr Rasanga in 2013. He challenged Rasanga’s win in court, prompting a repeat election, but the latter won again.

Mr Gumbo’s choice of Mr Owino as running mate was meant to woo more votes from Ugenya, where Mr Owino has influence, and Alego Usonga where he hails from.

But with the exit of Mr Owino, Mr Gumbo and Mr Ohito will now be forced to shift their focus and energy on garnering more votes in Alego Usonga as well as the larger Ugenya, Orengo’s home ground.

Mr Gumbo has described his running mate as a pedigree with an outstanding political apprehension and administrative sagacity.

“I believe he shall help me actualise my vision of promoting the agenda for order and development in our great County of Siaya. Ohito is a celebrated journalist whose track record oozes excellence,” said Mr Gumbo.

Although Mr Gumbo’s candidature has been seen as an attempt to frustrate ODM, the former lawmaker has downplayed the claims, saying bad leaders within the party have let voters down with shambolic primaries.

“We have about 70 per cent of Siaya County behind us and most of them would not vote if we miss on the ballot,” said Mr Gumbo, who is confident of succeeding Rasanga.

His running mate, Mr Ohito argued that the biggest advantage they have as UDM is that they are going to mobilise almost 100 per cent voter turnout for Mr Odinga.

According to Mr Odeny, choosing to run outside ODM from the onset has helped Mr Gumbo establish his strong base and recruit his lieutenants who will remain loyal to him throughout the journey.

Mr Gumbo, who recently clashed with Mr Orengo over the six-piece voting pattern campaign, said this move will only usher in incompetent leaders to power.

While on a campaign trail in the county, Mr Gumbo said leaders who rode on the six-piece wave in the past elections have performed dismally on service delivery.

The nomination petitions pitting MPs Atandi (Alego-Usonga), Gideon Ochanda (Bondo) and Mr Odhiambo (Gem) seem to be a big blow to Mr Orengo’s campaigns.

During a recent interview with The Standard, Mr Oburu challenged the Orange party to speed up pending cases to allow for preparations for campaigns.

“It is really difficult to conduct campaigns when people who can help you conduct campaigns are being dragged into court,” said Mr Oburu.

Meanwhile, Mr Rasanga has fully thrown his weight behind Mr Orengo as his preferred successor. Mr Orengo’s closeness to Mr Odinga cannot be gainsaid.

He has always played big roles in the political struggles of Mr Odinga, ranging from his participation in the negotiation team following the 2007 post-election violence, to being the lead counsel in the successful 2017 presidential petition.

Apart from relying on ODM’s popularity, Mr Orengo’s candidature was, however, punctured with the perception that he is not development conscious, earning him the tag of ‘anti-development’.

But he has lashed out at his critics, challenging them to concentrate on selling their bid to the electorate instead of attacking him.

“I will not be deterred by those against my bid for any political seat. We will square it out in the ballot,” said Mr Orengo.

Another factor that will be crucial in the August elections is the 2013 unwritten pact on regional balance, where the governor’s seat was reserved for Alego-Usonga.

Gem and Rarieda got the woman representative and county assembly speaker seats respectively.

Ugenya got the senator seat, while the deputy governor’s slot went to Bondo, with Wilson Ouma and James Okumbe serving with Rasanga in his first and second term.