Despite limited resources and political inexperience, Erick Mutai took a bold step in 2020 and announced he would gun for the Kericho County top seat.
As a first time politician, he crisscrossed the county campaigning in an old Toyota saloon car. His governorship bid was initially dismissed by some as a joke. But step by step, the grassroots campaign by the politician from Rungut village in Bureti Constituency, who branded himself as the 'Equalizer' started gaining steam.
Mutai's oratory skills and village-to-village campaign paid off on April 14 when he won the UDA primaries by a landslide, shoving aside seasoned and experienced politicians. He garnered 126,038 votes to bring to a cruising end the dreams of former Devolution Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter, who had branded himself as 'Transformer' but got 60,342 votes.
Mutai also sunk the dream of deputy governor Lilly Ngok, who had branded herself after Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu but garnered 9,377 to come a distant third. Prof James Sang came a distant fourth with 2,987 votes. Winning the UDA ticket against Keter, Ngok, and Sang was a wild dream come true for the UDA nominee who was born on December 28, 1983.
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Mutai, a firstborn in a family of four children faced a harsh life from the word go after he was orphaned at a young age leaving him and his siblings in the hands of relatives, family friends, and well-wishers.
"I don't like talking much about my parents because they are deceased. What I can say though, is that they did their best. We struggled like any other village children. I thank God that we somehow managed to navigate life through the help of relatives, family friends and well-wishers," he said.
Mutai, told The Standard that he started his formal education at Rugut Primary where he sat his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination in 1996. The politician's first trace of leadership qualities was at Litein High School where he studied between (1997-2001) and served as dining hall captain.
"After completing high school, I joined Maseno University for my undergraduate degree in Education, English, and Literature. At the university I pioneered the establishment of the Kalenjin Students Association," he said.
After graduating from Maseno University in 2008, in 2011 Mutai proceeded to the University of Kabianga where he earned his Master's degree in Literature and Communication in 2014.
"To fund my Master's studies, I used the saving from my teaching stint at Kapkarin Secondary School where I had taught from 2009-2011 under Board of Management terms earning Sh7,000 a month for my services," said Mutai.
The hustler's other funds came from his boda-boda business, an eatery in Kapkatet, and a mitumba (second-hand clothes) business in Litein.
"Former Roads minister Franklin Bett weighed in and helped me to pay for my post graduate degree fees. That is how I managed to survive," said Mutai.
He revealed that he earned his doctorate in Literature and Communication from Laikipia University in 2017.
"Thereafter, the University of Embu hired me until my resignation this year to vie for the Kericho gubernatorial seat," said Mutai.
The UDA gubernatorial nominee focus is now working towards finally occupying the governor's seat in the coming elections, which will also mark an end governor Paul Chepkwony’s two terms in office.
Only one hurdle though stands in the way of Mutai's dream; that is beating Elijah Maru who is going for the saem seat as an independent candidate. But with UDA being the most dominant and popular party in Kericho, political analysts place their bet on Mutai who is expected to easily cruise to the governor's office.
Mutai said he was motivated to join politics to fix the 'fractured' devolution in Kericho.
"Kericho residents are frustrated by the suffocating economy. If the devolved unit is handled well, it can provide enormous economic growth for the people," he said.
Mutai argued that agriculture is the key to unlocking Kericho's economic growth.
"For years, tea, maize, coffee, and sugarcane have been the only cash crops grown by Kericho farmers. We have to diversity and produce more and move a step further and delve into value addition of the products," he said.
Mutai added once elected as the governor, his administration will set up a revolving fund where the youth will access loans whose interest will be capped at two per cent. He also pledged that he will headhunt for young but qualified Executives and Chief Officers who would have to sign performance contracts and appraisals undertaken after every six months.
"Under my administration, Members of County Assembly wouldn't double as contractors. They will be left to play their oversight role to keep the executive in check. If they won't buy that, I will dare them to impeach me and we all go home to seek a fresh mandate," he said.
As Mutai looks forward to taking the oath of office, he credited his wife Betty, a high school teacher at AIC Litein Girls Secondary school, as one of the strongest forces behind his rising political star. The couple met in 2011 in the staffroom at Kapkarin Secondary school where they were then teaching as BoM teachers.
"I used to give her a ride in my boda boda and used the opportunity to woo her. I was attracted to her intellect, discipline and Christian values. She was the force behind the scenes that helped shape my political campaign," said Mutai.
The couple has two boys. The firstborn came in 2013 while the second was born in 2017.
In her speech at the Moi Tea Boys which served as the UDA county tallying centre, Mrs Mutai likened her husband to the Biblical David who killed Goliath.
"My husband is the David of Kericho. We have been through thick and thin with him and today our God is faithful, he has done it for the people of Kericho. They chose the one who God had anointed," she said.