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Nandi County turns into political hotbed over referendum

By Titus Too and Silah Koskei | September 28th 2014 at 12:37:00 GMT +0300

NANDI COUNTY: Since the single party rule, Nandi County has enjoyed peaceful campaigns and taken pride in being the most crucial voting block in the Rift Valley region.

Leaders from various political parties have in the past held successful rallies in the region, where key political leaders trust that once a stand is made, residents vote as a block and other counties follow suit. It explains why Kipchoge Keino Stadium in Kapsabet has been famous for political rallies where politicians address peaceful crowds. Leaders even from outside Rift Valley have been honoured in Nandi through traditional prayers. Some have been honoured with the traditional Kalenjin leadership regalia, Sambut (gown made from monkey skin) in recognition of their leadership qualities.

But political hooliganism lately realised in the region has painted a negative picture of the county that has, for long, enjoyed what observers have called political maturity. The emotive referendum debate is now threatening to destabilise the region.

The latest violence saw two factions of URP, a partner party in the ruling Jubilee alliance, clash over their stand on the governors’ “Pesa Mashinani” referendum push.

The county is split with Governor Cleophas Lagat and most MCAs supporting the plebiscite while local  Senator Stephen Sang, Women Rep Zipporah Kering, MPs Cornelly Serem (Aldai), Julius Melly (Tinderet), Elijah Lagat (Emgwen), Kirwa Bitok (Mosop) and Alex Kosgey (Emgwen) opposing the calls.

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Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter has expressed his support for the referendum which seeks to push for more funding to counties.

Violence erupted in Kapsabet town last week when residents clashed with youths at the local URP office where a party branch meeting had been held. In the melee, the County Chief of Staff Timon Ng’eny was critically injured and airlifted to Nairobi for specialised treatment. The fracas attracted condemnation. Dr Christopher Ruto, Bishop of the Eldoret Anglican Church Diocese, condemned violence in political events. “There is freedom of assembly. This freedom covers the pro-referendum and anti-referendum voices. Everyone’s stand should be respected,” said Ruto.

“It was shameful to shed blood. This cannot advance the freedom we gained through the promulgation of our new Constitution in 2010”.

Ruto wondered why the violence has only erupted in Nandi yet leaders have moved to other regions of the country without any incidents.

“The Nandi community has been churning out radical leaders who have often taken a political position on an issue that has ultimately been followed by other Kalenjin communities. Now that Governor Lagat has supported the referendum, the Deputy President William Ruto and the national government has to think twice,” said Phillip Chebunet, a lecturer at University of Eldoret.

Chebunet, who condemned the violence, said there should be tolerance among URP followers who support Deputy President Ruto and those who support the referendum push being aggressively lobbied by Council of Governors chairman Isaac Ruto.

He said URP should not expel those who are perceived to be rebels as this would raise tensions.

“Since the DP became a national figure, he has lost touch with the ground compared to the Council of Governors who now have influence on the ground,” said Chebunet.

The university don listed influential leaders from Nandi County who have had a major influence in national politics as Chelagat Mutai, Jean Marie Seroney, Alexander Muge, former Agriculture Minister Kipruto Kirwa as well as Ruto, the DP.

And while condemning the violence, the Myoot Council of Elders said there was need for civic education to allow citizens make informed choices on issues related to referendum to avoid disunity. Maj John Seii, the chairman emeritus of the Myoot Council of Elders, said civic education would enlighten the masses on critical issues. “The issue of pesa (funds) is sensitive and when leaders talk of “pesa mashinani”, people might take it literally and might cause confusion. There should be civic education so that people can make informed choices,” said Seii.

“We condemn the chaos because no one has the right to hurt another. As elders, we did not like what happened in Nandi. It was bad because to spill blood is a curse,” said Seii.

Pesa Mashinani Cleophas Lagat
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