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Alex Tolgos entry into Senate race jolts Kipchumba Murkomen's back to election reality

Elgeyo Marakwet County Governor Alex Tolgos and Senator Kipchumba Murkomen when they addressed the press at Iten before the County Assembly was reopened from the recess. [Kevin Tunoi, Standard]

The race for Elgeyo Marakwet Senate seat is shaping up into a battle between incumbent Kipchumba Murkomen and his long-time political nemesis, Governor Alex Tolgos.

Tolgos’ entry into the race has ruined the party for Murkomen, who had no challenger during the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) nominations on April 14.

It was a direct ticket for Murkomen during the primaries and he was poised to face minimal challenge in the General Election as he eyes a third term. 

Tolgos is vying for the seat on a Jubilee Party ticket and says he is on a mission to place Elgeyo Marakwet in Azimio presidential candidate Raila Odinga’s administration.

He exudes confidence that the ODM chief will be elected president in the August 9 polls.

On the other hand, Murkomen, a close ally of Kenya Kwanza presidential flag bearer William Ruto says the UDA party leader will form the next government and he wants Elgeyo Marakwet to be at the centre of that administration.

Murkomen and Tolgos are serving their second terms as senator and governor, respectively, but they have been at loggerheads since 2013 when they were both elected.

Due to his high ratings and political stakes in Ruto’s wing, Murkomen ventured into national politics and UDA party affairs, ignoring his own race. His confidence was so high that he was yet to print a campaign poster by mid-last month.

“Murkomen has displayed overconfidence in this race. A huge number of voters have decided to gamble with Tolgos. It will be tougher for Murkomen this time, unless he returns to the grassroots. His supporters feel abandoned,” says Philip Kosgei, a voter in Keiyo North.

Recently, for the first time in his political career, Murkomen apologised to Elgeyo Marakwet voters for his absence in the county.

“Forgive me. If you see me going to Kisumu, Mombasa, Mt Kenya and West Pokot, among other places, don’t think that I have abandoned you. I am moving across the country to build networks, friendships and a government for you (the residents),” Mr Murkomen said during a meeting graced by Ruto’s running mate Rigathi Gachagua in Iten last month.

He said he had been assigned several assignments by Ruto and Gachagua.

“I don’t want to assume. I want to request for your vote. I can become a good senator who stays in my county and interacts with the people every day, but it will be useless if we don’t work hard to secure our place in the next government,” he said.

Murkomen promised to campaign in the grassroots. He said he was entrusted with the county’s leadership in 2013 when he was a squatter in Embobut Forest.

“From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate what you have made me to be. Some people tell me that I have built a name for myself but I often tell them that it is because of the people of Elgeyo Marakwet.

“Elgeyo Marakwet voters elected me when I was a squatter in Embobut Forest and I want to thank them. When I first sought to become their senator in 2013, I was a young man and I promised them several projects such as Nyaru-Iten road and an extension of the road to Kapsait. I also promised that our people would be appointed Cabinet Secretaries and Principal Secretaries,” he said.

“They looked at me during my campaigns and told me that they were not sure whether my promises were achievable. Unsure of whether my promises would be achieved, they decided to offer me a job.”

He accused his archrival of working with some top government officials to undermine Ruto and in what he described as “sabotaging mega projects such as Kimwarer and Arror dams” as well as the stalled Kamariny stadium.

He said the stalled projects will be completed after the General Election, adding that no evidence has shown that money was lost.

“Elgeyo Marakwet voters are the giants who have made me a great man and I will keep working for them with all my mind and heart. There were some people who misled the government on the Arror and Kimwarer dams and one of them comes from our county. I will ensure those projects are immediately implemented during the first 100 days of Kenya Kwanza administration,” Murkomen said.

Tolgos and Murkomen have been on a warpath over the dams since 2018, with each one of them blaming the other for the stalling.

Governor Tolgos had said some political leaders had overseen loss of money in the projects, a move that escalated rivalry between him and Murkomen.

A section of Elgeyo Marakwet voters had turned the heat on Murkomen after the senator called for a six-piece suit voting in favour of UDA.

In a video that circulated on social media, Kapyego residents were heard warning Murkomen to stop campaigning against independent candidates who lost in the UDA primaries.

Tolgos says he is ready for a showdown with Murkomen.

“I am in Azimio la Umoja because I have been in politics enough to know which part of the political divide will form the next government. I was elected governor in 2013 and successfully defended my seat in 2017,” he said.

“When you look at me, do I look like a politician who is clueless on the direction the country is taking?”

Tolgos said it was unfair for Murkomen to bash independent candidates who lost unfairly during UDA nominations in the county.

He said he was ready to welcome the independent candidates to the Azimio la Umoja fold if Murkomen continued to campaign against them.

“If Murkomen and UDA can campaign against individuals who used massive resources to support their party, can he really care about the voter?” he asked.

Tolgos said if elected, Raila will revive all stalled water and infrastructure projects in Elgeyo Marakwet and that implementation of the projects will be devoid of corruption.

Also in the Elgeyo Marakwet Senate race is Kiprop Marrirmoi, a  lawyer, who is vying as an independent candidate.

Marrirmoi, who is making his first stab for the seat, is a son of former Marakwet East MP John Marrirmoi. 

The trio have been cleared by IEBC to vie for the position.

Several bigwigs such as former Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet and former Eldoret National Polytechnic Principal Josphat Sawe fell by the wayside in the governorship race during the nominations, leaving Wisley Rotich to carry the UDA flag.

Rotich will square it out with Anthony Chelimo of National Vision Party.