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Next kingpin? The Fred Matiang'i factor in Gusii region politics

Kisii Governor James Ongwae (kneeling) consults with CS (centre), PS Susan Mochache and MP Jimmy Angwenyi at Kisii Sports Club. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

He is tipped to be the next kingpin of the Gusii region, a position many believe he has earned as a result of his work in government, philanthropy and role in local politics.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i’s influence in the region’s politics is widely acknowledged. He has been involved in efforts to consolidate support for Azimio-One Kenya presidential flagbearer Raila Odinga.

Across Nyamira and Kisii counties, he commands respect even among Deputy President William Ruto’s allies. Some of them have praised him in public for his track record, which they claim has transformed the region.

His rallying call to the region has been that it should heed President Uhuru Kenyatta’s call to back Raila for the presidency.

Observers believe that he is one of the major forces that are likely to help cement Raila’s support in the region as campaigns enter the homestretch.

As the August 9 polls draw near, Matiang’i is in overdrive to sway the ground for Raila in Gusii.

Matiang’i has been lobbying for the Azimio presidential candidate in the region within the last couple of months, something he does even during funds drives for schools and churches.

On Friday, the Cabinet secretary led a fundraiser which was attended by Kitutu Masaba MP Shadrack Mose and Nyamira governorship contender Walter Nyambati and his running mate Erneo Nyakiba of UDA.

The three agreed with Matiang’i that indeed he had brought development to Nyamira, and distanced themselves from those who were criticising him.

This was after the CS commented on their political affiliations and the dislike that some politicians harbour towards him.

“The MP seated here (Mose) is such a good man and very cooperative in all the development programmes we have had in his constituency. I even don’t know why he chose to belong to those other people (Kenya Kwanza). Same to Nyambati who is my in-law,” Matiang’i said.

Matiangi’s contribution to the region’s development has even attracted praise from unlikely quarters -some of the DP’s allies.

On Friday, Mose, a Ruto ally, praised Matiang’i’s development efforts in the region, saying the CS was behind a number of development projects implemented during the Jubilee administration’s two terms.

CS Fred Matiang'i at Azimio la Umoja presidential candidate Raila Odinga at Mwongori Secondary School in Nyamira County. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

“Our CS has been instrumental in the introduction of development projects in the region and this is something we are happy about because we would not have realised much of the growth we are seeing,” Mose said.

Nyambati who also attended the fundraiser said: “I have never harboured any negative feelings towards the CS... ever since he started serving in government. We’ve walked together all along except that he seems to be taking sides with regards to some candidates.”

With the clock ticking towards the August 9 polls, Matiang’i has intensified his campaigns for Raila.

Every time he addresses gatherings in Gusii, Matiang’i tries to convince the locals that they should trust the political direction President Kenyatta has shown them, and that is backing a Raila presidency.

“This (the Raila presidency) is something that we have been given by the president and, by all means, let's defend it... because if Raila ascends to State House, even us as a community in Nyanza shall have gained,” Matiang’i said.

Since his appointment to the Cabinet in 2013, Matiang’i has done everything to prove his worth. He has served in the ministries of ICT, Education and Interior

And indeed over the years, the CS has proved to many that he means well.

This has given him an upper hand to negotiate for political space, not only for himself but for Raila as well.

Since 2016, there has been an upgrade in secondary schools thanks to Matiangi’s efforts, which has elevated the status of the institutions.

The institutions currently have enough accommodation to host even up to 3,000 learners and the learning facilities are excellent.

Each of the schools has received at least Sh20 million in funding directly influenced by Matiang’i who has also managed to rally professionals from the region to support local schools.

CS Fred Matiang'i. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

On Friday, he muscled support through friends and well-wishers to raise Sh29 million for Tombe SDA Girls Secondary School’s dormitory project. The school is planning to build an 800-bed dormitory.

The CS’s development record has earned the trust of residents, and many see him as a man of his words.

“I am convinced that our people are seeing what it means to be in the day’s government. That is why we are moving towards the August 9 polls as a bloc because everyone has trust in the political direction our president has shown us,” Matiangi said.

According to political pundits, Matiang’i is a major factor in Raila’s political fortunes in Gusii.

“It was witnessed in the 2017 elections... what the CS did in swaying the ground through special campaigns and he delivered three seats from Nyamira. Even now, he has the capacity, especially after leading the onslaught in winning the goodwill of the people who will matter in the polls,” said Brian Mamboleo, a political analyst and a youth leader in Nyamira.

Kefa Moenga, a political analyst from Gusii, said Matiang’i’s activities would have a huge impact on drawing support for Raila in Nyamira.

“There is no doubt that what he has done in terms of developing schools and churches has earned him public trust. As such, he is quite significant in the campaigns which is a big plus for Raila,” Moenga says.

Danstan Omari, a lawyer, believes Matiang’i is a key player in the campaigns and his influence in Gusii region is highly significant.

“This far the Jubilee Government has come it is mainly because of Matiang’i and some key players. In that manner, we cannot underestimate the amount of support he will amass from the Gusii region. Even with the resistance, we have witnessed from some few leaders allied to Ruto,” Omari says.