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How Ruto link and sugar networks paved the way for Migori governor

By Kepher Otieno and Anyango Otieno | September 2nd 2020 at 07:00:00 GMT +0300

Anyang' Nyong'o, then Kisumu Senator, hides under the podium during the Migori violence. [Scophine Otieno, Standard]

From an accounting teacher in a mission school to cane farming politics and then to first governor of Migori, Zachary Okoth Obado has walked a tightrope to the peak of his career.

At St Josephs Rapogi School in Uriri, he christened his pampered bicycle "Mercedes", and rode it in gumboots which he would dump behind the deputy principal's office for the official moccasin.

He had grown up as a young man surrounded by sugarcane plantations. Little did he know the Mercedes Benz he craved would be nothing to the fortunes ahead.

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He dashed from the classroom in Chunge Secondary School and convinced cane farmers that he would champion their cause. They handed him the seat of a director at the now defunct Kenya Sugar Board (KSB).

At the sugar board, Obado expanded his networks and started to mint millions which fortified his strength. By the time he made up his mind to vie for KSB chairmanship, fate and fortune clashed to reward his torturous life.

At the time, Deputy President William Ruto was running the show at Kilimo House as the minister, and he was beginning to take on his boss Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

Ruto backed Obado while Raila was for Saulo Busolo, a former MP. Obado won.

Not long thereafter, Raila and Ruto fell apart.

Sitting at the apex of the board, Obado's friendship with Ruto blossomed. When Obado showed interest to run for governorship, Ruto once again promised his support.

Mistrusted, Obado lost in ODM primaries but moved to PDP, an affiliate party in Jubilee coalition to campaign against ODM. Many ODM insiders wished him away, dropped their guard and waited for coronation after the ballot.

But Obado trudged on headlong in door-to-door campaign with an obscure party, exploiting his sugar political networks. When the results came, he had floored Prof Oyugi Akong'o, an old ally and advisor of Raila.

His first term was not anywhere smooth. In 2015, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission included him in a list of shame over impropriety concerning Sh600 million through an alleged flawed tender process. He successfully fought off the claims.

In August 2016, a funeral in Migori County was disrupted following a clash between Obado's supporters and those of Ochillo Ayacko. The police and security officials were forced to shoot in the air several times. Armed police had to stand between the two groups as they booed each other.

ODM reached out to Obado, wooed him back to the fold while at the same time playing hardball. In the run-up to the 2017 General Election, Obado dumped PDP for ODM.

But his supporters rained terror on Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho and Kisumu's Anyang' Nyong'o when they led a party brigade rally in Migori, which they believed was a campaign event for his rival Ayacko.

Obado went on to win resoundingly.

In September 2018, Obado hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons – accused in the murder of a young college student, Sharon Otieno. In the same month, he was on the spot after it emerged that detectives were investigating what they believed to be suspicious transfers of county funds to his children abroad. He denied.

On Monday, Obado came out fighting for his post a day after the court released him and his family charged with conspiracy to defraud Migori County Government over Sh300 million.

He alleged a ploy by ODM to kick him out through the County Assembly.

Migori deputy governor Nelson Mahanga is poised to take over after his boss was ordered to keep off office. He told The Standard yesterday that there should be no cause for alarm even if the governor is barred from accessing office as he will step in to deliver for people of Migori.

''People shouldn't panic. Me and Obado is one thing. There will be no vacuum as I will hold in brief until the matters before us are dispensed with," he said.

Obado picked Mahanga in 2013 General Election to tilt the political balance, coming from a minority Kuria community, who demanded a share of the county slots. 


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