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Game of thrones over sub-tribes as 5 wrestle for Vihiga top seat

Vihiga Governor Wilber Ottichilo. [Eric Lungai, Standard]

The Vihiga governor’s seat is likely to be one of the most sought after in Western Kenya.

The contest has attracted four aspirants who are seeking to unseat the incumbent, Governor Wilber Ottichilo, who has vowed to defend the seat.

After Dr Ottichilo and his deputy, Patrick Saisi, buried the hatched late last year, the governor has been busy reaching out to voters. Ottichilo has also survived ouster Motions and managed to fight off attempts to have the county government dissolved.

The governor, a man loved and loathed in equal measure, has been working on expanding his campaign network across Vihiga, Sabatia, Emuhaya, Luanda and Hamisi.

He comes from the second largest Abanyore sub-tribe and appears to understand the political dynamics of the county. Four aspirants have declared interest to unseat Ottichilo as the clock ticks towards the August 9 General Election.

Moses Akaranga, who served as the first governor, is plotting a comeback after suffering a humiliating defeat in 2017. He will vie on the Progressive Party of Kenya ticket.

Others are Sabatia MP Alfred Agoi, a close confidant of Mudavadi’s; former Vihiga County Secretary Francis Ominde, who was named Federal Party of Kenya leader; and Senator George Khaniri, a seasoned politician, who has never lost an election since 1996 when he succeeded his father, Nicodemus Khaniri, as Hamisi MP.

The race, according to pundits, will be decided based on the subtribe card and party politics.

Vihiga, the smallest of the Western region’s four counties, is dominated by Maragoli and Abanyore sub-tribes.

The Rev Akaranga, Agoi and Ominde are all Maragoli and are likely to divide the vote to the advantage of Ottichilo, the only aspirant from the Abanyore.

Moses Akaranga is plotting a comeback after suffering a humiliating defeat in 2017. [Eric Lungai, Standard]

This also promises to be a tough test for ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi, who is determined to see that his party produces the county’s third governor. Mudavadi suffered a setback in 2013 when his arch-rival, Akaranga, clinched the county top job on then little known PPK ticket at the expense of the former’s United Democratic Forum (UDF) candidate.

In 2017, the incumbent, who ran on an ODM ticket, trounced Akaranga and ANC candidate Yusuf Chanzu, dealing Mudavadi yet another blow.

Senator Khaniri hails from the minority Tiriki sub-tribe, but also enjoys support from the two dominant communities.

David Ongalo, a political scientist, said all the four candidates have their eyes focused on the dominant Maragoli community.

“Mudavadi could play a key role given the fact that he comes from the dominant Maragoli community. However, whoever is keen on winning must seek support from the other sub-tribes.

Subtribe politics will play a huge role in deciding the winner. The seat is up for grabs, but the arithmetic favours Ottichilo should Maragoli sub-tribe produce many candidates,” said Mr Ongalo.

Ruling out negotiations

Apparently, all aspirants from Maragoli appear determined to go all the way, ruling out negotiations between themselves in order to front one.

Party politics could also play a major role in deciding who will become the next Vihiga governor.

The rivalry between ODM and ANC is at play, but PPK has the capacity to pull a surprise, according to analysts.

Khaniri - who has been blowing hot and cold on his quest for the seat - is yet to disclose the party he will use. But the senator, who was elected on ANC ticket, is believed to have made up his mind to vie on a different party, according to a confidant.

“I have a plan to ensure there is prudent spending at the county and avoid massive corruption,” said Khaniri.

He has been carrying out campaigns, urging voters to consider his candidature.

According to Khaniri, the vast experience he possesses after serving as MP and senator for six terms combined will help him manage the county government well. 

“Having served in the Senate for two terms, I will ensure sharable revenue from the National Treasury is utilised on intended projects, without wastage,” he said.

On the other hand, Agoi said he would ensure the people of Vihiga enjoy the fruits of devolution if elected.

He believes ANC will deliver the seat despite internal rivalries. 

Senator George Khaniri, July 2015. [Eric Lungai, Standard]

“The people will elect a governor who will implement devolution by initiating and completing community projects and stimulating the economy,” said Agoi.

“My leadership qualities have been tested after serving as Sabatia MP, and my development track record speaks for itself”.

Ottichilo, Akaranga, Agoi and Khaniri have all served as elected leaders and their track record in their different capacities will be a factor to consider. Ottichilo believes his development record will guarantee him a second term in office.

In 2017, he was handed a direct ODM ticket and did not disappoint. He delivered the governor seat as anticipated.

Until this week, he was bracing for a bruising battle for the ODM ticket with Ominde, an ally turned critic.

According to 2017 IEBC records, 200,634 people voted in the county in 2017. Ottichilo garnered 82,260 votes, while Akaranga got 65,539.

Chanzu, who was the ANC flag bearer, came a distant third with 34,102 and Josphat Amadi (Independent) managed 16,427. UDP candidate Kennedy Butiko got 2,306 votes.

Amadi and Butiko have kept their supporters guessing, as they are yet to declare interest to vie.

Akaranga has accused Ottichilo of sleeping on the job and failing to complete many projects initiated by the former. Akaranga believes he is better placed to complete the projects he launched as the pioneer governor, and attract investors.

Akaranga has been endearing himself to faithful from different churches. Vihiga is among the counties with the highest number of religious groupings. IEBC statistics indicated that the county had 272,409 registered voters in 2017, spread across 548 polling centres.