Seven aspirants battle to replace Wycliffe Oparanya as Kakamega governor

Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya addressing county staff in Butere. [Benard Lusigi, Standard]

Contestants in the governor race are leaving nothing to chance as campaign for the top county job hots up.

The race to succeed Governor Wycliffe Oparanya has attracted seven candidates.

They are Fernandes Barasa (ODM), Cleophas Malala (ANC), Cyrus Jirongo (UDP), Suleiman Sumba (Kanu), Samuel Omukoko (Maendeleo Democratic Party), Michael Osundwa and Austine Opitso (independents).

Mr Osundwa and Mr Sumba tried their luck in the 2017 governor contest and emerged fourth and fifth, with 9,330 votes and 3,503 votes respectively.

According to the 2019 population census results, Kakamega has a population of 1,867,579 people. Of these, 841,139 are registered voters, according to the latest data from IEBC.  

Besides the usual mundane campaign promises, the candidates have narrowed down to the key issues they believe will endear them to voters, these include economic development, agriculture, health, education, poverty eradication and manufacturing.

“My desire is to transform the lives of the people of Kakamega using my experience, networks and capacity. Agriculture is of greater importance to me and I intend to bring on board value addition, deal with issues around food security and healthcare,” Mr Barasa said.

“And because my party leader has pledged ‘baba care’, I will set up Level 4 hospitals in all the 12 sub-counties.

“I will take into account the welfare of Early Childhood Development Education teachers by setting up a scheme of service to motivate them,” said the former Kenya Electricity Transmission Company Limited boss.

His party Azimio has promised free primary, secondary and university education.

Mr Malala believes the county government has been captured by a clique of businessmen and has promised to set it free if elected.

He said he is the right man to get the county out of the quagmire the current administration has landed it in and has promised to complete all stalled projects.

“I will unlock the potential of this great county and give contracts to local youth to alleviate unemployment. We cannot have a situation where a handful of individuals get awarded all lucrative contracts at the expense of more deserving people”.

Cyrus Jirongo has promised fair distribution of county jobs and to improve the welfare of sugarcane farmers.

“My desire is to bring equity in wealth if elected. I also want to nurture talent given that our county is endowed with sports talent,” he said.

The United Democratic Party leader said unlike some of his competitors, he was not desperate for a job.

“I am focused on offering the best leadership that will empower the people of this county and beyond so that the Luhya community and others living in this region can earn respect.

“Statistics from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics show that 47 per cent of the people in Kakamega live below the poverty line. That is the reason I seek the governorship to alleviate poverty, improve manufacturing and agriculture,” Jirongo said.

Biggest concern

Sumba’s biggest concern is to move the county to another level on the economic front.

“We must alleviate poverty levels among our people as we also tackle issues around health care, industrialisation, education, water and environment,” he said.

The former minister in Oparanya’s administration said hospitals have been neglected at the expense of the people.

“Agriculture is the mainstay of our economy. Unfortunately, most of our people are doing subsistence farming, which is not sustainable. It is the single cause of poverty that surrounds our people,” Omukoko noted.

The only way around this hurdle, he believes, is to set up cooperative societies through which farmers can pool resources to enable them to commercialise farming.

“Co-operatives are the engine of development,” he said.

On agriculture, the aspirants agree that it calls for special attention and that farmers must be motivated through subsidies.

Barasa and Sumba said revival of Bukura Institute of Agriculture and employment of agricultural extension officers are key in turning around the county’s fortunes.

“We will invest in Bukura Agricultural Institute and put money into agro-business, especially in our food basket areas of Likuyani and Lugari,” Sumba said.

“Bukura Agricultural Institute is a sleeping giant that we must wake up. My government will invest in agriculture by providing free maize seed and subsidised farm inputs,” Barasa pledged.

“Kakamega is not food secure. Families live on small plots on which not much is grown. We must use the right technology to increase yields,” Omukoko said.

Opitso blames food insecurity on poor quality of seeds and fertilisers.

“We must invest in technology and show our farmers new ways of growing crops. We must also invest in agricultural extension officers to educate our farmers and help them invest in high-value crops, not just maize,” said Opitso.

Osundwa said to improve agricultural production it is important to carry out soil tests to determine which crops do well where.

“Research is key if we must attain food security,” he said.

But while the aspirants seemed to share their visions on agriculture, education and health, differences lay in what each would do with a budget of Sh9 billion in their first 100 days in office if elected.

“In my first 100 days in office, I will set out to fight corruption because no matter how many billions you have, unless you fight corruption, it will go to waste. I will put in place proper spatial planning and streamline the management system. Instead of investing in buildings, I will invest in mama mboga’s and boda boda people,” Sumba said.

“I will complete ongoing projects instead of starting new ones. These include Bukhungu Stadium and the Kakamega Referral Hospital” Opitso said.

“My first 100 days in office will be spent on reorganising my government. I believe in structures and it is not prudent to start spending money you have not budgeted for. I will also make key appointments. In that time, I will also find alternative ways of raising revenue instead of just depending on remittances from the national government,” Barasa opined.

According to Omukoko, the first 100 days in office will be ideal for him to analyse the proportion of money that will go into development projects and operational expenses.

The aspirants have also pledged to improve the health sector by ensuring they hire enough doctors and nurses and supplying adequate medicines to hospitals at all times.

With a medical health insurance scheme for Kakamega residents, the aspirants believe that the cost of health care will come down.

“We have herbalists who we can bring on board and integrate with health practitioners. We can also build a pharmaceutical industry and turn Kakamega Referral Hospital into a cancer treatment centre and save people the cost of travelling outside the country for cancer diagnosis and treatment,” Sumba observed.