Last month, when Deputy President William Ruto toured Kericho County to drive the Jubilee agenda, Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter issued a rare statement defending himself against claims that he had sponsored close aides and relatives to run for elective offices in the county.
Mr Keter’s bold public statement could have been prompted by growing fears among Jubilee aspirants that the minister might have a hand in a move by his wife, Winnie Keter, and his close aide, Hillary Chepkwony, to run for political seats.
Many people view their bids as an effort by Mr Keter – who will not be running for any post in the election – to maintain a firm grip on Kericho politics.
While Mrs Keter is seeking the position of Kericho Woman Rep, Mr Chepkwony is hoping to clinch the Kipchebor Ward Rep seat in this year’s General Election. Both are vying under the Jubilee Party.
Mr Keter has also been linked to a move by former National Social Security Fund Managing Trustee Richard Langat to run for the Kericho gubernatorial seat, an allegation which both have denied.
“These people have a democratic right to run for office. If people do not like them, they can vote against them. Nobody should be denied a chance to run because of their close relationship to me. Everyone should have an equal chance,” said Mr Keter.
The outspoken minister said he did not have any “political projects” and vowed to do everything possible to ensure that the Jubilee Party nominations to be held next month are free and fair.
He noted that even though people with close ties to him had declared interest in various seats, it would be unfair for anyone to interpret the situation to mean that he was behind their political ambitions.
“All those running for the top seats in Kericho are my friends in one way or the other. Some of those who have declared political interests are very close to me but it is wrong to brand them as my projects,” said Mr Keter.
But not all aspirants were convinced by Mr Keter’s statement considering that barely a week later, Ms Vicky Bati, a Woman Rep aspirant who had initially planned to run on a Jubilee ticket, decamped to Kanu.
In a Facebook post after being received into Kanu by party officials last week, Ms Bati said she had decided to quit Jubilee following pressure from supporters who felt that the party had been hijacked by a few people who had turned it into a “business enterprise.”
“We have no choice but to hit back by all means. My decision to quit Jubilee was largely driven by the demand by my supporters who felt that they were being shortchanged by a few individuals,” said Ms Bati.
But Mrs Keter’s supporters came out to defend their candidate, accusing Ms Bati of creating unnecessary tension with her claims.
At a press conference at a hotel in Kericho town, the supporters threatened to rally youth and women to boycott Jubilee primaries slated for mid next month if Mrs Keter’s name is struck off the list of aspirants just because of her close association with Mr Keter.
Anne Koech from Ainamoi Constituency said the women of Kericho County had petitioned Mrs Keter to run for the seat after considering the work that she had done for them through her Socio-Economic Empowerment Women’s Organisation.
“The women of this county asked Mrs Keter to run. Energy CS Keter has nothing to do with her decision and we are warning Jubilee that we will not participate in the nominations if her name is removed from the list of aspirants,” said Ms Koech.
She was supported by Joyce Marindany, who said that the move by Ms Bati had been choreographed to create an impression that Mrs Keter was a project and that the party certificate had been set aside for her.
“We hear that some aspirants have quit Jubilee because of Mrs Keter and we are wondering why. Mrs Keter is the project of the women of this county and she will participate in a free and fair process within Jubilee,” said Ms Marindany.
The ongoing debate brought back memories of the Kericho Senate by-election held in March last year when Mr Keter was accused by locals of fronting his relatives for appointment to plum national government jobs at the expense of other qualified professionals from the region.
During a heated meeting held at the Kericho Tea Research Institute on February 17 last year, DP Ruto came face to face with angry Kericho residents and was forced to apologise after admitting that three top government officials were indeed relatives of Mr Keter.
The angry locals were making reference to Dr Kenneth Sigilai, who chairs the Kenya Electricity Transmission Company, Betty Maina, the Principal Secretary for East African Community and her Industrialisation counterpart Julius Korir.
“Every time we hear that someone form Kericho county has been appointed in government, we celebrate, only to realise later that they belong to one family. Do we not belong to families worthy enough for recognition or government jobs?” one speaker asked the Deputy President.
Even then, the DP defended the appointments, saying that the officers were qualified, adding that the appointing authorities were unaware that they were Mr Keter’s relatives.
Mr Ruto took the trouble to explain how the three found themselves holding top public jobs.
Another admission at the time by Mr Keter that Aaron Cheruiyot, the Jubilee candidate for the by-election, was a nephew, triggered resentment but eventually Mr Cheruiyot won.
But in separate interviews, Kericho senate aspirant Franklin Bett and Sigowet/Soin Parliamentary aspirant Kipsengeret Koross backed Mr Keter, saying his assurance of a free and fair nomination would unite Kericho voters behind Jubilee.
“I am surprised that some people want to cause anxiety by making unfounded allegations against Mr Keter,” said Mr Koross.