Friends turned enemies in race for Busia gubernatorial seat

A major political battle is shaping up in Busia as two bigwigs, who happen to be friends turned enemies, face off in the gubernatorial contest in next month’s General Election.

Even though four candidates have been cleared by the electoral commission to vie for the seat, realistically, the battle has been reduced to a two-horse race pitting the incumbent Governor Sospeter Ojaamong on an Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) ticket against Funyula MP Paul Otuoma, who went independent after he lost in the party’s primaries.

The others in the race are former National Irrigation Board (NIB) boss Daniel Barasa of Jubilee Party and Ford-Kenya candidate Michael Oloo, both newcomers to Busia politics.

Interestingly, all the candidates, apart from the incumbent, have picked their running mates from the Teso sub-region.

SEVEN CONSTITUENCIES

Busia is divided into seven constituencies. It is mainly populated by the Luhya, Iteso and Luo communities.

Teso South, with 61,342, has the highest number of registered voters, according to the latest statistics by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). It is closely followed by Butula (57,685), Matayos (56,841), Teso North (49,833), Funyula (44,671), Nambale (42,259) and Budalang’i (38,417).

Mr Ojaamong, an ally of ODM presidential candidate Raila Odinga since their days in the National Democratic Party (NDP), where he was the secretary-general, is from the populous Teso community dominant in Teso North and Teso South constituencies. He recently picked a new running mate, Mr Moses Mulomi from Butula, after his deputy Kizito Wangalwa quit the race in May.

PERSONAL DECISION

While denying a claim that he was pressured to do so, Mr Wangalwa told journalists then that his decision to step down was personal. He, however, said that his actions may have been prompted by the fact that he had been sidelined in consultations to determine the governor’s running mate.

But although Mr Wangalwa said he would take a break from active politics, he is in the team that is helping Dr Otuoma to wrest the seat from his boss.

Dr Otuoma went independent following the controversial ODM primaries, which he claimed unfairly declared the incumbent the winner.

Funyula MP and Busia gubernatorial aspirant Paul Otuoma in the county in January 2017. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Funyula MP and Busia gubernatorial aspirant Paul Otuoma in the county in January 2017. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The MP still insists he was rigged out but remains confident that he will easily defeat the incumbent. He has already named former District Commissioner Solomon Abwaku as his running mate.

Dr Otuoma’s choice of the 50-year-old former DC from Teso North Sub-County is seen by many as aimed at attracting votes from Governor Ojaamong’s backyard.

In the run-up to the 2013 General Election, Dr Otuoma and the county’s senator, former Attorney-General Amos Wako, as well as Budalang’i MP Ababu Namwamba, campaigned vigorously for the incumbent.

The leaders, however, fell out some time last year over alleged mismanagement of county resources, as well as Mr Ojaamong’s alleged inability to fight corruption in his administration and a poor development record.

DEFENDS ADMINISTRATION

Mr Ojaamong, however, defended his administration, saying it has achieved much within the four and a half years of his tenure. He went ahead to highlight some of his achievements.

Through his director of communication Reuben Olita, Mr Ojaamong said his government had purchased a new model fire engine to help to cushion residents against disasters.

He further said equipment for a new cassava processing factory at Simba Chai in Teso South had already arrived in the country and will be assembled by the end of this month, awaiting its commissioning.

“This will be the first factory in the border town,” said Mr Ojaamong, adding that agriculture has improved after his government purchased 14 New Holland ploughing tractors for use by farmers at subsidised rates.

SEVEN AMBULANCES

On health, he said the county had purchased seven state-of-the-art ambulances, one for every sub-county.

“My government is putting up a modern laboratory, high dependency unit (HDU) and intensive care unit (ICU) at Busia County Referral Hospital, which will be completed in the next few months,” said Mr Ojaamong.

The governor dismissed claims that he had failed to fight corruption in his administration. He said Busia is the only county among the 47 without debt from any financial institution.

“Claims that funds have been misappropriated are false,” said Mr Ojaamong. “In fact, the Auditor-General gave me a clean bill of health.”

Mr Ojaamong also described claims of nepotism against him as a creation of his opponents, saying of the 10 county executive members in his administration, only three are Teso.

“And out of 14 chief officers, only four are from the Teso community,” added Mr Ojaamong.

‘HAVE DIFFERED’

However, a number of leaders opposed to the governor’s leadership have differed with his assessment of the state of the county.

“Nothing is moving in Busia at all,” said Mr Namwamba. “That’s why this time round we are consulting to ensure that we elect personalities on merit, based on performance.

“The welfare of our people goes beyond political parties.”

Already, Majority Leader Josephat Wandera and Deputy Speaker Mose Ote have thrown their weight behind Dr Otuoma, saying he is best-suited to transform Busia and deliver it from the bondage of poverty.

Mr Wandera cited lack of focused leadership and a poor development record as the reason behind dumping Governor Ojaamong.

‘WRONG HANDS’

“He was in power for the past four years yet there is nothing we can show for as a county in terms of development,” said Mr Wandera. “The county has been in the wrong hands and we now feel that time has come for a new leader to redeem it.”

Mr Wako, on the other hand, has asked residents to vote for someone who can bring development, regardless of the party.

He regretted that, after supporting all the aspirants on an ODM ticket in the last election, some failed to deliver and this time round he will not support or campaign for anyone.

‘BETTER OPTION’

In an interview, Dr Otuoma presented himself as the better option and urged voters to elect him on August 8.

“It pains us to see a person whom we helped to ascend to power resorting to divisive politics on the backdrop of a poor development record,” Dr Otuoma lamented and quickly promised: “I will bring in good governance, unite residents and fight corruption if elected.”

Mr Ojaamong, a seasoned politician, ascended to power through negotiated democracy between the Luhya and the Teso. It is believed that Luhyas are no longer interested in the deal and want one of their own in the top seat.

Interestingly, however, all the three opponents of Governor Ojaamong are Luhya, leaving the incumbent as the sole candidate from Teso.

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