The race for the Kisii County Woman Rep seat has attracted a record 12 candidates, but it is shaping up to be a contest between the Orange Democratic Party (ODM) and Jubilee Party candidates.
The two obvious front-runners are nominated Senator Janet Ong’era of ODM and Jubilee Party’s Donya Aburi, a former Royal Media Services journalist.
Until the radio talk show hostess joined the fray, the seat was seen as Ms Ongera’s to lose, in her bid unseat incumbent Mary Otara, who is also in the contest as an independent.
Ms Otara defected from ODM to Jubilee Party at about the same time Senator Chris Obure and Deputy Governor Joash Maangi also defected.
Mr Maangi has since returned to the ODM fold.
While moving to Jubilee, she blamed ODM officials of sidelining her.
However, she was to later leave Jubilee Party after losing to Ms Aburi in the party primary, alleging rigging.
Ms Ong’era is a staunch ODM supporter and has built her profile through a vibrant presence in the party, first as its director of elections in the run-up to the 2013 polls and, most recently, as the party’s Minority Chief Whip in the Senate.
The lawyer cuts a larger-than-life profile across the county’s nine sub-counties, having played a key role in ODM in the 2007 and 2013 elections.
Senator Ong’era remains upbeat on the party’s chances of retaining the seat, which Ms Otara won in 2013, maintaining that ODM is the strongest and most popular party in Kisii County.
“As the region’s dominant political outfit, we are keen to win all the seats available in the 2017 polls.
“We have the community’s backing and no one should imagine that we have weakened,” she said.
“We have put in place strategies to increase votes for our party in order to secure victory for Raila Odinga and other party candidates.”
The entry of Ms Aburi however complicates the senator’s chances of victory, given her connection with voters as a former Egesa FM radio host.
Her popularity, earned from years on the microphone as a radio talk show host, has put the reserved Ms Ong’era in a spot, where she has had to return to the drawing board to restrategise on how to capture the seat, as opposed to relying solely on ODM’s popularity.
“Kisii County is ripe for real change in leadership and party lines will not determine the victors in the poll.
“My candidature and the warm reception I have witnessed everywhere I go are a testament to the fact that Jubilee has made inroads in the region,” Ms Aburi said.
The candidate is keen to repeat the feat achieved by her former boss Ms Alice Chae, who is the Nyamira County Woman Rep.
Ms Chae of ODM won the 2013 poll by a huge margin after quitting her position as head of radio at Egesa FM to join politics.
The journalist has identified the provision of piped water as a key plank in her campaign, saying the region’s women have suffered a lot, walking long distances to fetch water.
“My talent and calling are the art of speaking and I intend to utilise my voice to articulate the cries and concerns of my people, especially the lack of piped water in most areas within my county.
“Our women and girls, who bear the brunt of trekking long distances to fetch water, have suffered long enough, and it is my desire to ensure they are relieved of this burden,” Ms Aburi said.
One of the projects she intends to pursue and implement is the establishment of a water harvesting programme to ensure the run-off during the heavy rains does not go to waste.
“With a dam in place, we can even venture into the generation of hydroelectric power, boosting the national power grid and providing employment to qualified professionals in the process,” she said.
“A Jubilee victory in the woman rep race would signal a radical shift in the county perceived to be an opposition stronghold after the last elections in which ODM swept the top seats.
Before her 2013 victory, Ms Otara was a community worker sitting in various committees of the Lutheran Church.
Through the Affirmative Action Fund, Ms Otara has been distributing funds to run projects for women, youth and the disabled.
“We have disbursed more than Sh20 million to groups comprising women, youth and the disabled, to empower them economically,” Ms Otara said.
The MP terms her work record — more so the use of the Affirmative Action Fund in enabling residents to improve their livelihoods — as outstanding.
She blamed the delay in enactment of the Affirmative Action Fund for the perception that she had not initiated such development as expected.
“Immediately we received the funds, I started disbursing the money as required, and the evidence is clear in the businesses being run by the various beneficiaries.
“What the electorate has never understood is that the woman rep seat was empowered after we fought for it,” she told the Nation.
Other contestants include Ms Norah Nyamwamu of Kenya National Congress, a former Public Service Board member and Nazarene University Kisii Campus director.
Ms Nyamwamu has identified child prostitution and poverty eradication as her main concerns.
“We are dismayed by the spiralling numbers of minors plying the flesh trade on the streets of Kisii town and other smaller towns and I want to ensure they are relocated to children’s homes and other safer zones once I assume office,” Ms Nyamwamu said.
Ms Linet Mong’are, running on a Kenya Social Congress (KSC) ticket, said she would passionately fight for the rights of vulnerable groups in the region.
“I will provide effective representation for vulnerable groups including women, orphaned children and the disabled, both within and outside Parliament.
“Effective representation of the groups is the one thing we currently lack in the county,” Ms Mongare said.
Ms Gertrude Rebecca Kerosi, a newcomer in politics, is vying on a Maendeleo Chap Chap ticket and promises new and effective leadership.
Ms Vicky Onderi, an agribusiness entrepreneur and waste management expert, has singled out electronic waste management and agribusiness as her core areas of focus in the campaign.
Ms Onderi, who ditched Jubilee for Kanu shortly before the party primaries, promises to champion the education of girls.
“The people want change, they prefer a candidate who will champion their causes and help groups that have been neglected in the county,” she said.
Ms Lilian Marwa of the Amani National Congress is also in the race, vowing to give her rivals the political fight of their lives.
The child rights activist, philanthropist and former personal assistant of Mrs Elizabeth Ongwae, wife of Kisii Governor James Ongwae, has set her sights on girls’ education and the rehabilitation of street children.
“I will work towards reducing the population of street children by placing them in schools and foster homes where they will receive a decent education and loving home care,” Ms Marwa said.
Other candidates are former chief Mary Ratemo, Gladys Aunga of Safina, former Kereri Girls High School principal Ann Masenge of Wiper and nominated MCA Isabella Mose.
Ms Mose, also a former councillor, banks on her experience in the defunct local governments and her recent stint as nominated MCA, to deliver the seat.
“I have worked with the local governments and also in the county setup and therefore have extensive experience and understanding of governance issues.
“The seat requires someone with good knowledge of the county’s problems and my many years in government have afforded me that opportunity to familiarise myself with them,” she told the Nation.
Ms Mose promises to ensure the county bursary fund is expanded to cater for more learners.
Ms Aunga, who unsuccessfully ran in the last elections, is campaigning on the platform of empowerment of small traders through soft loans and grants.
“Having been a small trader myself and experienced first-hand the tribulations that small traders undergo, I would like to make credit facilities available to them through the Affirmative Action Fund,” she said.