Collapsed factories, poor farm yields, insecurity, corruption and rising poverty are ideally what Bungoma County residents say should be addressed by any of the five gubernatorial candidates who emerges winner in the August 8 General Election.
The residents want to see the candidates’ manifestos address these key issues.
But since they declared their candidature, the five contestants from Jubilee, Ford-Kenya, ANC, ODM and one independent have only engaged in supremacy battles making residents struggle to differentiate them.
These duels have often turned deadly as was the case recently when a woman was shot dead after supporters of rival candidates clashed in Bungoma town.
LUSAKA IN JUBILEE
Incumbent Kenneth Lusaka, after defecting from New Ford-Kenya, has the difficult task of flying the Jubilee Party flag in what has been hostile opposition territory.
But his re-election quest is not entirely hopeless as the challenge is split four ways, with three of his rivals engaged in a family fight under the National Super Alliance (Nasa) banner.
They are Wycliffe Wangamati (Ford-Kenya), Alfred Khang’ati (ODM) and Stephen Mutoro (ANC).
The fifth, Mr Jim Nduruchi, is an independent candidate .
The race for Bungoma warrants national attention as it provides a pointer on President Uhuru Kenyatta’s efforts to penetrate a fiercely opposition zone after netting Governor Lusaka.
Politics in the county tend to revolve around the fate of the country’s biggest but troubled paper manufacturer, the former Pan-African Paper Mills, which after many failed revival attempts, was last year sold amidst controversy to a local conglomerate, the Rai Group, and renamed Rai Paper.
Although it was under the national government before it was sold, its operationalisation has always been fodder for local politics.
However, the candidates are yet to present their comprehensive plans on how they would complement national government efforts to revive the factory.
They have mainly been accusing each other of having failed to push for the fast-tracking of the revival, either in the past or present.
As incumbent, Mr Lusaka has received the biggest flak, but has always defended himself with the claim that he is the one who persuaded President Uhuru Kenyatta to put close to Sh3 billion towards reactivating the turbines of the paper miller.
That amount was not enough though to give it life as it was finally sold for what many see as a bargain Sh900 million price to the private investor.
“The reopening of the company will awaken the Western region’s massive economic potential, creating job opportunities,” Mr Lusaka said last February.
However, those seeking to oust him have often accused him of working in cahoots with the national government to frustrate its revival saying they would do a better job.
Mr Wangamati has insisted that the factory’s revival would not make any sense if former employees were not fully compensated.
Nzoia Sugar Factory is another company in the county that’s on the verge of collapse.
Recently, President Kenyatta, while on a vote-hunting mission in the county, promised Sh300 million to pay cane farmers their months-long dues.
He further promised more money in future to bring the miller to its feet again.
The biggest challenge the sugar miller faced was cane shortage and poaching.
Mr Lusaka praised the Head of State for the allocation but the other contestants poured cold water on it saying it was just another empty promise targeting farmers’ votes.
Insecurity has been another major challenge facing the region although cases have somewhat gone down since 2014, when a local gang wreaked havoc in Bungoma town and its outskirts.
Lately, the candidates have been traversing the county and employing all manner of campaign tricks to boost their chances in the August elections.
Mr Lusaka has retained his deputy Hillary Chong’wony from the Sabaot Community, the second largest ethnic group in the county, which resides in Mt Elgon region.
Mr Chong’wony is a former Principal of Kongit High School in Kaptama division of Mt Elgon Sub-County and has stood by his boss through thick and thin since 2013.
The governor was under pressure from a section of Sabaot elders to drop him but the county boss appeared to have prevailed upon them to accept his decision to retain him.
“I know Chongwony very well, I can’t leave him and pick another person whom I don’t understand. His success is my success and his failure is my failure,” the governor said after he was cleared by IEBC.
Mr Wangamati picked Prof Charles Ngome from the Tachoni, the minority Luhya sub-tribe, residing in Webuye East constituency as his deputy.
The decision to pick the Kenyatta University lecturer has however rubbed the Sabaots the wrong way as they had expected him to pick Mr John Shikuku Kiboi, one of their own, who was being fronted by Mt Elgon MP John Serut.
Dr Anthony Walela, a close ally and adviser of Mr Wangamati, says that they arrived at the decision to pick Prof Ngome in a bid to consolidate the majority Luhya vote, instead of focusing on Mt Elgon region, which is considered a Jubilee zone.
“We agreed that we better look for votes in Tachoni rather than Mt Elgon, which is a Jubilee zone. We will appreciate if they (Sabaots) vote for us but our choice for the running mate is now sealed,” he said.
Mr Wangamati has said his main agenda would be to clean the county of corruption cartels he accuses the current government of supporting.
“The corruption cartels have been siphoning money from the public coffers.
“We know of the famous carcinogenic wheelbarrow scandal. If elected I will crush all the cartels and ensure that the public benefits from my development projects,” Mr Wangamati said.
Mr Khang’ati of ODM has chosen Mr Radicliffe Nangalama, also from the Tachoni community, in a bid to marshal enough votes to carry the day on August 8.
Initially, Mr Khang’ati, a former assistant minister in the grand coalition government between 2008 and 2013 and close ally of Nasa presidential candidate Raila Odinga, had indicated he would pick an Iteso as his running mate but later dropped the idea.
“We want to wrest power from Governor Lusaka. He has failed us. We are no longer proud of his administration as he has overseen one of the most corrupt regimes in this region. If elected, I will teach him how a government operates,” Mr Khang’ati said.
Mr Mutoro, who is also the Consumer Federation of Kenya Secretary-General, says he is the alternate governor residents have been looking for.
“All these people cheating you that they can lead you are just but brokers. I am the really trusted person who can take care of our resources, leadership is about having people in your heart not stealing from them,” he said.
He has picked Mr Evans Juma Fwamba, also a Tachoni, as his running mate.
Mr Fwamba is a former Bungoma County Tourism Chief Officer. Mr Mutoro had earlier picked Prof Paul Wachana.
The only independent candidate in the race, Mr Jim Nduruchi, has picked Mr Ken Cheshari, a Sabaot, to partner him.
“I am an alternative voice and my choice of a Sabaot as my deputy will guarantee me many votes from the region.
“I am optimistic of unseating Lusaka. If elected I will bring a difference in Bungoma County,” a determined Mr Nduruchi said.
On his visit to the region, Mr Odinga attempted to bring the three Nasa candidates into supporting one but his efforts were fruitless.
Going into the August 8 polls divided, the opposition candidates now risk splitting votes, thereby giving an upper hand to Mr Lusaka, who still enjoys a considerable support in the county, by virtue of incumbency.