Maize politics at play in battle for Uasin Gishu governorship seat

The stage is set for a bruising political duel in the Uasin Gishu with the perennial rivalry between the Nandi and Keiyo communities and maize politics expected to be key determining factors.

The Nandi look at themselves as the majority in the county but their position has come under pressure in recent years.

Of the top positions in the Jubilee primaries, the Nandi secured the governor seat, which was retained by the incumbent Jackson Mandago and the Soy National Assembly seat won by Caleb Kositany.

DIVISION OF SEATS
The Keiyo, who are numerically inferior but powerful economically, won the Woman Representative seat through Gladys Shollei, senator Prof Margaret Kamar (Senate) and the Moiben and Ainabkoi parliamentary seats through Sila Tiren and Samuel Chepkonga, respectively.

Oscar Sudi of Kapseret is from the Marakwet community while the Kesses seat went to Swarrup Mishra, a Kenyan of Indian origin, and Turbo went to a Luhya, Kevin Okwara.

The Nandi lost out even in areas where they are the majority by dividing their votes because of multiple contestants.

BUZEKI

But it is the decision of wealthy Keiyo businessman Bundotich Zedekiah Kiprop (Buzeki) to run against Mr Mandago as an independent that is causing most of the tension in the region.

A feeling among the Nandi that they are being marginalised in Jubilee and has led to tensions and the fielding of independent candidates.

Mrs Shollei will face off with Moira Chepkok of Amani National Congress and Ms Rael Jebichii (independent), who are both Nandi.

Mr Mandago garnered 126,681 votes against Mr Bundotich’s 82,869 to win the ticket.

DP RUTO’S ROLE
Citing irregularities, Mr Bundotich petitioned the results but opted to go on his own when the Jubilee National Elections Appeals Tribunal dismissed his appeal.

Apart from the Nandi-Keiyo rivalry, there are two other key factors that may work against Mr Mandago.

First is the suspicion that Deputy President William Ruto is the man behind his rival.

Second is his perceived Nandi nationalism, which may see other communities vote for Mr Bundotich.

NON KALENJINS
Analysts view the more than 100,000 votes from this non-Kalenjin bloc as crucial because it may tilt the outcome on August 8.

The county has more than 300,000 registered voters.

“A candidate who wins the hearts [of] non Kalenjins will have an upper hand,” Mr Joseph Bett, a political commentator in the region, said.

The potential for political trouble is high. Mr Mandago’s supporters have warned the communities who include the Kikuyu to back him or face unspecified consequences.

THREATS
The governor himself has said he will call on his supporters to vote for the opposition if Mr Bundotich does not quit the race.

Their talk has alarmed the Kikuyu enough for them to call for the intervention of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission.

And sources said this was the main agenda of a meeting between DP Ruto and Jubilee candidates in Eldoret on Tuesday.

Although the Nandi feel that they are the natives, the Keiyos are the majority in two of the six constituencies and control more business in Eldoret town.

POLITICAL FAVOURITES
It is the Keiyo’s ambition to also control political power that has rattled the Nandi who are not taking kindly the idea of their rivals linking up with other communities in the county.

Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter who is from the neighbouring Nandi county and Mr Sudi, two of Mandago’s biggest supporters, have made remarks that have been viewed as divisive.

But it is the Deputy President who has also been at the receiving end of their wrath.

Mr Mandago has accused some “powerful individuals within the Jubilee party” of supporting and funding campaigns of independent candidates.

UNITING KENYANS
He has maintained that the party’s top leadership should draw a clear line between supporting them and entertaining independent candidates.

“We will rally our supporters to cast their vote for other presidential candidates if the party relationship with independents does not end. We will ask our supporters to vote for us and make individual decisions on other seats,” Mr Mandago said.

Mr Ruto in the Tuesday meeting warned against what he called inciting remarks, saying this could undermine Jubilee’s efforts to unite Kenyans.

During the two-hour meeting of all Jubilee candidates from Uasin Gishu, Nandi and Elgeyo-Marakwet counties at Boma Hotel in Eldoret town, Mr Ruto spoke firmly against leaders fuelling tension in the region ahead of the polls.

DIVISIVE POLITICS
He is said to have been particular about the conduct of politicians from Uasin Gishu County.

Sources who attended the meeting said the DP was not happy with the way some leaders were conducting themselves although he did not name anyone in particular.

“Uasin Gishu County being his home, the DP advised us to be careful with our statements as it may be considered his position.

“He stressed the need for us to work together for the good of the party irrespective of our ideological differences,” a source who attended the meeting told the Nation.

Mr Ruto’s home is in Turbo constituency where Nandi nationalism feelings are also pronounced because of Mr Okwara’s victory in the Jubilee primaries.

MAIZE
Mr Bundotich has denied claims that he was being egged on by the Deputy President, saying he is his own man.

“My decision (to contest) is founded on the poverty levels that are increasingly getting out of hand in Uasin Gishu County. I want to make the people feel the fruits of devolution. I’m not working at the behest of anybody,” he said in an interview with the Nation.

The other key factor is agriculture and especially maize politics. Uasin Gishu is one of Kenya’s biggest producers of the staple food and farmers are a very unhappy lot.

IMPORTING MAIZE
Last year, production was poor because of a bungled subsidised fertiliser programme.

Although agriculture is a devolved function, the fertiliser programme is coordinated by the national government meaning Mr Mandago may escape censure but Jubilee may suffer at the national level.

As a result of the shortfalls in production, the government has been forced to import duty free maize to give consumers affordable unga.

Ordinarily this should please the consumers mostly in towns but they are not happy because the flour is not available.

ARMYWORM
Then farmers are also worried because the maize imports can depress prices for their crop, which will be ready for harvest starting in September.

The armyworm invasion in the region has also not been dealt with by the government.

The candidate who will come out as a crusader of farmers’ welfare offering better maize prices and timely supply of farm inputs will have an upper hand.

Farmers in the region have during every planting season been grappling with difficulty in assessing the inputs on time.

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