Uasin Gishu County Gubernatorial aspirant Zedekiah Kiprop Bundotich (Buzeki) addresses supporters as he snaked his way through the streets of Eldoret town on 21-04-2017. PHOTOS BY: KEVIN TUNOI
Pitting Governor Jackson Mandago against businessman Zedekiah Kiprop Bundotich ‘Buzeki’, the battle for Uasin Gishu County has been billed as both titanic and delicate because of its underlying sub-regional and sub-ethnic undertones.
Buzeki opted to run as an Independent after losing in the Jubilee primaries to Mandago.
Signs that the campaign only needed a spark to spin out of control were all over but thankfully, the main contestants have toned down their rhetoric.
They have even changed their campaign tactics and opted for door-to-door campaigns and meetings with different groups, jointly attending social functions, a strategy that has greatly reduced tension between different communities in the region.
“The low-profile campaigning has lowered the ethnic rhetoric, which is good for the cohesion and integration in and outside this cosmopolitan county. But we are expecting fireworks as the campaign period lapses,” says Festus Biwott, a local political observer.
“Going from village to another has given me an opportunity to appreciate the urgency for socio-economic transformation of the populace. At the grassroots, there are no political hooligans like the ones who attacked my convoy in Eldoret town,” says Buzeki.
During celebrations to mark the end of Ramadhan at Uasin Secondary School grounds, the two leaders publicly called for peaceful campaigns, urging supporters not to clash.
“I have nothing against my brother Mandago. We are both children of Uasin Gishu. Whoever wins, we have agreed we will support each other. I will even offer him a job if I win,” Buzeki said to cheers from the faithful.
Buzeki said the electorate should make a choice on the kind of leader they want based on their policies.
“You should listen to us carefully and then go and think about our policies, then decide.”
He said all candidates should be allowed to ask for votes in any part of the county and asked voters to maintain peace.
But Mandago responded: “You know Buzeki is a businessman and the job of Trade executive in my government suits him.” He asked Buzeki to allow him another term.
He added: “We will do our politics in peace. Our supporters should also help us. If you do not like Mandago, do not go to his rallies. If you do not like Buzeki, do not go to abuse and disrupt his rallies just stay at home with your vote then go out and vote in August.”
Buzeki’s decision (to go independent) had not augured well for Mandago and his allies, Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi and his Nandi Hills counterpart Alfred Keter, who had threatened to whip their supporters to vote for the Opposition if Jubilee Party did not persuade Buzeki to step down in favour of the governor.
The stirring of ethnic passions by the governor’s side has threatened Jubilee unity and prompted the President and his deputy William Ruto to hold several meetings with the Jubilee candidates, where the county leaders were warned against ethnic profiling and campaigning on that platform.
In one meeting, Buzeki was asked to step down for the incumbent but he flatly refused, saying it was clear that Mandago was the Deputy President’s project.
As this happened, the President was reported to have asked the county residents to vote in a manner that did not excite ethnic passions.
“If this trend (of supporting Buzeki) continues we will tell our supporters to vote for us and make individual decisions on other seats. It is not a must for us to be in government,” Mandago had told a rally in Eldoret.
Such sentiments have attracted the attention of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) chairman Francis ole Kaparo, who has warned Governor Mandago against “making inflammatory utterances” which he said bordered on ethnic profiling.
Let people decide
The region has been mapped as one of the possible violence hot-spots and the rising political temperatures have been threatening the peace and security in the campaign period.
Mandago and the two MPs have denied promoting an ethnic agenda and instead accused some powerful individuals in the party of supporting and funding the campaigns of independent candidates contenting against them.
The DP, while on a tour of the region, asked Buzeki to relinquish his bid and support governor Mandago and other Jubilee candidates. But Buzeki fired back, asking the DP to ‘let the people decide at the ballot’ and promised to give Mandago a run for his money.
“Uhuru and Ruto have been told over and over again they will get votes for the presidency, but as concerns other seats, Kenyans have asked to be left to decide for themselves,” stated Buzeki.