The Narok governorship contest has officially become a three-horse race after Orange Democratic Movement’s Tiampati ole Musuni and Patrick Ole Ntutu of Chama Cha Mashinani presented their papers to the electoral commission.
This, effectively, put paid to efforts by the opposition coalition, National Super Alliance (Nasa), to forge a united front against incumbent Samuel ole Tunai of Jubilee Party.
Elders and strategists worked in vain to prevail on either Mr Musuni or Ntutu to step down for the other.
The three candidates were all given direct tickets by their respective parties, postponing what promises to be a battle of titans to August 8.
Mr Tunai won in 2013 after many strong candidates from the Narok side of the county ran.
The wealthy businessman and former National Intelligence Service (NIS) officer comes from the minority Siria group on the Trans Mara side of the county.
Home to the Maasai, the Kipsigis and the Kikuyu, ethnic and clan rivalry will play a big role in deciding who leads the county, which is blessed with favourable climate for wheat, maize and potatoes, as well as a vibrant livestock industry.
It is also home to the world famous game reserve whose management is often a bone of contention among local politicians.
The county is a melting pot of five Maasai sections which often behave as if they were distinct ethnic groups with their own fears and aspirations. They are IlPurko, Ilkeekonyokie, and Ildamat living in Narok (east of the Mara River), and Ilmoitanik, Iluasinkishu, and the Isiria on the western side of the Mara River known as Transmara.
The Purko, the most populous, and living in and around Narok, the capital of the county, have a strong sense of leadership entitlement, having in the past produced paramount chiefs.
Apart from the Mara question, the politics of Mau Forest is also a big campaign issue. The Kipsigis historically side with a candidate who will assure them that they won’t be kicked out while the Maasai go for a candidate who speaks firmly on the conservation of the forest that is the source of many rivers including the Mara. Conversations with residents in the county show that many members of the Kipsigis community support Mr Tunai, whom they thank for making them feel included for the first time in the running of the county. They point to the number of senior officials from the community. Out of the 10 county ministers three come from the community.
But this is also the point at which the politicians, riding on a Maasai nationalism wave, feel Mr Tunai has let them down.
Kajiado Central MP Elijah Memusi and his Laikipia North counterpart Mathew Lempurkel are some of the leaders who have been leading the search for one opposition candidate.
“We have employed the traditional dispute resolution mechanisms to bring Mr Ntutu and Mr Musuni together. We thought Mr Musuni is the stronger candidate but Ntutu has been adamant,” said Mr Memusi, at the campaign launch for the ODM candidate.
The MPs’ intervention was the second time such talks took place, the first being spearheaded by a group of elders and religious leaders who met at Ilariak Resort at Ewuaso Ng’iro and chose Mr Musuni last year.
For a section of leaders opposed to the governor, it would be suicidal to have both of them on the ballot as the move would hand Mr Tunai a clear win.
“Mr Ntutu conceded and undertook to abide by the decision under oath only to change his mind. What made him turn against the decision is suspect and only self-serving,” Narok North MP Mr Moitalel, who ditched Jubilee for ODM last year, says of the failed bid to front a single opposition candidate.
Both ODM and CCM are part of the Nasa coalition that also includes Ford Kenya, Wiper and the Amani National Congress (ANC).
As Mr Kenta spoke, Deputy President William Ruto was receiving Mr Nkoitoi, an erstwhile ODM point man in the county who ditched the party for Jubilee.
“Matters pertaining to ODM are no more in this county after leaders who were the party’s pillar moved to Jubilee. Those who remained are fighting each other,” Mr Tunai says.
He says he has done a lot including opening up many places which had no roads and forging a united county.
Mr Musuni accepted an appointment as principal secretary, leaving Mr Kina, to contest in court, unsuccessfully, Mr Tunai’s win.
Mr Musuni later lost his PS job in what many viewed as a result of the bad blood between him and Mr Tunai. His supporters had been complaining that Mr Musuni was using the state job to campaign for his 2017 gubernatorial bid, a claim Mr Musini denied.
A number of MPs opposed to Mr Tunai then teamed up and led their supporters in a series of demonstrations in a bid to oust him.
They included Narok Senator Stephen ole Ntutu, his younger brother Patrick, Mr Kenta, Narok South MP Korei ole Lemein and Emurua Dikirr’s Johana Ng’eno.
The five were arrested and locked up at Muthaiga Police Station in Nairobi, an incarceration which fanned the flames of Maasai nationalism that nearly smoked Mr Tunai out of office.
Mr Kenta now supports Mr Musuni, while Mr Lemein threw his weight behind Mr Tunai. Senator Ntutu backs his younger brother. To up the chances of the Narok West MP, the elder Ntutu is not defending his seat.
Mr Musuni comes from the dominant Purko section and will seek to ride the wave of the strong Maasai nationalism. He also evokes a sentiment of victimhood having been sacked after a short stint in government. His supporters believe Mr Tunai, a close ally of Mr Ruto’s, had a hand in his sacking.
His hurdle, however, will come from the fact that a section of the county residents have a strong antipathy towards the Nasa candidate Raila Odinga, the man whom they blame for persecuting them by kicking them out of the Mau despite their support for him 10 years ago. He also has to contend with the fact Mr Ntutu of CCM will eat into his Purko section’s votes.
Mr Ntutu, the current Narok West MP and career administrator, also comes from the populous Purko clan. A scion of the late paramount chief Lerionka ole Ntutu, his family has huge tracts of land. He can marshal the massive resources needed to challenge Mr Tunai whose deep pockets are the stuff of legends.
He and his family have also maintained friendly relations with the Kipsigis who make up nearly half of Narok West Constituency, which he represents, and Narok South (which his elder brother Senator Ntutu represented for 10 years before it was split.)
Like Mr Musuni, however, his challenge emanates from the fact that he could split the Maa vote.
The prevailing strong Maasai nationalism on whose wave Mr Ntutu is riding, could also estrange him from the immigrant communities which crave assurance of inclusion in the county affairs. Mr Ntutu says Governor Tunai has run down the county and that residents are worse off than when they were under the defunct county councils of Narok and Transmara.
He says the current two referral hospitals are ill-equipped and ineffective in treating residents.
“On the pastoralist front, we need to have our own meat processing plant. We need only Sh300 million for this and we should be able to do it within one year in office.”
He proposes a radical approach to the distribution of jobs amongst the various clans and communities.
“If you look at the present number of CECs or ministers, I will ensure in the first round each of the seven ethnic communities and sections get an allocation first before distributing the remainder based on numbers.”
The thorn on the governor’s side however, could be the ambitious ‘tejo olami’ programme, the planned tarmacking of the 38 kilometers of roads in the county headquarters which is yet to start nearly three years after its hyped launch by Deputy President William Ruto.
The county government however insists that the tarmacking of the town’s roads was going on as planned. “Tarmacking is not a one day affair. We are on course to complete it by late 2018,” said Mr Ezekiel Rono, the CEC for Roads.
Another challenge is the 30 -kilometre section of the Narok-Nakuru road which has not started despite numerous promises to construct it. Besides linking Narok with Nakuru, the road also cuts through the county’s agricultural hub which produces wheat, barley and potatoes. It also helps complete the Maasai Mara – Maasai Mau tourist circuits.
“Apart from this road, we wanted this government to stabilize the prices of maize and wheat. For a strange reason, price of these crops is at the lowest whenever we are harvesting here and high when north rift region is harvesting. This has not happened,” says Prof Meitamei Olol Dapash, a supporter-turned critic.
Prof Dapash, himself a candidate for the Narok North parliamentary seat, also faults the allocation of bursaries which he said were going to children from rich families.
“People talk so much about the ethnic and section/clan divide in the county, but what worries me more is the favouritism of the elite.”
Prof Dapash, a lands rights activist, adds that the Jubilee government has not been keen on solving such land conflicts.
“The Mau Narok problem is a hot potato. It is one of the most sensitive hotspots in the country. It won’t go away until the five absentee landlord leave and the Maasai occupy the land,” he asserts.