Despite his busy schedule, President Kenyatta, interestingly, found time to attend the launch of Sotik MP Joyce Laboso’s manifesto for her Bomet governorship bid last Thursday.
Ms Laboso, the outgoing Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, is seeking to wrest the seat from incumbent Isaac Ruto, the opposition’s point man in the South Rift, on August 8.
President Kenyatta’s presence at the event spoke volumes of how important the seat is to the Jubilee Party.
This, perhaps, drove home the long-held notion that whereas the ruling party claims it was assured of presidential votes in the region, this will not be enough. Winning the region’s gubernatorial seat would be a major bonus.
During the event, they took a swipe at the county boss, painting him as anti-development. They cited many instances to back their argument, including his move to oppose the construction of a university in Bomet town.
They instead marketed Dr Laboso as the “development-oriented leader the region needs”.
Bomet County is one of the regions on the national radar for the high stakes in the race for the governor’s seat.
The county consists of five constituencies, namely Sotik with 57, 911 registered voters, Chepalungu (51,267), Bomet East (41,009), Bomet Central (46,353) and Konoin (55,818).
But to some pundits, Mr Kenyatta’s second visit to the region in less than a month is a confirmation that Mr Ruto is still a force to reckon with, despite him having moved to the National Super Alliance (Nasa), where he was warmly welcomed and made one of its five co-principals.
When Dr Laboso left ODM for URP in 2012, she had a close comrade in the governor. But the two have had frosty relations, which developed soon after the 2013 elections, after it became clear that the Bomet county boss was no longer in good books with Deputy President William Ruto.
As the governor drifted further away from URP, the DP found solace and loyalty in Dr Laboso and vowed to ensure that she takes over the leadership of Bomet County in this year’s election.
He and President Kenyatta have since invested resources and time in their quest to influence voters in the vote-rich region to stay in Jubilee and ignore the outspoken governor, who is using his influence to turn Bomet into a Nasa bastion.
The two leaders have visited Bomet at least eight times since 2013.
But the governor appears less concerned with the top leadership’s constant forays to the region to campaign for Dr Laboso.
In a recent interview with the Daily Nation, he exuded confidence he would easily trounce his opponent and clinch the seat on August 8.
“I have served the people of Bomet diligently. My development record over the last four years speaks for itself,” he says.
Mr Ruto says efforts by the Jubilee Party to drag his name through the mud by accusing him of not using resources allocated to the county prudently, will not succeed.
“It is clear that we have used our resources prudently. We have developed this region well, despite the meagre resources being sent to us by the national government. It is on this strength that the people will, for sure, re-elect me as their governor come August 8,” he says.
The governor further states that under his administration, revenue collection has increased fivefold.
“Even though we have, in some instances, waived and in others cut by half, market fees for mama mbogas and motorcycle operators, our revenue collection has increased to at least Sh200 million,” he went on.
Dr Laboso and the governor have over the past three years disagreed on many issues, most notably the location of a Moi University campus in Bomet County.
While Dr Laboso and other leaders in Bomet were pushing for the establishment of the campus in Bomet town, the governor wanted the institution built on a 40-acre piece of land in Sigor.
He, at the same time, said the land allocated to the institution had been set aside for other uses, including the construction of a multi-million shilling stadium.
Dr Laboso and her side eventually won the battle after the Court of Appeal last month threw out the case filed by the County Government of Bomet against the construction of the university.
Denied funds claim
In March last year, following heated campaigns ahead of a Senate by-election in Kericho, Dr Laboso claimed that Mr Ruto had used millions of shillings of public funds allocated to the county to fund his elaborate campaigns for Kanu, a claim he denied.
Mr Ruto was at the forefront of the Kanu campaigns, leading a faction, which combed the entire county in search of funds for Kanu candidate Paul Sang during the by-election.
Dr Laboso enjoys the backing of the ruling party after her competitor in the nominations, Dr Julius Kones, accepted defeat and decided to back her.
To market her bid, Dr Laboso refers to her positive development track record as Sotik MP, having been listed among the best in the use of the Constituency Development Fund by the board.
In her recently-launched manifesto, Dr Laboso promised to improve roads to enable local farmers to access markets with their produce; improve the healthcare and education sectors as well as stabilise the tea markets.
“I will ensure that hydro-electric projects are introduced in all major rivers in the tea growing zones to check the excessive expense,” said Dr Laboso.
Her rival, Mr Ruto, described by pundits as a political powerhouse, is admired by many for his hard stance, resilience in pushing his agenda and being a man of his own mind.
Dr Laboso, however, suffered a major setback this week when a leaked audio recording emerged, alleged to have the voices of Jubilee senate candidate Christopher Langat and the party’s woman representative candidate, Mrs Joyce Korir, branding her a lone ranger.
In the widely circulated audio, Mr Langat and Mrs Korir indignantly accuse Dr Laboso of refusing to share campaign funds from the party and threatened to support the re-election of Mr Ruto.
“If this persists, I will get funds from Governor Ruto, just wait and see,” said Mr Langat, going on to add that the governor had not done anything wrong, hence could still be re-elected.
Mrs Korir then says: “You know very well that she (Dr Laboso) does not like me. How can I seek her help yet she supported another candidate for this position?”
The two further claimed that Dr Laboso had no political muscle of her own and was depending on DP Ruto to win the election.
None of those mentioned in the clip has come out to deny anything.
Dr Laboso has also kept off the claims, but an aide close to her who sought anonymity said the allegations were baseless.
“Each time there are resources to be shared, all parties are called and the amount declared before it is shared. But the said recording took place just before President Kenyatta’s last visit when no resources had been given for the candidates at all,” said the aide.
As the August 8 election date draws nearer, it will be interesting to see how the dynamics of Bomet will change and which of the two candidates they are likely to favour.