President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto were unable to stop simmering tension arising from governorship contests in Uasin Gishu and Elgeyo Marakwet, even as they distributed goodies to the residents during their six-day visit to the region.
Even before their choppers flew out of Eldoret on Wednesday, two independent gubernatorial candidates had already defied the two most powerful men in the country and said they would not heed their calls to drop their bids in favour of Jubilee candidates.
Mr Bundotich Zedekiah Kiprop aka Buzeki of Uasin Gishu and Mr Moses Changwony of Elgeyo Marakwet said they would not back down for anyone, openly going against Mr Ruto, who had publicly asked them to quit the race so they could be given other government jobs if Jubilee retained power.
The two are running against governors Jackson Mandago and Alex Tolgos respectively.
There has been disquiet in Uasin Gishu since the Jubilee primaries in April when Mr Mandago shook off strong opposition from Mr Buzeki to clinch the party’s gubernatorial ticket.
Matters appeared to get out of hand when Mr Mandago, in the company of MPs Oscar Sudi (Kapsaret) and Alfred Keter (Nandi Hills), warned members of the Kikuyu community against voting for Mr Buzeki in the August 8 General Election, evoking memories of the 2007-2008 post-election violence in the region.
It is against this backdrop that both President Kenyatta and Mr Ruto went out of their way to beseech Mr Buzeki to drop his bid and back Mr Mandago, a request the former flatly rejected..
Addressing a rally in Eldoret town last Saturday, President Kenyatta personally asked members of his Kikuyu community living in the county not to provoke their Nandi neighbours by going against the wishes of the majority (read Nandi).
“I am asking my Kikuyu brothers and sisters here to work with the people who have welcomed them here. We should work with other tribes. We should not forget what happened in the past. I am begging you to work with other tribes here,” said the Head of State.
During the visit, DP Ruto appeared to have been tasked with dousing the flames but his attempts appeared to stoke them instead.
It was in Elgeyo Marakwet where he faced outright disloyalty as he attempted to push supporters to back Governor Tolgos of Jubilee but the crowd at Iten town resisted this, chanting the name of Mr Changwony, an independent candidate who lost in the Jubilee nominations. The DP found himself in the middle of sibling rivalry between the Keiyo and the Marakwet.
The incumbent, Mr Tolgos, a Marakwet, won the Jubilee nominations but the Keiyo, who are the majority, feel sidelined as they want their own in the top county leadership.
Mr Ruto misread the crowd’s intentions and had to throw in the towel, saying he would return to the county and find a solution.
In Uasin Gishu, Mr Ruto also failed to settle a bitter contest for governorship between Mr Mandago of Jubilee and Mr Buzeki.
Last Saturday, he asked Mr Buzeki to throw in the towel and support Mr Mandago but no sooner had he spoken than the latter defiantly said he would not bow out in favour of anyone.
Although President Kenyatta and Mr Ruto were not openly defied in West Pokot, supporters of Governor Simon Kachapin (Jubilee) and his main challenger Senator John Lonyangapuo (Kanu) clashed before the rally and two people were injured. But the crowd seemed to agree with Mr Ruto when he asked them to vote for Jubilee’s Kachapin.
In Elgeyo Marakwet, Mr Changwony declared that nothing will stop him from vying for the post despite being put on the spot by Mr Ruto for trying to divide the residents.
Mr Changwony, a former Sasini chief executive, chose not to respond to Mr Ruto directly but opted to direct his anger at Mr Tolgos, his main rival.
“Let him wait and see how we are going to transform that county when we ascend to leadership come August. He will be surprised that he has just been sleeping in office,” he told Mr Tolgos, the Jubilee candidate.
However, Mr Tolgos dismissed him, saying he would defeat him like he did in the Jubilee primaries and during the 2013 elections.
“He doesn’t scare me at all. I have beaten him thrice. I don’t even need my party support to deal with him,” said Mr Tolgos. The governor, however, asked the IEBC to take action against Mr Changwony, saying he attended Jubilee party’s functions despite not being a member.
But the independent candidate, who came third in the Jubilee primaries, said he had every right to attend presidential functions.
The most daring candidate to defy Mr Ruto was Mr Buzeki, who responded to the DP the same day he was asked to give way to Mr Mandago.
Mr Buzeki has got the full backing of the Kikuyu community and other tribes in the county which feel that the current administration had discriminated against them, although Governor Mandago has often dismissed the accusations saying they were meant to soil his name during the electioneering period.
Being a Keiyo he got a significant support of the community members residing in Uasin Gishu.
“With respect to the Deputy President I want to tell the people of Uasin Gishu that I am not stepping down for anyone. I am not backing down for anyone. The only support I need so that I become the governor and implement the manifesto I have shared widely is that of the voters in Uasin Gishu,” Mr Buzeki said.
Mr Ruto’s endorsement of Mr Mandago appeared to appease the governor, who had become restless over the last few weeks following claims the DP was backing Mr Buzeki.