Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago
The race for Uasin Gishu governorship is shaping up into a battle of wits, party loyalty and tribal balance.
The county top seat in Deputy President (DP) William Ruto’s home turf is proving to be a hot contest with strong aspirants posing a challenge to Governor Jackson Mandago’s re-election.
Many are skeptical if Ruto will front a candidate since his preferred candidate in 2013 elections backfired. The DP has reassured local aspirants and residents of free and fair primaries.
Those seeking Jubilee Party (JP) ticket include logistics entrepreneur Zedekiah Kiprop commonly known as ‘Buzeki’, Kenyan envoy to Pakistan Julius Bitok, Nandi County health chief officer Edward Serem and accountant Felix Butit.
Butit is arguably the youngest among the aspirants having studied and lived in the US for over 13 years.
They have hit the ground running with meet-the-people tours as they popularise themselves to the electorate ahead of nominations.
Interestingly, all aspirants who have announced their bids are seeking Jubilee Party ticket.
Political pundits and residents predict a gruelling battle between the incumbent and Buzeki, with the duel shaping up as a two-horse race. Mandago comes from Nandi sub-tribe while Buzeki comes from the Keiyo community.
“Before the entry of Buzeki, governor Mandago had ‘declared’ himself the county de facto leader even before the election is held. He had dismissed his earlier competitors as weaklings without political network,” said Sammy Kiplagat, a resident from Moiben constituency.
He said Buzeki, an international logistics entrepreneur with vast investors’ network, has forced the incumbent to retreat to the drawing table.
“We are witnessing some supporters of the incumbent spewing tribal undertones suggesting that the gubernatorial seat is a preserve of the Nandi sub-tribe which is purportedly the populous in the region,” said Kiplagat.
This, he observed, was splitting residents along ethnic lines noting the entire county inhabitants overwhelmingly voted for Mandago in 2013 elections.
The ethnic bigotry was augmented recently by controversial Uasin Gishu politician Jackson Kibor during a memorial service of former Kanu nominated MP Mark Too who asked the residents to re-elect Mandago.
It is in this regard that residents warn the trajectory of ethnic mobilisation may heighten political temperatures during electioneering in the cosmopolitan county christened ‘City of Champions’.
Zephaniah Yego, a political analyst and an advocate of the High court, says this coalescing around communities has already been manifested as aspirants go on with their grassroots mobilisation.
“Buzeki comes in with the Keiyo and other communities who feel discriminated against by the incumbent administration solidly behind him. Even though Mandago commands four constituencies who are predominantly Nandi’s, he has a herculean task in defending his seat,” he said.
He said Mandago has endeared himself as a good public speaker and with a mastery of local dialect and analogies that excite the masses.
“He is a person who is able to galvanise and protect the interest of the local community. Unfortunately, the same strength is being portrayed as his weakness and being intolerant to other communities, which his competitors will capitalise on,” said Yego.
Whereas Mandago has an advantage of incumbency with a development record which he will list to the electorate in seeking votes, Buzeki on the other hand appeals to those who feel they have not benefitted from Mandago’s administration and also an alternative leader with an enormous network of investors around the globe.
“Youth equation will also play a big role and any candidate who will son them will command their sizeable number,” said Yego.
Also there is a proposal by Kalenjin Myoot Council of Elders in Uasin Gishu County to share elective political seats among the regions.
The elders proposed that the gubernatorial slot should be ‘given’ to aspirant from Northern region while the senatorial seat goes to Eastern region while the South takes up the Woman Representative position.
“We have agreed to divide the seats based on the previous set-up where the region was made up of three regions; North, South and East,” said the elders Emeritus chairman Major (rtd) John Seii in Eldoret.
This arrangement, if implemented, will technically lock out Buzeki who comes from the East giving a political lifeline to Mandago who hails from the Northern part of the county.
However, another section of the elders dismissed the proposal as undemocratic and a political fraud being pushed by leaders who want to cling to power.
“Uasin Gishu County is a cosmopolitan region and we won’t allow some few individuals to divide positions among themselves in the name of consensus. We don’t support such proposals,” said Daniel Matelong, an elder.
Uasin Gishu Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK) chairman Abubakar Bin also dismissed the formula, saying it will encourage tribalism and division among the residents.
“Whom did the elders consult before coming up with the formula? This is wrong since the Constitution allows Kenyans to choose their preferred candidates,” said Bin.
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But Mandago, known for his garlanded signature rungu, banks on his administration development record which include sanitising the hawking menace within the town, agriculture and infrastructural improvement for re-election.
“I believe the people of this county will judge me on the basis of my tenure as the governor and give me another five-year term. I have done a lot of development in this county in all sectors and I am optimistic of being re-elected,” said Mandago.
He said he is an independent person and accused his competitors of peddling propaganda to tarnish his administration.
Buzeki, a soft spoken entrepreneur whose rise into successful businesses at tender age has inspired many, said he is self-made and it is laughable for people to think that he needs political endorsements to clinch a political seat.