West Pokot County Senator John Lonyangapuo
A pulsating political battle is shaping up for the West Pokot County race for governor pitting Kanu against Jubilee Party in the semi-arid region as the August polls draw closer.
Governor Simon Kachapin, who ditched Kanu for Jubilee last year, is preparing to face off with Senator John Lonyangapuo, who is expected to fly the Kanu flag in the race.
Mr Kachapin is a close ally of Deputy President William Ruto while Prof Lonyangapuo is a close associate of Kanu chairman Gideon Moi and one of the party’s point men in the Rift Valley region.
Since last year, Jubilee bigwigs led by Mr Ruto have been plotting how to win seats in the county by holding regular campaign meetings in the county considered a Kanu stronghold.
Lonyangapuo and Kachapin were once close political allies and worked together to clinch their current seats on a Kanu ticket in the last elections before falling out, which sets the stage for an interesting contest.
Kanu fortunes were boosted when Lonyangapuo formed an alliance with former Cabinet Minister Samuel Poghisio last year, and the two have been campaigning together in a bid to capture the governor and senator seats respectively.
Mr Poghisio vied for the West Pokot Senate seat in 2013 under United Republican Party (URP) but lost to Lonyangapuo.
“This is the victorious line-up. I will trounce Kachapin while our brother Poghisio, who has agreed to support us in Kanu, is well equipped to take over from me,” said Lonyangapuo.
The senator has emerged as a powerful figure in the Pokot community for being at the forefront of defending the pastoralist community’s interests and never shying away from taking on the Jubilee government.
An accomplished debator and one of the most active members in the Senate, Lonyangapuo hopes to ride on the popularity of Kanu in the region to clinch the seat.
But dislodging Kachapin will not be a walk in the park as the incumbent enjoys support from MPs and local leaders and is also banking on his development track record to retain the seat.
Kachapin has exuded confidence about his chances of retaining the seat, citing the “tremendous infrastructure development” witnessed in the county during his reign.
Construction of the Kapenguria Medical Training College campus by the county government and the establishment of a Sh28 million modern blood bank at the Kapenguria County Hospital are some of his administration’s major achievements.
Before devolution, the county suffered from lack of critical health facilities. Patients were referred to Eldoret and Kitale for treatment.
However, insecurity remains a challenge in the region, with cattle rustling-related conflicts largely attributed to years of neglect by successive regimes.
The stakes in the race for the governorship are high, with both Kachapin and Lonyangapuo being endorsed and declared community spokesmen by different group of elders. Lonyangapuo was installed as a spokesman by elders from Tiaty in Baringo County last November, paving the way for his entry into the race.
In January, another ceremony to install Kachapin as the spokesman was held, causing confusion in a community where elders are revered and whose word on political matters carries significant weight.
Kanu leaders have accused Jubilee and the DP of intimidating local leaders into joining the Jubilee bandwagon despite the strong support the former ruling party enjoys among residents.
Meanwhile, although the governorship is being seen as a two-horse race between Kachapin and Lonyangapuo, the entry of Wilson Koringura, a new aspirant, and Geoffrey Lipale, who unsuccessfully vied for the governorship in 2013, is expected to raise political temperatures in the county following their declaration that they would be seeking a Jubilee ticket.
Mr Lipale contested on an ODM ticket but has since defected to Jubilee, saying his move was necessitated by the fact that his campaign agenda in 2013 was equal to Jubilee Party’s development agenda in the county.
“My agenda is to improve the livelihoods of West Pokot residents if elected and that is what the Jubilee government has done in the area for the past four years,” he said, adding that after the last elections, CORD never went to West Pokot or initiated any development projects hence his decision to withdraw his support.
Lipale, who manages his own consultancy firm, Dola, added that he had the numbers required to defeat the incumbent whose projects he said were not priorities for the locals.
“The governor has built many structures but they are focused on the residents’ needs. What is the need of setting up so many offices when the literacy levels in West Pokot County are still so low? The structures do not provide employment for the youth,” he said.
He noted that in 2013, Lonyangapuo and Kachapin had combined votes that helped Kachapin win while he (Lipale) took position two.
“My votes are still intact but they are now both vying for the governorship, which means their votes have been divided. I see the possibility of both of them losing,” he said.
Mr Koringura confirmed he was in the race and was also the best suited to unseat Kachapin. The aspirant has asked Jubilee to ensure its April 21 party primaries are free and fair.
Koringura is the current Constituency Development Fund manager in Kacheliba constituency. He has a master of philosophy degree in economics.
His entry into the race is expected to upset the political equation because he comes from the same village in Riwo Ward as Lonyangapuo.