The Kisii County woman representative’s seat has attracted a record 12 candidates.
However, the contest is shaping up as a political battle between the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and Jubilee Party candidates.
What appears to be a two-horse race between nominated Senator Janet Ong’era of ODM and Jubilee’s Donya Aburi, a former journalist with Royal Media Services, has electrified voters in the vast region as each of the two powerful women seek to take the seat.
Until the radio journalist entered the race, the seat was seen as Ms Ongera’s to win, and unseat incumbent Mary Otara, who is also in the contest as an independent candidate.
Ms Ong’era, a staunch ODM supporter, has built her profile through a vibrant presence in the party, first as its director of elections in the run-up to the 2013 polls and most recently as the party’s minority chief whip in the Senate.
The lawyer cuts a larger-than-life profile across the county’s nine sub-counties, having played a key role in ODM in 2007 and 2013.
Senator Ong’era remains upbeat on the party’s chances of retaining the seat, which Ms Otara won in 2013, maintaining that ODM is the strongest and most popular party in Kisii County.
“As the region’s dominant political outfit, we are keen to win all the seats available in the 2017 polls. We have the community’s backing and no one should imagine that we have weakened,” she says.
“We have put in place strategies to increase votes for our party in order to secure victory for Raila Odinga and other party candidates,” she said.
The entry of Ms Aburi has complicated the senator’s chances of victory, given her connection with voters as a popular Egesa FM radio host.
Her popularity, earned from years on the microphone as a radio talk show host, has put the reserved Ms Ong’era in a spot where she has had to return to the drawing board to re-strategize on how to capture the seat, as opposed to relying solely on ODM’s popularity in the area.
“Kisii County is ripe for real change in leadership and party lines will not determine the victors in the poll. My candidature and the warm reception I have witnessed everywhere I go are a testament to the fact that Jubilee has made inroads into the region,” says Ms Aburi.
She is keen to repeat the feat achieved by her former boss, Alice Chae, who is the Nyamira County woman rep.
Ms Chae of ODM won the 2013 poll with a huge margin after quitting her position as head of radio at Egesa FM to join politics.
The journalist has identified the provision of piped water as a key plank in her campaigns, saying the region’s women have suffered a lot from trekking long distances to fetch water for their families.
“My talent and calling is the art of speaking and I intend to utilise my voice to articulate the cries and concerns of my people, especially the lack of piped water in most areas within my county.
“Our women and girls who bear the brunt of trekking long distances to fetch water have suffered long enough, and it is my desire to ensure they are relieved,” says Ms Aburi.
Among the projects she intends to pursue and implement are the establishment of a water harvesting programme that will tap the run-off from the region’s heavy rainfall into a dam in the county.
“With a dam in place, we can even venture into the generation of hydro-electric power, boosting the national power grid and providing employment to qualified professionals in the process,” she says.
A Jubilee victory in the woman rep’s race would signal a radical shift in the county perceived to be an opposition stronghold after the last elections in which ODM took the region’s top seats.
Before winning the seat in the last general election, Ms Otara, then in ODM, was a community worker sitting on various committees in the Lutheran Church.
Through the Affirmative Action Fund, Ms Otara has been distributing funds to run projects for women, youth and disabled people.
“We have disbursed more than Sh20 million to groups comprising women, youth and the disabled, enabling them to get economically empowered by expanding their businesses,” said Ms Otara.
The county MP is fighting off criticism from her 11 opponents who are determined to unseat her.
However, she told the Nation in an interview that she is ready to face them on the ballot, saying she is confident of winning as she banks on what she says is her proper use of the Affirmative Action Fund to make positive impact on the livelihoods of county’s residents.
She says the delay in the enactment of the Affirmative Action Fund contributed to the perception that she had not initiated development as expected from the fund.
“Immediately we received the funds, I started disbursing the money as required and the evidence is clear in the businesses being run by the various beneficiaries.
“What the electorate has never understood is that the woman rep seat was empowered after we fought for it,” she told the Nation.
Ms Otara defected from ODM to Jubilee at about the same time as Senator Chris Obure and Deputy Governor Joash Maangi.
Mr Maangi has since returned to the Raila Odinga-led party.
While moving to Jubilee, she blamed ODM officials of sidelining her.
However, she was to later leave Jubilee after losing to Ms Aburi in the party primaries, alleging rigging.
Other contestants include Norah Nyamwamu of Kenya National Congress, a former Public Service Board member and Nazarene University Kisii campus director.
Ms Nyamwamu has identified the fight against child prostitution and poverty eradication as her main her concerns.
“We are dismayed by the spiralling numbers of minors plying the flesh trade on the streets of Kisii Town and other smaller towns and I want to ensure they are relocated to children’s homes and other safer zones once I assume office,” said Ms Nyamwamu.
Linet Mong’are, running on a Kenya Social Congress (KSC) ticket, says she is passionate about tackling issues facing people in vulnerable groups.
“I will provide effective representation for vulnerable groups including women, orphaned children and the disabled, both within and outside parliament.
“Effective representation of the groups is the one thing we currently lack in the county,” Ms Mong’are says.
Gertrude Rebecca Kerosi, a newcomer to politics, is vying for the seat on a Maendeleo Chap Chap ticket and promises new and effective leadership if elected.
Agribusiness entrepreneur and waste management expert Vicky Onderi has singled out electronic waste management and agribusiness as her core areas of focus in the campaigns.
Ms Onderi, who ditched Jubilee for Kanu shortly before the party primaries, says she wants to be on the ballot and offer Kisii County residents “a fair chance for competent leadership” in the elections.
“The people want change. They prefer a candidate who will champion for them and help the vulnerable groups that have been neglected in the county,” she said.
If elected woman rep, Ms Onderi says, she will champion the education of girls.
Lilian Marwa of the Amani National Congress is also in the race for the seat, vowing to give her rivals the political fight of their lives.
The child rights activist, philanthropist and former personal assistant to Elizabeth Ongwae, wife of Kisii County Governor James Ongwae, has set her sights on education for girls and the rehabilitation of street children if elected.
“I will work towards reducing the population of street children by placing them in schools and foster homes where they will receive a decent education and loving homecare,” says Ms Marwa.
Other candidates include former chief Mary Ratemo, Gladys Aunga of Safina, former Kereri Girls High School principal Ann Masenge of Wiper and nominated MCA Isabella Mose.
Ms Mose, also a former councillor, points to her experience in the defunct local governments and her recent stint as a nominated MCA as evidence of qualification to hold the seat.
“I have worked with the local governments and also in the county setup and therefore have an extensive experience and understanding of governance issues.
“The seat requires someone with good knowledge of the county’s problems and my many years in government have afforded me that opportunity to familiarise myself with them,” she told the Nation.
Ms Mose promises to ensure the county bursary fund is expanded to cater for more learners if she is elected into office.
Ms Aunga, who unsuccessfully ran in the 2013 elections, is campaigning on the platform of empowering small traders through soft loans and grants.
“Having been a small trader myself and [having] experienced first-hand the tribulations that small traders undergo, I would like to [provide] credit facilities to them through the Affirmative Action Fund,” Ms Aunga says.
She is confident of making a strong showing in this year’s poll, saying she has learnt from her mistakes.
“I am in the race to win this time, having tasted bitter defeat in the 2013 poll.
“My grassroots network is stronger than ever before and I am determined to scoop the victory by reaching out to all my potential voters,” she said.