Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya and his main challenger Senator Boni Khalwale have rolled out elaborate campaign teams in preparation for what is expected to be a fierce battle for the county’s top seat.
Mr Oparanya, a meticulous and astute politician, has brought on board a team of professionals to craft a strategy for his re-election.
The team comprises his political advisers led by acting county chief of staff, Mr Musa Chibole, one of the governor’s trusted allies.
Mr Oparanya is understood to be conducting meetings with his campaign team at different venues sometimes late into the night.
Crucial meetings are reported to have been convened at the governor’s office at the county headquarters to ensure privacy of the discussions.
Other candidates seeking to unseat Mr Oparanya are Ms Mable Muruli of Jubilee, Michael Osundwa (Amani National Congress) and Kanu’s Suleiman Kanyanya Sumba.
Dr Khalwale, of the bullfighter fame, is hinging his campaigns on the fight against graft and has promised to “clean up the rot” at the county government if he clinches the seat.
Although the two politicians are cagey about disclosing their campaign strategies, insiders in their camps paint a picture of intricate, behind the scenes schemes to ensure victory on August 8.
Dr Khalwale said he had identified a 15-persons team that is involved in planning and coordinating his campaigns.
“I have put together a 15-man think tank that will be responsible for planning and rolling out my campaigns.
“But it wouldn’t be prudent for me to name names since that could give an opportunity to our competitors to infiltrate our campaign team,” Dr Khalwale said.
He has made corruption a major campaign issue and even tried, though the senate, to have his key rival barred from the race on allegations of misuse of funds.
Mr Oparanya has defied summons to appear before the senate citing a court case on the matters senators want to interrogate him.
Among the issues Dr Khalwale has flagged is Mr Oparanya’s release of Sh200 million from the county budget to pay farmers at the troubled Mumias Sugar Company, which he says never reached the cane growers.
CLEARED BY IEBC
Cane growing is a major economic activity in the county and the fortunes of the factory will no doubt be a key factor in the elections.
This is more so in the cane growing constituencies of Mumias East, Matungu, Mumias West, Butere and Khwisero and Malava.
“Senator Khalwale is using his colleagues at the Senate to fight me politically in the hope that I would be blocked from seeking re-election so that he could have an easy time to win the seat but that will not happen,” Mr Oparanya said last month.
Indeed, he was a was relieved man last week after he got the greenlight from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to seek re-election.
After the clearance, he has vowed to defeat his bullfighter rival. But Dr Khalwale’s confidence is also sky high.
“We are set for the big battle ahead. I am prepared to take on Governor Oparanya and I want to assure you he stands no chance against me in the contest,” Senator Khalwale said after he was cleared by the IEBC to contest the seat.
Kakamega is one of Kenya’s most populous counties with a total of 1.6 million people.
It has 12 constituencies and 60 wards, second only to Nairobi.
Dr Khalwale said out of the 12 constituencies, he was confident of clinching victory in eight.
He claims to have endeared himself to the poor, who include street vendors and boda boda operators because of championing their rights.
But Mr Oparanya too exuded confidence that his performance in the last four years would endear him to voters.
He accused Dr Khalwale of frequenting funerals to spread lies about alleged corrupt deals in the county.
The Senator Khalwale also spent much of his time insulting other leaders in funerals and lacked a development record worth talking about, Mr Oparanya thundered.
He challenged Dr Khalwale to tell residents of Kakamega the development projects he initiated when he served as MP for Ikolomani.
The latest altercation between the two played out at the burial of former Mumias MP Francis Obongita in Malaha village, Mumias East.
The burial that was attended by Mr Raila Odinga, the Nasa leader, nearly degenerated into a commotion after Dr Khalwale arrived, accompanied by his supporters as Mr Oparanya was addressing the mourners.
When Dr Khalwale was invited to speak, he raised the issue of the Sh200 million that the Kakamega County government released to Mumias Sugar Company to pay farmers.
Mr Oparanya and his team left the funeral in a huff as Dr Khalwale spoke.
There was confusion when the public address equipment brought in by the County communication team was switched off disrupting Dr Khalwale’s speech.
Supporters of the two politicians have in the last four years engaged in nasty confrontations and almost always rubbed each other up the wrong way.
Both politicians have been traversing different parts of the county to win support from crucial voting blocs.
Constituencies considered crucial in influencing victory include Mumias East, Matungu, Mumias West, Butere, Khwisero, Malava, Lugari, Likuyani and Lurambi.
In what appears as a strategy to win the support of the Kabras community, both rivals settled for running mates from the vote-rich Malava constituency.
Mr Oparanya has retained his deputy Philip Kutima while Dr Khalwale has settled for Mr James Lusamamba Jirongo.
Ms Muruli of Jubilee has picked a former lecturer at Masinde Muliro University, Mr John Marani, who is also from Malava.
Mr Oparanya and Dr Khalwale rarely share a platform and whenever that happens, they end up engaging in acrimonious exchanges.
But the two showed their accommodative sides when the National Super Alliance (Nasa) held a rally for its presidential flagbearer Raila Odinga at Bukhungu stadium on Saturday.
The two politicians, who were seated at the main dais, held hands as they danced to the popular Luhya “Vindu Vichenjanga” (things change) tune referring to “changing political times in the country”.
At the Bukhungu rally, Dr Khalwale was invited to address the rally and took the opportunity to campaign for himself.
“If you elect me as your next governor, I will not pocket even a single penny meant for development in the county. I was born and educated from a poor family and I know how it pains to steal from the poor,” he said.
He asked voters to send Mr Oparanya home “for failing to be accountable on how finances in the county have been used in the last four years”.