The ruling Jubilee Party and the opposition are embroiled in a scramble for a share of close to a million Gusiiland votes ahead of Tuesday’s General Election.
The two camps have left nothing to chance, going by the number of times they have visited Kisii and Nyamira counties, which, according to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), have a combined 825,433 registered voters.
Kisii has 546,580 voters and Nyamira 278,853.
While National Super Alliance (Nasa) presidential candidate Raila Odinga is fighting to maintain a solid base in the region that overwhelmingly voted for him in 2013, Jubilee’s President Uhuru Kenyatta is focused on tilting the scales in his favour.
Keen to turn the tables on the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party leader, President Kenyatta has toured the region five times since his election, the latest being Monday, while his deputy William Ruto has been there at least 15 times.
The visits are aimed at convincing voters to back their re-election bid and add to their basket the number of counties where they have support.
In Kisii, Mr Odinga garnered 236,831 votes, or 68.8 per cent of the total votes cast in 2013, and President Kenyatta 95,596 (27.8 per cent).
In Nyamira, Mr Odinga got 121,590 votes (67.1 per cent) against the President’s 54,071 (29.8 per cent).
It is these figures that the Jubilee brigade is keen on reversing.
It might, however, not be that easy for Jubilee as opposition leaders in the region say the die is already cast. Gusii residents, they argue, are too smart to be coerced or easily swayed into changing their decision.
The Nasa campaign manager in the region, Kitutu-Masaba MP Timothy Bosire, said the Jubilee leadership has offered residents nothing tangible.
“Their empty promises will be their undoing,” said Mr Bosire recently, adding that the ruling party neglected the region and took the little support it enjoyed for granted.
“They risk losing the support, especially after the meagre compensation of internally displaced people from our region,” said Mr Bosire.
The ODM lawmaker added that, although compensation of the more than 14,000 registered IDPs was supposed to boost Jubilee’s election chances, it may have backfired on the President.
The IDPs have staged several protest marches, terming the Sh50,000 compensation per beneficiary a drop in the ocean.
“It was too little too late and most victims of the 2007/2008 post-election violence were left out,” said the IDPs chairman, Mr Alfred Akama, adding that victims from other regions got Sh400,000 each in compensation soon after the violence ended.
“This is open discrimination,” lamented Mr Akama.
Mr Bosire said the numerous trips to the region by the country’s top leadership had not added anything significant to Jubilee’s vote basket.
“The Abagusii are smart, well-educated, informed and know their roles and rights,” said Mr Bosire. “They cannot be swayed by such money.”
READ: Nasa seeks to seal Kisii vote ahead of D-Day
However, local Jubilee leaders have told the opposition alliance to prepare for defeat. Their sights are set on the two counties’ governor positions, currently under the firm grip of Mr Odinga’s party.
In Kisii, seven out of the nine elected MPs are drumming up support for the President. They include Senator Chris Obure and Bonchari MP Zebedeo Opore.
Others are MPs Stephen Manoti (Bobasi), Joel Onyancha (Bomachoge Borabu), Simon Ogari (Bomachoge Chache), Jimmy Angwenyi (Kitutu Chache North), Richard Tong’i (Kitutu Chache) and Elijah Moindi (Nyaribari Masaba).
Mr Obure wants to unseat Governor James Ongwae.
The former chairman of the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution, Mr Charles Nyachae, and Ms Dorice Aburi want to be senator and woman representative, respectively, on Jubilee tickets.
Woman Rep Mary Otara is now an independent candidate.
South Mugirango MP Manson Nyamweya wants to be Kisii governor while his Kitutu Chache South colleague Richard Onyonka is allied to Governor Ongwae.
The ruling party is also keen to take Kitutu Masaba parliamentary seat in Nyamira, which is held by Mr Bosire, the ODM national treasurer.
The local Jubilee brigade also hopes to take advantage of wrangles in the Nasa camp to get votes for the President and his party.
President Kenyatta and the leaders visited Mr Bosire’s stronghold on the same day Mr Odinga announced that the Kitutu Masaba lawmaker would lead his campaigns in the region.
The Gusii Jubilee team seems to be better organised that its Nasa opponent, with former Kitutu Masaba MP Walter Nyambati, who is vying for the governor seat, leading the onslaught in Nyamira while Mr Obure is the team leader in the neighbouring Kisii.
Whereas the Jubilee team in Nyamira has held several meetings and rallies, the Nasa crew is yet to hold a joint rally.
Despite being in the region many times, opposition chief Odinga had not taken his meetings to the grassroots — unlike the President, who made a road tour of the two counties.
That, however, changed during Mr Odinga’s tour to the area on Tuesday.
READ: Uhuru in final plea for votes in Kisii and Bomet
Then, the Nasa principals split into two teams and addressed crowds at Masimba, Nyacheki, Tendere, Marani, Nyakoe, Magenche, Chitago Borabu, Nyamarambe and Suneka townships before converging at Gusii Stadium for the main rally.
In Kisii, the ‘Triple O Axis’ — Sam Ongeri, Governor Ongwae and Woman Rep candidate Janet Ong’era — has been holding rallies together. Prof Ongeri wants to be senator while Ms Ong’era hopes to unseat Ms Otara.
The Jubilee squad, however, faces the tough task of convincing voters, especially from Nyamira, to vote for President Kenyatta.
The chairman of Nyamira County ODM Nominees Caucus Nyambega Gisesa, described the residents as a stubborn lot.
“They are not easily swayed,” said Mr Gisesa recently.
Governor John Nyagarama says the Jubilee teams should not be deceived by the size of crowds in their rallies.
“The reality is on the ground,” said Mr Nyagarama. “The true picture is different from what they see at rallies. Nyamira remains committed to Nasa.”
Nyamira County Assembly Speaker and North Mugirango Jubilee parliamentary candidate Joash Nyamoko, however, has a different opinion.
“We have seen jubilant crowds during our tours,” said Mr Nyamoko. “The opposition should be scared.”
He said the Abagusii were looking for alternative leadership and were ready to embrace Jubilee, “whose fruits are already being felt on the ground”. He said the local Nasa leadership had nothing to show in terms of development.