High-octane politics as race for Bomet governor seat intensifies

Bomet Governor Hillary Barchok (United Democratic Alliance), former governor Isaac Ruto (Chama Cha Mashinani) and Mr Benard Mutai (Amani National Congress).


Value addition of fresh farm produce before offloading to the market, poor infrastructural facilities, mismanagement of the health sector and incomplete and pending projects are some of the issues shaping the gubernatorial race in Bomet County.

The contest has narrowed down to a three-horse race pitting Governor Hillary Barchok (United Democratic Alliance), former governor and Chama Cha Mashinani (CCM) party leader Isaac Ruto and businessman turned politician Bernard Mutai of the Amani National Congress (ANC).

While Mr Ruto and Mr Mutai got direct party tickets for lack of competitors, Prof Barchok defeated former Mining and Petroleum chief administrative secretary John Mosonik in the UDA primaries. The three candidates are in the Kenya Kwanza Coalition.

Bomet County has 376,985 voters spread across five constituencies. Sotik has 86,681 voters followed by Chepalungu (80,140), Konoin (75,115), Bomet Central (71,409) and Bomet East (63,640).

The late Dr Joyce Laboso (Jubilee Party) beat Mr Ruto (CCM) in the 2017 poll, but succumbed to cancer complications on July 29, 2019. She was succeeded by her deputy, ProfBarchok, who was sworn in as the third governor on August 8, 2019.

Deputy President William Ruto’s push to have UDA candidates carry the day in the August election has become a major headache as all candidates are in Kenya Kwanza.

“When Dr Ruto was in Bomet on January 10, it was made clear to him that the push for a six-piece voting pattern would not apply as some of the party’s flagbearers are unpopular. There are clear signs he will not endorse any of the three gubernatorial candidates,” said Mr Bett Sigey, a Nairobi-based lawyer.

Mr Sigey said the political atmosphere is so charged that should the DP take sides, he risks losing a sizeable percentage of voters who will vote for other presidential candidates in protest.

“Politically, Bomet is a different cup of tea for the DP and he has to tread carefully not to annoy either of the voting blocks. The best is to hit a middle ground,” said Mr Sigey.

Dr Ruto has kept off Bomet County in the past six months in what is attributed to the unfolding political scenario.

Stakes in the contest have been raised with Senator Christopher Lang’at and nominated MP and former Kenya National Union of Teachers secretary-general Wilson Sossion throwing their weight behind Mr Ruto.

Governor Barchok’s administration has been accused of mismanaging the health sector, with perennial lack of water and drugs at Longisa County Referral Hospital and Cheptalal, Koiwo, Ndanai, Sigor and Tegat sub-county hospitals.

However, Prof Barchok said his administration has upgraded the oncology clinic for screening of cancer cases, with seven chemotherapy beds and chairs and a cryotherapy set installed.

“In the renal unit, the bed capacity has been raised from five to the current 13. The mother and child wellness centre is under construction. We have enrolled 10,000 vulnerable families into the universal health coverage programme and trained and deployed 2,640 health volunteers to villages,” he said.

Prof Barchok said his administration has constructed 375 early childhood development and education (ECDE) centres and rolled out a milk programme for 53,000 pupils in the learning institutions.

“We have defied all odds and secured a direct export market for Kenyan-made tea to Iran, with private companies and cooperative societies benefiting from the deal I facilitated. From the initial 84 metric tonnes, players are now supplying 200 metric tonnes,” he said.

Construction of the Sh27 million sweet potatoes plant in Sigor ward and the Sh60 million Chebunyo milk processing factory in Chepalungu with the support of World Vision, an international non-governmental organisation, are some of the projects the current administration takes credit for.

However, failure to complete the multimillion-shilling Bomet IAAF stadium, initiated during Mr Ruto’s tenure, has become a thorn in the flesh for the current administration.

While the project gobbled up Sh330 million, Dr Laboso’s administration had set aside Sh257 million for its completion. However, less than Sh15 million was released.

The project has since completely collapsed under Prof Barchok’s tenure, with no budgetary allocation.

Mr Ruto is credited with initiating the Nogirwet and Sigor irrigation schemes, with the support of Kenya Red Cross Society. The current administration has also expanded the project.

The CCM leader takes credit for constructing an oxygen plant at Longisa County Referral Hospital in 2015, which has provided a lifeline to patients in various hospitals in the South Rift, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The project, which was expanded in 2019, produces 9,000 litres of oxygen per hour, which is enough to run Kenyatta National Hospital and still have a surplus of 1,000 litres.

“At the onset of devolution, Longisa County Referral Hospital was dysfunctional with no running water, lacked staff and drugs. We did not have specialist doctors. We supplied water using a bowser as we fixed the pipeline, bought new beds and bedding, ensured drugs were available, employed medics, kept the hospital generally clean, fixed the mess at the mortuary, which had broken down refrigerators, and eliminated the stench that had become synonymous with the facility. It is sad that the facilities are now run down,” said Mr Ruto.

He cites setting up of milk cooling plants for cooperative societies, rehabilitation of cattle dips, provision of subsidised artificial insemination services to farmers to improve dairy cattle stock as some of the projects that benefited residents during his tenure. “We provided boma rhodes seeds under a subsidy programme to farmers to boost fodder production for their cattle and carried out intensive dairy and beef production programmes to boost farmers’ incomes and food security. It is an issue I will seek to strengthen if elected,” said Mr Ruto.

Mr Mutai has branded himself as an alternative candidate. Unlike his competitors, Mr Mutai has been running low-key campaigns targeting the rural population.  “I plan to fix the roads network falling under the county government, ensure equity in sharing of resources between the five sub-counties, assist farmers to utilise land for commercial food production and create a conducive environment for businesses to thrive,” said Mr Mutai.

He promises to ensure the youth, women and people living with disabilities get their fair share of tenders.

Mr Mutai  said value addition of milk, Irish and sweet potatoes, fruits, hides and skin before offloading to markets should be embraced to enable farmers to earn more profits.

TOMORROW: Taita Taveta, where Governor Granton Samboja faces a tough battle for re-election.

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