The contest for the Busia governor seat has attracted five aspirants who are seeking to succeed Governor Sospeter Ojaamong.
The county is located on the Kenya-Uganda border, making it a key cog in East African trade.
The county’s political power play revolves around the dominant Luhya and Teso communities. The issue of an agreement between the two communities is expected to feature strongly in the campaigns.
In the deal, the Luhya and Teso are reported to have agreed to back a candidate from each of the two communities to serve for 10 years. Given that Mr Ojaamong is serving his second and final term, the Luhya aspirants have picked their aspirants from the Teso community.
Mr Otuoma has settled on former Teso North MP Arthur Odera as his running mate in the August 9 General Election. Interestingly, each of the main aspirants has picked his running mate from Teso North sub-county.
Mr Ojaamong’s administration has been accused of failing to improve infrastructure in the county. Former Teso South MP Mary Emase said it was unfortunate that the governor had done little during his tenure to raise standards of living in the county.
“The time has come for the people of Busia to elect a governor who will take his job seriously. Our county has stagnated in the last 10 years because of poor leadership. Our roads are in a pathetic state and we cannot afford to have a governor who will sleep on the job,” said Ms Emase.
Those in the race include deputy governor Moses Mulomi of the Democratic Action Party-Kenya (DAP-K), Nambale MP John Sakwa Bunyasi (ANC) and former Funyula MP Paul Otuoma (ODM). Others are Mr Daniel Mogoria, the former county chief officer for Education, and Mr Micheal Oloo, a lecturer at Moi University.
The governor contest is expected to be explosive and high-stakes, if the party nominations are anything to go by.
Mr Otuoma will be making a second attempt to clinch the governor seat after losing to Mr Ojaamong in the 2017 primaries as well as the elections. The former Funyula MP is hoping to ride on the popularity of the ODM party in the county to clinch the seat in August. After the losses, Mr Otuoma appeared part ways with ODM, but later made a comeback and is now a close ally of party leader Raila Odinga.
He has promised to give priority to a number of issues, including the poor state of health facilities, dilapidated roads and the neglected fishing industry in the region. He has also promised to overhaul the county government structures put in place by Mr Ojaamong to improve efficiency in delivery of key services to residents.
Given his charisma and aggressive style of campaigns, Mr Otuoma is considered one of the frontrunners for the governorship position.
On his part, Mr Mulomi, who is from Butula sub-county, will be counting on his experience as deputy governor to endear himself to voters. But he runs the risk of being haunted by the shortcomings of his boss, Mr Ojaamong.
Mr Mulomi has picked his running mate, Mr Tom Ipomai, from Amagoro sub-county in Teso North, in what appears to be a strategy to win the support of the community. In 2013, voters from Butula supported Mr Ojaamong after he picked his running mate Kizito Wangalwa from the region, and Mr Mulomi in 2017.
Mr Mulomi says it is time for the Teso community to support his bid after voters from his Butula backyard supported Mr Ojaamong in 2013 and 2017. According to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission records, Butula constituency has 57,685 registered voters. Mr Mulomi is banking on this high number of voters to tilt the scales in his favour.
The deputy governor has the uphill task of overcoming the ODM wave in Busia given the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition sibling rivalry that has erupted after DAP-K decided to pick him as the party’s flagbearer in the contest.
Voters will be demanding answers from him on how he plans to tackle the many problems county residents are facing given that he has served as Mr Ojaamong’s deputy. His biggest headache will be the failures of county government to address the problems bedevilling the health sector, which has been under his watch.
Mr Mogoria will be making his debut in the region’s political scene on the National Agenda Party (NAP) ticket while Mr Oloo will be in the race on the National Liberal Party (NLP) ticket. The two aspirants will be seeking to upset the political formation in the region by competing against the political heavy weights in the region.
Former Agricultural Finance Corporation managing director Lucas Meso appears to have pulled out of the race after the Jubilee Party declined to clear him in the nominations.
Before the ODM nominations, Mr Ojaamong had shown his support for Ms Mutua. He had even pleaded with Mr Odinga at a rally in Malaba town in March this year not to worry about the ODM primaries in Busia, saying he would deliver a candidate who will clinch the seat in the August polls.
Mr Bunyasi is considered the main competitor to Mr Otuoma. After serving as Nambale MP for 10 years, Mr Bunyasi, who enjoys the support of professionals and technocrats in Busia, is seen as a serious contender for the top county seat. The experienced and astute politician will be leading the ANC onslaught in the ODM stronghold as the battle for votes between the Azimio and Kenya Kwanza Alliance hots up.
TOMORROW: Kwale County, where Deputy Governor Fatuma Achani faces stiff competition in the race to succeed her boss Salim Mvurya.