Gladys Wanga, Evans Kidero take their vote hunt to Homa Bay islands

Evans Kidero

Homa Bay gubernatorial candidates Gladys Wanga of ODM (left) and Evans Kidero on campaign tours of Lake Victoria islands in July, 2022.

Photo credit: Pool

The past two weeks has seen two main governor candidates in Homa Bay, Gladys Wanga and former Nairobi governor Evans Kidero, combing some of the remotest areas of the county in search of floating votes.

The two politicians spent the last two weeks of July in areas where residents only see politicians during election seasons.

The areas include islands in Lake Victoria, where movement is by boat or helicopter.

Voters there usually decide who to vote for at the eleventh hour, because some of them only see the candidates a few days before the election.

In Homa Bay, in the years since the 2017 General Election, residents of Mfangano, Remba, Ngodhe, Takawiri, Ringiti, Kiwa and Kibuogi islands hardly saw their political leaders.

All their problems that could have been addressed by elected leaders were kept in memoranda that they were waiting to present to candidates during the ongoing campaigns.

As predicted, campaigns for the August 9 elections saw an increase in political activities on the islands, with candidates campaigning among the fishing communities every fortnight.

Ms Phanice Wankio, a resident of Mfangano, said politicians visit the islands when attending funerals and hardly have time to interact with residents.

She said voters are only familiar with presidential candidates, whose names are common in the news.

"We saw some candidates for the first time in July when they were asking for votes. Some have never stepped foot on the island but promise to address issues that affect us," she said.

"It is difficult to vote for someone you have met for the first time just because they tell you they will address all your problems, which they don't do," she added.

According to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), Mfangano ward, which comprises Mfangano, Remba, Takawiri and Ringiti islands, has 10,569 registered voters.

Rusinga has 14, 320 voters.

The other Islands have part of their boundaries stretching to the mainland.

No politician would want all the votes to go to his or her opponent as campaigns on the islands can determine who the next leader becomes.

For that reason, helicopters have been cruising above the lake to land on islands where residents are only used to seeing wooden boats that are their main means of transport.

Speed boats

Other politicians arrived in speed boats made out of carbon fibre that can be compared with high-end cars on the road.

Dr Kidero, who visited the islands on July 15, used a water bus to ferry his campaign team from one location on the lake to another.

On this day, operators of the vessel had to suspend their normal activities of ferrying passengers from Mbita town to Mfangano and back.

Three days later, Ms Wanga, who was with her running mate Oyugi Magwanga, Senator Moses Kajwang’ and woman rep candidate Joyce Osogo took a helicopter ride to Kiwa, perhaps to erase some of the political advances that Dr Kidero had made hours earlier.

Four days after the visit, Ms Wanga and her team returned to the island, this time spending two days there to try to change the minds of voters that Dr Kidero previously told that he is the best person to take over from Governor Cyprian Awiti.

She later took a day off before returning, tracing the routes that Dr Kidero had taken days before.

On Friday last week, Ms Wanga and the ODM team toured Ngodhe island for campaigns in what turned out to be a cat and mouse game between the woman rep and her opponent.

Later on Sunday, Dr Kidero's team, led by businessman Mark Matunga, returned to Mfangano to counter political messages that Ms Wanga had passed to voters there.

They have followed each other to remote areas on the mainland as well.

Priority areas that residents of the island want their leaders to look into include affordable and safe water transport, building of ring roads around the islands as well as improved health care.

Since the suspension of ferry services from Mbita town to the islands in December last year, movement across the lake has not been for the faint-hearted.

Though there is a water bus on the lake, its operation is limited to carrying passengers, leaving traders who want to transport goods to the islands to rely on wooden boats.

Ms Wankio said residents need a government-owned ferry that is cheaper.

"Private vessels are expensive to use. The transport business is also dominated by a few individuals with no competition, thus all burdens are transferred to passengers," she said.

Ms Wanga said she will ensure a public ferry is put on the lake.

She said the parliamentary Finance Committee under her leadership had allocated Sh300 million in the 2022-2023 budget for purchasing a ferry.

"Our people will never suffer once the ferry is delivered," she said.

Dr Kidero also promised that his administration would ensure a new ferry is put on the lake.

On health, residents want rehabilitation of health facilities to address maternal health.

Ms Wankio said residents are also longing for a water ambulance.

Sick people referred to hospitals on the mainland use fishing boats.

This has led to deaths as the boats are not fitted with medical equipment that can be used during an emergency.

Some vessels are also slow.

Both candidates promised to address this problem.

Ms Wanga said her administration would upgrade Sena dispensary, the main health facility serving residents of the islands, to a Level Four hospital.

"We will ensure all hospitals are equipped with machines. Supply of drugs will also be our major priority in offering good health care services," she said.