Covering over 15,000 square kilometres, Isiolo North — home to about 200,000 residents — is among the fastest-growing cosmopolitan constituencies in northern Kenya.
About 285km from Nairobi, Isiolo town is expected to become a major resort city.
Modern buildings, four-star hotels, kiosks, tree-lined streets and hilly surroundings, coupled with a heterogeneous mix of cultures, offer a memorable view of the warm and windy town.
Landmarks in the bustling town - which hosts a multimillion-shilling modern stadium, market and county headquarters, all under construction - include the Jamia Mosque and the Catholic Church’s twin bell towers and its huge clock facing the road.
While the majority of those who visit the town think it represents the face of the county, a drive further to the north presents a different picture of a semi-arid region where many areas are still underdeveloped.
Borana and Samburu
Apart from Bulapesa, Wabera, Burat and Ngaremara wards on the outskirts of the town that are home to over 40 Kenyan communities, Chari, Cherab and Oldonyiro are predominantly inhabited by the Borana and Samburu communities respectively.
Isiolo North constituency has 56,253 registered voters, according to data from the 2017 General Election.
Unlike the governor, senator, woman rep and Isiolo South MP contests, which have so far attracted an average of four aspirants each, about 10 candidates have lined up to dislodge incumbent Isiolo North MP Hassan Odha.
But why the huge interest in the Isiolo North MP’s seat?
Its cosmopolitan nature means that every community wants to field its own candidate, unlike in Isiolo South, where Kinna, Sericho and Garbatulla wards are predominantly inhabited by the Borana community.
Some of the aspirants say the Isiolo North MP’s seat comes with a lot of power and influence and is more prestigious because of the large number of residents.
The constituency hosts, among others, the county and police headquarters, education offices, three national wildlife reserves, a referral hospital, the Isiolo International Airport, a Huduma Centre, law courts, a livestock export abattoir, over 60 schools and several technical institutions.
National government projects
“Being the MP, you oversee national government projects, together with the county commissioner, and being in charge of a constituency with several mega projects gives you more influence and linkages to government offices for lobbying,” said one of the aspirants, who did not want to be named.
The aspirant said the presence of many communities makes it easier to strike deals with other vote-rich friendly groups.
Another hopeful said while the mega projects are not carried out by the MP, it would feel good when other people visit the county and associate the legislator with the development.
Others who spoke to Nation.Africa on condition of anonymity cited road and other infrastructure as the main incentive, as one can easily crisscross the wards on campaigns, unlike in the vast Isiolo South, which is sparsely populated and has proved expensive for politicians.
“The roads are better (in Isiolo North) and, therefore, one cannot strain driving to the villages to woo voters,” one aspirant said, adding that the infrastructure will make their work once they assume office.
Among the latest entrants in the Isiolo North race is Mr Osman Shariff Abukar, from the little known Asheraf clan, which a majority of ethnic Somalis do not associate with.
At an event at Kambi Sheraf last week, the business administration graduate was endorsed by the community to run for the seat, becoming the first person from the clan to seek such an elective post.
“The endorsement shows the community has confidence in me and I promise to push and fight for the rights of all Isiolo North residents regardless of their tribe and religion as I seek to bring the change our people have been yearning for,” said Mr Abukar, popularly known as Osman Meru.
Others in the race are former MP Joseph Samal, gender and education champion Lucy Mworia, businessman Mwenda Thuranira, Ali Dida and Abdilatif Abdi Boru.
Also said to be angling for the seat is Isiolo Deputy Governor Abdi Issa, nominated Senator Abshiro Halakhe and Mohammed Abdullahi (Medize).
While the number of voters from the respective communities, coalitions and the choice of party will determine who clinches the seat, communities that field many aspirants will have limited chances.