It is boom time for bull owners in Kakamega as they make a fortune from the ongoing political campaigns.
Former Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale, referred to as the Bullfighter by his ardent supporters owing to his love for the sport, presented his nomination papers to the electoral agency accompanied by his bull, named “the Beast”.
He was cheered by Isukuti traditional dancers, who lit up the occasion punctuated by the pulsating drum beats that rent the air in sharp contrast to the somber mood marking the business of the day.
And lately, candidates from different parties have switched their attention to bullfighting matches that are dominated by fanatical crowds in villages as they hope to win the support of voters 40 days before the August 9 General Election.
Bullfighting is a popular cultural activity among the Idakho and Isukha communities in Kakamega County. But the popularity of the contests has spread to neighbouring communities, including the Batsotso and the Kabras.
Apart from the campaign thrill and excitement, bullfighters in the region have other ideas about the sport.
Officials of the Kakamega Bullfighters Association have decided to use the bullfighting contests to promote peaceful campaigns and minimise political antagonism ahead of the polls.
The campaigns have electrified activities in villages, with owners of champion bulls grooming their animals and preparing them for matches during political rallies.
There are four reigning champion bulls in Kakamega currently – Avena, Power, Ringo and Nandi.
Avena is from Shisasali in Shinyalu, Power from Lirhembe, Ringo belongs to Idakho Central MCA Charles Imbali and Nandi is from Murhanda.
Mr Bonventure Munanga, the director of the Kakamega Bullfighting Association, said bullfighters from the region are hoping to reap big from political activities ahead of the polls as candidates are keen to organise matches to popularise their campaigns.
For a politician hiring bulls to stage a fight and popularise his campaigns, it could cost them up to Sh350,000, including mobilisation and other logistical charges.
During ordinary bullfighting matches, bulls that participate in League A have higher charges that range between Sh15,000 and Sh20,000, while those in League B are charged between Sh8,000 and Sh10,000.
For League C, the charges are between Sh4,000 and Sh6,000.
During such contests, governorship candidates are charged Sh350,000 while parliamentary ones pay between Sh150,000 and Sh170,000.
Candidates for ward representative have to part with Sh100,000 to host a bullfighting match.
“But other than the money, we are more concerned about peaceful campaigns during the emotive electioneering period. Bullfighting is a popular activity that brings together large crowds and those in attendance do not see themselves as members of one political party or the other.
“They just mingle and cheer as they enjoy the thrill of the bullfighting matches,” Mr Munanga said.
But bullfighters have complained about the Kakamega County government’s decision to fence off the popular Khayega grounds for rehabilitation.
The Isolio grounds in Shinyalu constituency were also fenced off, blocking the bullfighting contests from taking place at the venue.
“We are shocked by the move. The county government did not involve the community in a public participation exercise on the issue and the decision to fence off the two grounds will inconvenience the bullfighters who want to stage the contests,” said Mr Munanga.
Mr Austin Munase, a trader at Khayega market and a bullfighting enthusiast, said the county government’s decision to fence off the two grounds was unacceptable.
Mr Munase owns a bull christened Stamina and was cleared to contest the Isukha South ward seat on a UDP party ticket.
He said he had discussed the matter with UDP leader Cyrus Jirongo, who agreed to support plans to organise a major bullfighting contest to popularise campaigns by the party in the county.
“We are not happy with the decision of the county government to lock out bullfighters from using the two grounds. Communities from around Khayega have been using the ground for various activities, including bullfighting matches,” said Mr Munase.
Despite the setback, bullfighters from Shinyalu, Ikolomani, Kabras, Ileho, Butsotso and Makunga have decided to use the contests as a platform to promote peaceful campaigns in the region.
Mr Munanga said: “We have been approached by several candidates who are keen to organise bullfighting competitions to promote peaceful campaigns as they try to win the support of voters.”
In Kakamega County, bullfighting is a popular sport among the Isukha and Idakho communities.
The sport is practised at important events and during the burial of elders and respected people in the community.
But the sport has been commercialised and owners of champion bulls have been cashing in on its popularity to make money.
The sport has evolved into competitive leagues across the county, exciting bullfighters in the region.
To regulate the sport, the Kakamega government is working on guidelines for contests.
County Tourism Director Stephen Musee said officials are drafting a policy to regulate bullfighting instead of banning it completely.
“As a government, we have nothing to defend ourselves in case of injuries and deaths from bullfighting as a sport when asked why we allowed it in the community without being regulated,” he said.
The policy, he said, will address other issues like safety, including making available ambulances and security guards during contests.
“This is meant to ensure that the community is satisfied that their heritage is preserved. We will also introduce insurance covers for both the animals and spectators,” he said.