Kisii County is one of the most active political hotbeds during elections and as campaigns for the August elections heat up, the situation is increasingly becoming volatile, prompting security agencies into action.
There have been bloody incidents recently in some parts of the county where some candidates faced hostile crowds and were pelted with stones, especially if the politicians left without giving handouts after addressing the people.
Several factors are fuelling the violence, which threatens the growth of democracy and the rule of law in the populous county.
Politics has been commercialised by cut-throat competition among political actors, making campaign periods a good time for voters to mint money, and the struggle for the cash is a life-and-death affair.
It is common to see small groups of young men banding together at every meeting and setting out an agenda to extort money from politicians or their agents. If a politician does not give handouts, they unleash violence to send a message that aspirants cannot address meetings and leave without offering them cash and other goodies.
They have a slogan, “Ntobwate enda…omogambi tokogenda otaratobwata enda” (Sir, hold our stomach…you can’t leave without holding our stomach).
Then there is general impunity resulting from failure by law enforcement to punish offenders in the past, leading to the general perception that political activities that involve violence are not criminal violations of the law.
This misbehaviour has been taken a notch higher by some mischievous politicians exploiting the situation to instigate violence so that it could be blamed on their opponents.
These political instigators have been identified by security officers, who promise to hold them to account.
The county security committee recently hosted aspirants to discuss the way forward.
"We held a security meeting with governorship, Senate and woman rep aspirants from the county on Thursday," said County Commissioner Allan Machari, who chairs the committee.
Parliamentary and ward aspirants will have their meetings in sub-counties.
Mr Machari said their aim is to have peaceful campaigns and calm before and after the elections.
He said they agreed that each politician would hold meetings in accordance with the law and by notifying the police before holding the gatherings.
"On our part, we gave an assurance that after the notification, we shall ensure that we give adequate security. The conveners of the meetings will also exercise the responsibility of managing the crowd to ensure that law and order prevails and that security will be reinforced on need basis," said the administrator.
Mr Machari said they also agreed on cross-sharing of intelligence between the politicians and security organs.
"With intelligence gathering and sharing, we will be proactive in preventing some of the incidents before they happen. We will also be holding regular meetings with the politicians," said Mr Machari.
The security personnel promised to offer maximum security after receiving a notification about a planned meeting.
Mr Machari said that crowds fighting over handouts from politicians is one of the key causes of violence.
"It's illegal to bribe voters. It's unlawful and we shall not condone that one as security officers," he said.
He said most politicians from the Gusii region have been committing this illegality, which violates Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission rules.
Money has become a key factor in Kisii politics and aspirants without resources or who are not ready to spend are likely to find it rough at rallies.
Some politicians have expressed anger after being stoned, jeered and chased away because they had not given handouts.
"We are pushing for agenda-based politics, not painting others negative," the administrator said.
Gubernatorial aspirants Chris Obure (Jubilee), Prof Sam Ongeri (DAP-K), Manson Nyamweya (KNC) and Ezekiel Machogu (UDA), Woman Rep Janet Ong’era (ODM), who is defending her seat, and Kitutu Chache North MP hopeful Don Bosco Gichana (independent) are among those who have encountered violence in their campaigns.
Jubilee leaders in the county claimed that their campaign convoy was stoned in Kisii town last week by people they claimed had been hired by their opponents.
The leaders, led by Mr Obure, explained that although no one was hurt in the attack, their vehicles were pelted with stones and rotten eggs, adding that this was meant to stop them from campaigning in areas perceived to be their opponents’ zones.
Mr Obure has been lying low in his campaigns since expressing his interest in succeeding Governor James Ongwae a few months ago.
Some of his opponents have been campaigning aggressively across the county, raising worries among some of his supporters that he is not working hard enough to win the seat.
Mr Obure, Prof Ongeri, Ms Ong’era and Mr Nyamweya are among leaders who were heavily booed by a mammoth crowd that had come out to receive Azimio-One Kenya presidential candidate Raila Odinga two months ago.
Mr Machogu and other United Democratic Alliance (UDA) leaders from Kisii have also encountered chaos in their campaigns.
1992 and amachuma
The culture of political violence started way back in 1992, when politicians created what became infamously known as "amachuma" (metals), a euphemism for political thugs for hire.
These goons became the law unto themselves and they emerged from Nyaribari before spreading out to other constituencies.
They unleashed violence against perceived enemies of their financial benefactors, spreading fear among the people. This forced the government to ban this gang, classifying it as a local terror gang.
No less a person than Deputy President William Ruto has also come face to face with the political violence in Kisii, at least on three different occasions.
During a rally attended by Dr Ruto at Itibo in Kisii, police arrested four youths who were part of a group heckling the Deputy President.
The incident caused confusion and panic, prompting the DP to call for order as he condemned the hecklers and proceeded with his speech.
"Nyinyi toka enda huko. Msituletee …” (You get out of here. Don't bother us!) the DP said in anger.
On another of his trips, he was heckled at Suneka market, with ODM and UDA youths clashing.
Several youths were injured in the incident.
But Mr Arati says he has held over 90 rallies in the county, including those organised by his opponents, and at no time has he witnessed chaos.
"We are aware that some aspirants have been running a smear campaign, trying to paint other leaders as goons. We want to tell them that voters are wise enough and will make their decision at the ballot," said Mr Arati.
He noted that some of his competitors are panicking after realising that the ground is not with them and have resorted to using violence to discredit opponents.
In neighbouring Nyamira County, where members of the Abagusii community also reside, the situation is different.
Politicians have held their campaigns peacefully.
The Kisii County Pastors and Clergy Forum, led by Pastor Lawrence Omambia, said they are planning a peace caravan across the country to preach peace.
"Due to the chaotic scenes witnessed in some campaign rallies, we church leaders have decided to have a peace caravan which we will use to rally residents to desist from violence," Pastor Omambia said.