In Kisii, Simba Arati faces old hands in tough battle for top seat

Leading contestants in Kisii governor race

Mr Chris Obure (left), Dagoretti North MP Simba Arati (Centre) and Kisii Senator Sam Ongeri.

The gubernatorial race has attracted seven candidates, who are seeking to succeed Governor James Ongwae.

They include Dagoretti North MP, Simba Arati (Orange Democratic Movement, ODM), former cabinet minister Chris Obure (Jubilee) and Senator Sam Ongeri (Democratic Action Party-Kenya).

Also in the race are Nyaribari Masaba MP Ezekiel Machogu (United Democratic Alliance), former South Mugirango MP Manson Nyamweya (Kenya National Congress, KNC) , activist Rachel Otundo (Progressive Party of Kenya) and Bishop Josiah Biyogo (Independent).

Key factors that are likely to influence the election outcome are clan politics, political parties, regional balancing, campaign financing, the war on graft and, to some extent, candidates’ age.

Mr Arati’s entry into the race has rattled older politicians, particularly Prof Ongeri, 84, and Mr Obure, 78. They accuse the youthful politician of playing the “age card” to disadvantage them.

The senior citizens will be taking a second stab at governorship.

In 2017 Mr Nyamweya got 53,085 votes under KNC while Mr Obure, who flew the Jubilee ticket,got 110,760 votes, losing to Mr Ongwae of ODM who won with 206,164. A total of 402,659 votes were cast out of the 546,580 registered voters.

Prof Ongeri and Mr Obure are fighting allegations of corruption and misuse of resources.

Do things differently

 “I’m not fighting anyone. I’ll also not sack county employees as is being alleged. But we must do things differently, if our county is to progress. Corruption won’t be condoned if I become governor and Kisii residents should reject leaders who have done little to ensure accountability,” Mr Arati, 40, said.

The two-term MP enjoys a huge following especially from younger voters, but faces an uphill task convincing the elderly, who are more likely to vote. Money will also play a critical role. Most of the candidates have deep pockets.

Prof Ongeri is banking on his long career in public service, which includes serving in the Cabinet, working as a United Nations diplomat for 10 years and as a senator and MP, to give him an advantage over his rivals.

“Our society is deeply conservative and the true picture on the ground will be revealed in the ballot. I decided to ditch ODM because I was uncomfortable with the goings-on in the party,” he said. A key factor in the race is the view that the southern part of Kisii, formerly known as Gucha, deserves the seat that has been held by the northern region, formerly Central Kisii.

Mr Obure, Mr Nyamweya, Mr Arati and Mr Biyogo are southerners while Prof Ongeri and Mr Machogu hail from the Nyaribari clan in the north. So critical is the issue that Mr Obure has pledged to agitate for creation of one more county to be named Gucha.

Mr Machogu emerged among the top five legislators in effective use of the national government constituency development fund. He has also pledged to set up a special ward fund to spur development at the grassroots.

Mr Nyamweya hopes to use his vast networks to clinch the seat. The KNC boss and former South Mugirango MP has pledged to create more jobs for youth, if elected.

“There is enough money [to] fund projects. The problem has been lack of political will,” he said and promised to revive plans for a sugar factory in Nyagweta Forest. The governorship race has presented intriguing political scenarios. In an unprecedented turn of events, the dominant political party, ODM, was accused of imposing candidates instead of embracing “negotiated democracy” .

Kisii County has about 600,000 registered voters in nine constituencies—Nyaribari Chache (85,834), Bobasi (94,646), South Mugirango (71,488), Bonchari (56,069), Nyaribari Masaba (62,207), Kitutu Chache South (61,639), Kitutu Chache North (50,665), Bomachoge Borabu (49,081) and Bomachoge Chache (41, 745).

ODM’s decision to issue a direct ticket to Ms Janet Ong’era for Woman Rep threw the Arati group into a spin since the seat, critics argue, was meant for a candidate from a constituency other than Arati’s Bobasi home.

The Arati team comprising Kitutu Chache MP Richard Onyonka (senator) and Deputy Governor Robert Monda view the imposition of Ms Ong’era as a well calculated scheme by power brokers to upstage the Dagoretti North MP, whose candidature does not enjoy support from the current county leadership.

Clan politics is the reason the Ongwae team embraced the concept of “negotiated democracy” since the onset of devolution, in order to consolidate the much-needed support from all the six clans of Kisii.

A tight corner

Before Mr Arati shifted his political base from Nairobi, ODM had been boxed into a tight corner by Deputy President William Ruto’s UDA, which had made significant inroads into the area.

Paradoxically, Mr Arati’s efforts sparked internal revolt from the ODM establishment in the region with top political players openly fighting to bring him down.

With Mr Obure and Ms Ong’era on the ballot for governor and Woman Rep respectively, Mr Arati faces an uphill task convincing the other clans why three of them from one constituency went for key positions at the county to the disadvantage of other clans.

Mr Obure has pockets of support in sections of Bobasi and Bomachoge. Mr Arati seems to enjoy support across the county.

Small sub-clan

A similar scenario is playing out in Nyaribari, from where Prof Ongeri and Mr Machogu come.

Prof Ongeri and Mr Machogu both hail from the Boguche, a small sub-clan in both Nyaribari Masaba and Nyaribari Chache (Nyaribari).

Just like Mr Machogu, the don could be popular in Nyaribari and some sections of Bonchari and Kitutu Chache.

Mr Nyamweya, who belongs to the Abagirango clan appears the only candidate from his constituency. If he plays his cards well and manages to unite Abanchari and Abagetutu and win the three constituencies of Bobasi and Bomachoge, he can easily upset the perceived front-runners.

Mr Nyamweya might take sections of South Mugirango and Southwest of Bonchari bordering South Mugirango.