Tribal, clan politics play out in battle for Marsabit governor seat

Mohamud Mohamed Ali.

Former Agriculture CAS Kello Harsama, North Horr MP Francis Chachu and Marsabit Governor Mohamud Mohamed Ali.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Marsabit Governor Mohamud Mohammed Ali will have to fend off competition from four candidates in order to retain his seat.

The governor is facing stiff competition from Mr Francis Chachu Ganya (Kanu), Mr Bernard Sunya Orre (ANC), Mr Kello Harsama (UDA) and Mr Pius Yattani Wario (UPIA).

Since the advent of devolution, the county’s political power play has gravitated around the dominant Borana and Gabbra communities, with the support of smaller communities such as Rendille, Burji, Garre and Sakuye.

The supremacy contest between the Gabbra and Borana has been tough, especially in the gubernatorial and Saku constituency races.

In 2013, National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani from the Gabbra community became the county’s first governor, only to lose to Mr Ali from the Borana community in the 2017 polls.

To win the 2013 elections, Mr Yatani had to strike a unity deal among the Rendille, Gabbra and Burji communities to form what was popularly known as ‘Regabu’.

In 2017, Mr Ali used the same strategy — forming an alliance among the Borana, Burji, Rendille and other smaller communities — that saw him trounce Mr Yatani.

Many pundits say Marsabit’s politics has been hyper-partisan, with the goodies mostly going to the communities where the winning candidate comes from.

Governor Ali is riding on his successes such as the county scholarship programme that benefitted more than 1,000 bright but needy high school students.

“There is no need for me to blow my own trumpet for the great achievements made in the past five years. I only seek another term to realise all my goals. Those who thought that I wouldn’t be cleared to run again should now watch this space,” Mr Ali told his supporters recently.

He also prides himself in the construction of Marsabit KMTC buildings, Sololo Level 4 Hospital and completion of Marsabit town’s modern market.

He also boasts of increasing the number of specialists at Marsabit referral hospital, establishing a cancer screening centre at the facility and improving the universal healthcare standards across the county through the introduction of NHIF medical cover to 10,000 needy residents.

Governor Ali’s regime has been accused of cronyism in the deployment of county workers, abandonment of some projects initiated by his predecessor and stagnated development across the county.

His administration has also been blamed for failing to promote harmony and cohesion between the Borana and Gabbra communities.

It was during his reign that the infamous Marsabit ‘skirmishes’ returned, forcing the national government in May to impose a curfew and launch a security operation across the county. 

More than 500 people have lost their lives between 2018 and 2022 in the ethnic fights between the two communities.

Mr Ali’s administration has also been accused of failing to seal graft holes, forcing some residents in May to seek the help of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission to stop his re-election bid.

The tribal alliances that saw Mr Yatani and Mr Ali ascend to power may not happen in this year's polls.

The Burji, despite being a minority community, has always played a critical role in determining the winner due to their financial muscle. However, the community’s votes will be shared among three candidates — Mr Ali, Mr Ganya and Mr Sunya — this year.

The three have picked running mates from Burji community.

Mr Harsama picked a deputy from Samburu while Mr Yattani settled for a running mate from the Garre community.

The 2022 gubernatorial race has proved trickier for the aspirants as all the three major communities that have always determined the outcome of the polls have fronted a candidate or two.

The Borana have Governor Ali and Mr Harsama, the Gabbra fronted Mr Ganya and Yattani while Rendille were represented by Mr Orre and Mr John Segelan, only for Mr Segelan to cede ground for Mr Orre.

In this election, Mr Ganya — according to some opinion polls —  is the biggest threat to the incumbent.

He is viewed by many as a non-tribal leader with an impressive track record during his 15-year stint as North Horr MP.

He comes across as a pacifier, with many seeing him as the best person to unite the feuding communities in the county.

Mr Ganya prides himself in the prudent use of the National Government Constituencies Development Fund kitty, a factor that earned him recognition as one of the best performing legislators in 2021.

During his recent interview with the Nation, he said he is the only candidate who can end the ethnic discrimination and tensions in the county.

Mr Harsama promises to right the wrongs made by the current regime. He said he is best suited to end the structural inequalities in the county to spur economic growth.

Mr Harsama boasts of over 18 years’ experience having served as a District Officer, District Commissioner, County Commissioner and several senior administrative positions in the national government before resigning to join politics.

He has constantly poked holes in Governor Ali’s administration, saying corruption is rife in several departments.

Mr Harsama is accusing county leaders of distributing ‘goodies’ as a way of attracting voters. He has vowed to arrest all the corrupt county officials should he ascend to power.

Even though Mr Yattani enjoys the support of Treasury CS Yatani, many pundits view him as a newcomer and a featherweight who cannot hold a big sway over his Gabbra community.

Mr Orre is also viewed by analysts as a candidate who is trying to build his support among residents, with eyes fixed on future elections.

Although some pundits say horse-trading and electoral pacts will have minimal impact this year, others predict that some new alliances could be formed to support either of the leading candidates — Governor Ali or Mr Ganya.

MONDAY: Nairobi City, where the governor race for Kenya’s wealthiest county — and its capital — is shaping up to be a two-horse race .