Less than three months to the August 9 General Election, a tight race for the Samburu County governor seat is shaping up with six political heavyweights having declared interest.
The retirement of Governor Moses Lenolkulal in August has thrown the battle for the arid county’s top seat wide open with aspiring candidates already hunting for votes at the grassroots level. His political shadow will loom large in the gubernatorial succession battle as he remains influential in the county.
Clan politics and the influence of major national coalitions are likely to determine the outcome of the race, which has attracted seasoned politicians, including former top government officials .
The ruling Jubilee, ODM, United Democratic Movement (UDM) and Kanu seem to be the most preferred parties by Azimio candidates while United Democratic Alliance (UDA), Amani National Congress (ANC) and The Service Party (TSP) are favourites among those in Kenya Kwanza.
Those out to succeed Mr Lenolkulal include incumbent deputy governor Julius Leseeto (UDM), former Agriculture Permanent Secretary Richard Lesiyampe (Jubilee), businessman Daniel Lekupe (Independent), former Samburu West MP Lati Leleliit (UDA), Mr Richard Leiyagu (Party of Growth and Prosperity, PGP) and Joseph Lenangetai (Independent).
The Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) revised register shows that Samburu has a total of 98,081 voters.
Samburu West constituency has the most voters at 42,546 followed by Samburu North (29,099) and Samburu East (26,436).
There are three key determinants in any top leadership position in the county. These are clan, age set and party affiliations.
The biggest clans in the devolved unit include Lmasula, Lorokushu, Long’ele and Lpisigishu.
The community also has several age sets and each carries out specific roles in accordance with traditions and customs.
On various occasions, elders from the Lmasula clan, which is viewed as the most populous, have held several meetings to pick their preferred candidate to succeed Mr Lenolkulal.
Apart from the Samburu, the devolved unit is home to large numbers of people from three other communities, namely, the Kikuyu, the Turkana, and the Somali. These communities’ voting patterns are also likely to influence the gubernatorial contest.
Mr Leleliit and Dr Lesiyampe are seen as the frontrunners in the race to grab power. The two hail from the vote-rich Samburu West and are now employing various strategies to gain support from the other constituencies.
Mr Leleliit is banking on the popularity gained through the infrastructural projects he oversaw while representing Samburu West to win the coveted seat.
“I’ll form an inclusive government after August 9,” Mr Leleliit said during a political rally in Nachola area in Samburu North. He enjoys grassroots support mainly from youths and women.
Dr Lesiyampe, on the other hand, is banking on his government experience to clinch the seat, come August 9.
“I’ve the experience to lead the Samburu people who have asked me to serve them. I cannot hesitate to do so because I’ve proven myself where I’ve served before,” Dr Lesiyampe said while asking the residents to support his bid.
The former Agriculture PS has also served in the same capacity in the Environment and Natural Resources ministry.
Prior to his appointment to the government, Dr Lesiyampe served as the Chief Executive Officer of the Kenyatta National Hospital.
After serving as deputy Governor in Mr Lenolkulal’s administration, Mr Leseeto has also set his sights on the county’s top seat.
He was first appointed member of the County Executive Committee in 2013, a position he held until 2017 when Mr Lenolkulal picked him as his running mate for the 2017 General Election.
Bitter falling out
However, the two had a bitter falling out when Mr Lenolkulal was barred from accessing his office due to graft allegations.
“I’ve what it takes to lead this county. I’ll fight to salvage Samburu County come August, and I’m confident we will win,” Mr Leseeto said in an interview.
Mr Lekupe is seeking to succeed Mr Lenolkulal as an independent candidate after missing the Jubilee ticket in the party nominations.
“I’ll be looking for my votes across the vast Samburu County,” Mr Lekupe said immediately after being cleared by the Registrar of Political Parties Ann Nderitu on May 3.
There was stiff competition between Dr Lesiyampe and Mr Lekupe as both sought the Jubilee ticket. However, the ruling party decided to hand the ticket to Dr Lesiyampe after delays due to “consensus building” according to party officials.
‘Only remaining hope’
Mr Leiyagu, a retired military officer, is hunting for votes under Mukhisa Kituyi’s PGP.
The 58-year-old joined the armed forces in 1985 as a cadet and rose through the ranks to a Lieutenant-Colonel in 2006.
In 2015, Mr Leiyagu was involved in a court battle with the government, which he accused of breaching labour terms.
He has branded himself as “the only remaining hope” for the Samburu people during his campaigns.
“I’m the best choice and the only remaining hope for Samburu. I’ll prioritise the needs of my people. I understand lifelong problems that pastoralists are facing and I promise change,” Mr Leiyagu said during a rally in the county. He is also the Samburu Council of Elders patron.
TOMORROW: The male-dominated contest in Nyeri County