The race to succeed Mr Cornel Rasanga as Siaya governor is gathering steam, with new entrants altering the political equation in Opposition chief Raila Odinga’s Nyanza backyard.
Although campaigns are being carried out quietly due to Covid-19 protocols that limit political gatherings and the order by Mr Odinga that politicians should tone down on 2022 politics, politicians and their strategists are scratching their heads on how to clinch the powerful seat.
In Mr Odinga’s Siaya backyard, among those said to be eyeing Mr Rasanga’s seat are Senate Minority Leader James Orengo, Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi and former Rarieda MP Nicholas Gumbo.
Others include Deputy Governor James Okumbe, former Permanent Secretary Carey Orege and Bondo MP Gideon Ochanda.
Whereas Mr Orengo is yet to openly declare his candidature, Mr Gumbo maintained that following his track record in Rarieda, he stands a better chance based on his track record as an MP both in the House and on the ground in his constituency.
Mr Gumbo, who lost to Rasanga in 2017, is the only one who has declared interest in the seat.
Rattled political equation
But it is the entry of Police Spokesperson Charles Owino in the race for Siaya's top seat that appears to have rattled the political equation.
Mr Owino is still a public servant and is currently not revealing much about his plans, presumably until he officially resigns and proceeds on early retirement in December.
In an interview with the Nation, the police spokesperson claimed his motivation for venturing into the murky waters of politics is to change the way politics is done in the region as well as fostering development in his rural county.
"Politics is about power and if you vote for me, you will be giving me power to make, generate and control wealth and resources, then distribute it equally across the county to develop every sector," said Mr Owino.
He stated that the current crop of leaders does not think beyond the ordinary to change the lives of the people.
His entry into the race has, however, brought in fresh blood into Siaya politics.
Siaya County has six sub-counties – Bondo, Rarieda, Alego Usonga, Ugunja, Ugenya and Gem.
And while Mr Owino is originally from Alego, Ugenya has been his home for more than 30 years.
First, he complicates matters for Senate minority leader James Orengo, who hails from Ugenya.
It will be interesting to see who the constituents will settle for as their 'chosen son' to go to battle with others.
Mr Owino indicated he will be contesting on an ODM ticket, which is likely to pit him against the political veterans, who include Mr Orengo, Mr Wandayi and Mr Gumbo.
Mr Gumbo notably enjoys significant grassroots support following his 2017 bid, where he gave Mr Rasanga a hard time.
Nearly all the contestants play a key role in Mr Odinga’s inner court and it will be difficult for the Opposition chief to influence the outcome directly.
Mr Orengo has been a close ally of the ODM leader, having helped him a lot during the election petition of 2017 that led to the nullification of Mr Uhuru Kenyatta's declaration as the winner of the presidential election of that year.
Mr Wandayi, who is the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, also plays a critical role as Mr Odinga’s adviser. He is also the Orange party's director of political affairs.
Given his background as a senior police officer, Mr Owino will be important in Mr Odinga's camp for intelligence and other operations relating to election management.
Mr Owino believes he would be a special asset to Mr Odinga should he decide to make a fourth stab at the presidency next year.
"Many people do not know me well. If there is someone who is likely to play a big role in helping Jakom, that would be me," said Mr Owino.
How he will manage all these ambitions remains a big poser for Mr Odinga, who is likely to avoid local politics as he focuses on the big prize.
Mr Owino is also being viewed as an outsider in politics and while the treatment directed towards him may not be welcoming, the fact that he is not known may also be a challenge to his competitors.
Dr Obora Okoth, a political analyst, warns that Mr Owino is a political 'dark horse' whose candidature should trouble his competitors.
"The police spokesperson is well-learned and should not be underestimated in any way. There is too much we don't know about him and this should worry those going against him for the Siaya's top seat," said Dr Okoth.
He added that being at the top would make him part of the 'Deep State'.
According to Dr Okoth, the handshake between Mr Odinga and Mr Kenyatta might be at play in the candidature of Mr Owino.
"Many may not know to what extent the police spokesperson has been close to Mr Odinga and how he might have helped him. This might influence his candidature and the likelihood of Raila supporting him cannot be ruled out," said Dr Okoth.
New political kingpin
The analyst further said many prominent leaders in the area are aged and, with Mr Owino turning 51 in July, he may be among the new political kingpins in Nyanza.
Mr Owino is aware of the 'enemy of the people' tag hanging on his neck, given his background as a police officer and the spokesperson of a service or force that was responsible for violence in Mr Odinga's stronghold.
Dr Okoth, however, says while this could be used as a propaganda tool, he is able to craft a counter-narrative that may work in his favour.
Mr Owino says he will focus on food security and ensuring there is a ready market for the produce, given that Siaya has rich fertile soils and a big lake that if utilised will generate wealth for locals.
"I will ensure there are tractors to help farmers without charging them a shilling for one year. I will also ensure they get subsidised seeds and fertiliser as well as strengthen cooperatives," said Mr Owino.
He also revealed his running mate will be a woman who will double up as a county executive committee member for either education, Agriculture or health dockets should he clinch the seat.