A political showdown is looming in the race for the West Pokot governor’s seat after three heavyweights declared their plans to unseat incumbent Governor John Lonyangapuo.
The battle has attracted former governor Simon Kachapin, now the Sports, Culture and Heritage Chief Administrative Secretary, Asal areas Principal Secretary Micah Powon and Prof Lonyangapuo’s estranged deputy, Dr Nicholas Atudonyang.
This comes as the political equation in the county has changed after Governor Lonyangapuo last month ditched the Kanu party, promising to launch a new outfit as his political vehicle for 2022.
The declaration has given voters more options for the governor’s seat as the country prepares for the polls.
But political pundits say the seat will be a two-horse race between Governor Lonyangapuo and his former ally turned political rival, Mr Kachapin.
No longer Kanu zone
In the last elections, the area was a Kanu zone but things have changed as political temperatures in the county rise, with Deputy President William Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) and the much hyped but yet to be unveiled new Kenya Union Party (KUP) taking centre stage.
Prof Lonyangapuo, who was the only Kanu governor, broke ranks with the party leadership over what he said was interference in his leadership.
Speaking in Siyoi last week during the burial of Mr Kachapin’ s father, Mzee Mathayo Lotongot Kitalei, Prof Lonyangapuo, who taught applied mathematics at Leeds University, promised a titanic battle.
“My development record speaks volume. I am ready to battle with them and am sure I will embarrass them at the ballot box. I have put more than Sh700 million (into) bursaries and a huge share of money in the health sector,” he said.
“The peace where there are no gun sounds along our county borders speaks volumes. The pastoral economy empowerment. The adult education programme and border peace schools are new initiatives in the region.”
He said he is among the best-performing governors and he is ready to defend his seat, accusing Mr Kachapin of mismanagement when he was governor.
“The former regime inflated the cost of projects to award tenders to briefcase contractors whereby the county lost billions of shillings through massive corruption in the award of tenders. The costs of most projects were inflated, work halfway done, poor workmanship although total payment was done,” Prof Lonyangapuo said.
“There was total disregard to procurement laws and lack of professionalism, which saw contractors awarded lucrative tenders that they had no capacity to handle.”
He said he has improved the road network and thereby boosted the economy of the county as residents can easily access markets and engage in trade.
“There are some locations in this county that never had a single road. My government has opened new roads that have enabled easy movement of people, goods and services,” he said.
Jubilee-turned-UDA leaders including Kapenguria MP Samuel Moroto, Sigor’s Peter Lochakapong, West Pokot woman representative Lillian Tomitom, Kacheliba’s Mark Lomunokol, ex-Kapenguria MP Julius Murgor, now vying for the Senate, and some MCAs have a soft spot for Mr Kachapin, who is yet to disclose his party.
“I am soon going to ask the electorate to give me direction on which party I should use. I have a good relationship with President Uhuru Kenyatta and Dr Ruto,” Mr Kachapin told Nation.
“I will beat Lonyangapuo with more than 50,000 votes. I will give him a run for his money. He should tell residents what he has done for them for four years. I am ready to show him dust.”
Mr Kachapin has recently accused Prof Lonyangapuo of sabotaging mega projects he initiated during his term, many of which have stalled.
“He is only riding on my projects. There is nothing tangible he can show,” he said.
West Pokot receives more than Sh5.6 billion from the national government and over Sh98 million in own-source revenue.
The county faces many challenges, including high poverty levels, high illiteracy, insecurity and poor infrastructure.
Another important political force to reckon with is Deputy Governor Nicholas Atudonyang, who works in Texas, US, as a neurosurgeon.
Dr Atundonyang fell out with Governor Lonyangapuo after being absent from the county for three years. He returned to the US in early 2018.
He is working with Senate Majority Leader Samuel Poghisio, West Pokot County Assembly Speaker Catherine Mukenyang and several MCAs allied to Kanu boss Gideon Moi to make sure West Pokot remains a Kanu stronghold.
Out of the country
Though Dr Atundonyang is out of the country, he has assembled a strong team of mobilisers to spearhead his 2022 bid.
He sends emissaries to represent him in all public functions and donates money to various causes.
Dr Atudonyang said Prof Lonyangapuo had failed to deliver on his promises to residents of West Pokot and had started blaming him to deflect attention from himself.
“He has a bad strategy, and he cannot force things. Let him follow the rules, regulations, laws and the Constitution,” he said.
He said he had often advised the governor on issues pertaining to the county but he had given him a deaf ear.
“If things don’t work out his way he has to find someone to blame. There is no one working hard to bring him down. There is a lot of politics ongoing on the ground, and he has not taken control of what is going on,” he said.
Fix some things
“I will soon return. I will come to the ground to fix some things. Let him follow the law.”
For his part, Mr Powon said he is interested in vying but will announce his plans as he is still working for the government.
“All these leaders have been in leadership and have failed. I am a fresh darling of the Pokot people. I will be in the race to work with the people in taking West Pokot to the next level,” he said.
“I believe West Pokot requires more service and work for the people rather than too much politicking as has been the case.”
He said he will ride on his successes in streamlining the health sector, helping farmers improve agricultural production, and infrastructure improvements.