Curse of the deputy governor

Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa (left) congratulates Kakamega Deputy Governor Phillip Kutima on March 9, 2022 when he officially joined the Democratic Action Party of Kenya (DAP-K) at Chui House in Kilimani. With them is DAP-K Party Leader Wafula Wamunyinyi.

The political ambitions of a majority of deputy governors seeking to succeed their retiring bosses have backfired, in what has exposed them as weaklings in counties succession contests.

Several deputy governors have been angling to succeed some 20 governors, who are doing their second and final term in office.

But their ambitions have been crashed after a majority of them failed to secure tickets of dominant parties in their regions while others dropped out of the race after they could not get the backing of their bosses.

Others have been forced to scale down their ambitions to run for Senate as they confront an emerging trend of county bosses rejecting their deputies as their possible successors over perceived frosty relationships. Still, others realising that their bosses were supporting other candidates jumped ship to less popular political parties, thereby dimming their hopes of ascending to the position of county chief executive.

Some of the casualties of the political dynamics in the counties are Kakamega’s Philip Kutima, Joash Maangi (Kisii), William Kingi (Mombasa), Hamilton Orata (Homa Bay), Peter Emuria Lotethiro (Turkana), Julius Leseeto (Samburu), Dr Stanley Kenei Tarus (Trans Nzoia), Moses Mulomi (Busia) and Mohamed Arai (Mandera).

Others are Migori’s Nelson Mahanga, his Uasin Gishu counterpart Daniel Chemno, Dr James Okumbe (Siaya), Adelina Mwau (Makueni), Francis Maliti (Machakos), Gideon Edmund Saburi (Kilifi), David Kariuki Njeru (Embu) and Maina Kamau (Murang’a).

It is, however, a different story in Elgeyo Marakwet where the deputy governor Wesley Rotich bagged UDA ticket, handing him high chance in succeeding his boss, Governor Alex Tolgos. Similarly, Kwale’s Fatuma Achami won UDA ticket in her quest to succeed governor Salim Mvurya.

Deputy governors who have so far ascended to the county top jobs either did so after their bosses were impeached like Dr James Nyoro (Kiambu) and Anne Kananu (Nairobi) or after their bosses died while in office – Mutahi Kahiga (Nyeri), Hillary Barchok (Bomet) and Amos Nyaribo (Nyamira).

In Kakamega, Prof Kutima fell by the wayside in his attempt to succeed Governor Wycliffe Oparanya despite having been loyal to him for close to 10 years. Mr Oparanya chose to support former Ketraco managing director Fernandes Barasa, who ended up being handed a direct nomination certificate by ODM.

This forced Kutima to ditch ODM for DP William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza to back Senator Cleophas Malala's bid for governor.

Governor Oparanya, however, argues that the deputies have to go out and sell their candidature instead of waiting to be endorsed by their bosses. He says the electorate also see governors and their deputies as a package that should exit together at the end of their term.

“Why do they need the blessings of their bosses? I find it strange because if you want a seat, you have to go out there and prove yourself. If you prove yourself then your boss can support you but if you don’t it is unlikely,” says Oparanya.

“You can see even in the last General Election, none of the deputies who ran against their bosses won. They all lost. They are viewed as a package with the boss and when the boss is exiting people want them also to leave,” he adds.

But proving oneself could also be counter-productive to the deputy governors as their ambitions could be interpreted as trying to overshadow their bosses politically and result in them being relegated to the periphery in running the county.

In Kisii, Mr Maangi had for a long time touted himself as the best bet to succeed Governor James Ongwae. He has, however, settled for the Senate slot on a UDA ticket after ditching ODM over alleged betrayal by Mr Ongwae.

Kisii Deputy Governor Joash Maangi

Kisii Deputy Governor Joash Maangi addresses supporters in the county. After failing to get support from ODM, Mr Maangi will vie for Senate seat on UDA ticket.

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

In an interview, Mr Maangi argues that failure by deputies to succeed their bosses was largely because of baggage of the incumbency.

He says deputies seeking to succeed their bosses end up being blamed for the unfulfilled promises. He further admits that some of the deputies are not strong enough to win elective seats on their own.

“Issues of outgoing governor are attached to the deputies; so if they are accused of anything it applies to the deputies. There is also the question of strength. At the end of the day, parties want candidates that can assure a win,” says Mr Maangi.

He, however, defended his decision to shift from the executive to the legislature, arguing that 10 years at the county was enough for now. “For me, my desire after working in the county for 10 years is to join the legislature,” he says. In Mombasa, deputy governor Kingi has been forced to ditch ODM for Governor Amason Kingi’s Pamoja African Alliance (PAA).

Dr Kingi is seeking to succeed Governor Joho, who sidestepped him to endorse Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir, who consequently bagged the ODM ticket.

The county is a perceived Orange stronghold, making Kingi to have a slim chance of winning in the succession race. Recent opinion polls have consistently placed Mr Nassir ahead of the pack.

In Siaya, Dr James Okumbe says although he qualifies to succeed Governor Cornel Rasanga, he could not go against the decision of ODM to hand Siaya Senator James Orengo party ticket.

“There comes a time when party affairs become bigger than an individual’s ambition. I had to abide by that decision that was taken by the party to issue Senator Orengo ticket,” Okumbe says.

He hopes that ODM party leader Raila Odinga will offer him an opportunity to serve Kenyans in another capacity should he form the next government.

In Homa Bay, Mr Orata took a retreat after ODM issued Woman rep Gladys Wanga ticket to succeed Governor Cyprian Awiti.

He was among several aspirants who had declared interest for the plum position.

“I have served as a deputy governor for nine years and this has given me enough experience in understanding devolution. Among my competitors, I am the one who understands what should be done to the people,” he said in a previous interview.

Similar scenario is replicated in Turkana, where Governor Josephat Nanok has sidestep his deputy, Mr Lotethiro for Turkana Central MP John Lodepe who is running on UDA party ticket.

In Busia, deputy governor Moses Mulomi pulled out of the race for ODM ticket that was subsequently won by former Funyula MP Paul Otuoma. The battle for the ticket was fiercely contested between Mr Otuoma and county Woman rep Florence Mutua.

In Mandera, Governor Ali Roba and some clan elders have settled on County Assembly Speaker Mohamed Khalif, essentially sidestepping his deputy Mohamed Arai, who joined him as a running mate during the 2017 polls.

In Kilifi, former Chief Administrative Secretary Gideon Mung'aro bagged the ODM ticket in quest to succeed Governor Amason Kingi against incumbent deputy governor Saburi.

Political analysts Macharia Munene and Herman Manyora argue that the trend is a clear suggestion that governors picked individuals “with no political clout” so that they could control them.

Mr Munene – a professor of history and international relations at the United States International University (USIU) – holds that deputy governors did not add much value to the tickets but were only picked to meet constitutional requirements.

He adds that part of the reasons why outgoing governors have opposed ambitions of their deputies is because of bad blood that has existed among a majority of them.

“The governors and their deputies have not been in good terms across board. Ideally, outgoing governors should be able to endorse their deputies. But if you were not getting along on perception that the deputy was looking at the governor position with peculiar eyes, then the governor would want to ‘fix you’,” argues Munene.

He states, “They basically picked people who accepted them as the bosses. It is a totally different scenario in the case of Uhuru and Ruto who came in as equals. The deputies were picked merely to fulfil the constitutional requirement without bringing much value to the ticket.”

Mr Manyora says most governors did not pick their deputies out of competence or popularity but merely for clan or ethnic balance.

“When governors look for running mates, they want someone they can control. They go for weak people just to meet the constitutional requirements,” says Manyora.

He argues that people with strong political muscles do not sit pretty to wait for endorsement from certain quarters, they fight for their own space.

“If you are a strong person don’t wait for your boss to endorse you. The governors don’t give their deputies any serious assignment to prevent them from overshadowing them,” he adds.

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