The gubernatorial contest in Kisii county to succeed Governor James Ongwae in 2022 will attract candidates from five out of the six clans in the region; Bobasi, Bomachoge, Bogirango, Bogetutu and Nyaribari Ongwae has performed well and whoever he will support is likely to be a frontrunner.
Several factors will determine the winning candidate. Coalitions of an inclusive lineup, influential candidates for the deputy governor, senator and women representative from the populous clans stand a good chance. In 2017, the Nasa coalition under Governor Ongwae of the Bogetutu clan retained Joash Maangi of Bomachoge as his deputy. Sam Ongeri from Nyaribari was picked as senator and Janet Ong’era of Bobasi as women representative. After Ongwae secured the second term, he picked David Kombo from South Mugirango for county speaker leaving out Bonchari clan without any major seat in the power-sharing matrix.
In advanced democracies, money can play a role in winning an election but, it is a candidate’s policies that count most. Kisii residents face many challenges related to infrastructure, water, mismanagement of the tea sector and unemployment but, they rarely vote for candidates based on their capacity to address these challenges but how well a candidate is endowed financially. During political campaigns, these Swahili saying is very common from voters, “mkono mtupu haulambwi” (you can’t lick an empty hand). The candidates who dish more money usually win.
Cabinet secretary Fred Matiang’i, who enjoys massive influence in the Jubilee government from Gusiiland will play a pivotal role in shaping the destiny of the county leadership of Kisii and Nyamira plus the region’s 13 constituencies in 2022. Deputy governor Joash Maangi, who is also the regional overseer of the Tangatanga movement from Bomachoge clan, will fight it out to inherit the governor’s seat after deputizing Ongwae for two terms. Time will tell if the Bogetutu clan of Ongwae will reciprocate and reward Maangi for the loyalty he has exhibited to their son since they first won in 2013.
Maangi’s good campaigning experience might boost his bid. He has also tapped the support of former Kisii county ODM chairman Samuel Omwando and Bobaracho ward MCA Ibrahim Ongubo who are great mobilizers in Kisii town- the heartland of Kisii politics. “I’m an open-minded servant of our county. I thrive on honesty and fair play. What I hate is being a people-pleaser and dwelling on political pettiness,” says Maangi while exuding confidence to capture the county seat in 2022. So far apart from Maangi, nobody has expressed interest to vie for governor from the populous Bomachoge clan which has two constituencies-Bomachoge Borabu and Bomachoge Chache.
In Nyaribari clan, Senator Ongeri will face it off with his clanmate and MP for Nyaribari Masaba, Ezekiel Machogu. Machogu has a rich experience in provincial administration and unlike Ongeri; he is relatively younger and more resourced to run a formidable campaign. Ongeri enjoys goodwill from Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga. However, some locals argue that voting for the senator is perpetuating Ongwae’s “eating” legacy. Ongwae, who is a bosom buddy of Ongeri, is often associated with corruption and nepotism in the county since he took office in 2013. The most viable winning formula for Ongeri is picking a running mate like Momoima Onyonka, the MP for Kitutu Chache South.
Onyonka who often roars into victory irrespective of party dynamics to the surprise of many has great oratorical and campaigning skills. If he runs, he will find it hard to convince other clans to vote for him since Ongwae, who is also from Bogetutu has served for two terms. Ongeri’s major limitations are his age and limited campaign resources. Otherwise, he has an impressive development record in the larger Kisii region. It is rumoured that a deal has been inked between former senator Chris Obure and Charles Nyachae to run as a joint ticket on Tangatanga of William Ruto. Obure who lost to Ongwae in 2017 will have Nyachae as running mate. Like Ongeri, Obure is disadvantaged due to old age.
However, he has an edge on clan dynamics, networking and political experience. Despite the fact that Dagoretti MP North Simba Arati has not officially announced his candidature, he has been sending signals on the ground that he will vie. However, older voters view Arati as a governor of the future. The Dagoretti MP has superb mobilization skills and enjoys a sizeable following amongst the youth. Campaigning as governor in a rural setting with nine constituencies will be no mean feat for Arati who is used to urban campaigns. On women candidates, rather than affirmative action seats, women in Gusiiland find it hard to make headway in political contests.
It remains to be seen how Janet Ong’era, the Kisii women representative who has a rich resume in public service will fair on if she joins the contest. One of Ong’era’s signature achievements in politics is her effective management of ODM which catapulted the party to garner seats in the national assembly in 2007. Voters say Ong’era is affable, motherly and interacts with constituents. In Kisii town, she is often referred to as Mama Christmas because of sharing goodies with vulnerable groups every festive season. If Ongeri picks Ong’era as running mate, the ticket will be as formidable as picking Onyonka.
In South Mugirango, Omingo Magara and Manson Oyongo who are party leaders of the People’s Democratic Party and Kenya National Congress respectively will fight it out to succeed Ongwae. Voters say that Magara often makes political miscalculations that portray him as greedy and an opportunist. For Oyongo, he lacks networking skills despite having a solid development record when he served as South Mugirango MP. If Oyongo decides to forego his gubernatorial bid to run as MP, he will give Sylvanus Osoro, the current area MP a run for his money. In Bonchari constituency with about 70,000 registered voters, the locals say they are always shortchanged by bigger clans.
In 2022, they want the region to go for nothing less than the deputy governor or senator. A notable figure touted as a potential senator from the clan is Geoffrey Mogire, who is a former executive officer of Knut. He has deep ground networks and currently serves as Kisii county chief officer. It remains to be seen how the contest will play out to replace Ongwae who has a good rapport with the national government despite being viewed locally as corrupt, insincere, and dishonest with no signature project to safeguard a legacy since he became the governor in 2013.