April 27th 2017

Top Stories / 2017 Elections

Money, clan clash as Homa Bay governors race starts in earnest

The governor launched the project without any idea where funds for it would come from, and without any study as to its viability. Some projects that have been successfully implemented ended up to be white elephants or conduits for looting taxpayers' money.

By Free Press Correspondentnewsdesk@kenyafreepress.comMonday, 31 Oct 2016 11:54 EAT

Police officers battle contractors demonstrating at the Homa Bay county headquarters last weekend over non-payment for their goods.

Campaigns for the Homa Bay governor's seat have reached top gear with a full year still to go before the next general elections. Three candidates have emerged to challenge incumbent governor Cyprian Awiti, namely former intelligence official Sam Wakiaga, current Kasipul MP Oyugi Magwanga and Enosh Bolo. The campaigns are unfolding against the backdrop of near universal recognition by keen political observers that Governor Awiti's administration has performed below par.

While the county has registered some achievements, such as road improvements in Ndhiwa, Karachuonyo and Rangwe among others, most projects have stalled, and corruption is at an all time high. The Auditor General has documented the loss of hundreds of millions of shillings at the county government, while many of the governor's well-publicised projects have come to naught, key among which is the Sh600 billion Agri-City which he claimed would change the economic profile of the county.

Some projects that have been successfully implemented ended up being white elephants or conduits for looting taxpayers' money. For example, a programme to establish hatcheries in all wards saw the diversion of funds to groups that hadn't been vetted for the programme as required or connected individuals. The governor's penchant for launching projects before feasibility studies has seen operations stall at the Oyugis Market. Several months ago, the county administration fenced off the market to allow for construction works. According to the local traders' chairman, no work has been done in the market to date.

These failures are compounded by rampant corruption in the county whose top officials flaunt their wealth in luxurious cars and leisurely expenditures. Some CEC members and MCAs have openly boasted to critics that corruption is part of governance in Kenya and nothing would happen to them. The officers in question are alleged to have bought prime properties in Kisumu and Migori towns, in addition to building lavish homes in Homa Bay County.

Agents from the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission have combed through the county's accounts thrice in the past two years, but no criminal charges have come out of the investigations, leading workers and local anti-corruption campaigners to believe that the sleuths have been bought off. With such inaction, voters are looking forward to the election as the ultimate arbiter on the governance challenges facing the county, and from the look of things the governor and a significant number of MCAs could be shown the exit door.

In the 2013 elections, two leading camps emerged fronted by former Immigration Minister Otieno Kajwang and former Rangwe MP Phillip Okundi. The Kajwang camp comprised of many of the elected leaders from Homa Bay at the time, including MPs John Mbadi (Gwassi), Oyugi Magwanga (Kasipul Kabondo) and Agostinho Neto (Ndhiwa), and it formed the alliance that went to win all the seats in the region. In making the line-up, Kajwang reserved the senate seat for himself and roped in Cyprian Awiti as the governor against Eng. Okundi.

The leaders agreed on an unwritten pact whereby the Suba people (Mbita and Gwassi) produced the senator, Rangwe had the women representative, Rachuonyo (including Karachuonyo, Kasipul and Kabondo Sub-county) took the governor's position while Ndhiwa took the deputy governorship. Accordingly, Kajwang became the senator, Gladys Wanga the first women representative and Hamilton Orata the deputy governor.

Among current candidates, Mr Wakiaga is from Suba while Mr Magwanga is from Rachuonyo and Mr Bolo from Rangwe. The future of that MoU is being challenged by Governor Awiti's critics who say it was a gentleman's pact between the candidates at the time and that the next governor should come from any area that has a suitable candidate. The governor's supporters have struck to the MoU, going to the extent of touting the county's voter registration figures as a basis for its formulation in 2013. Rachuonyo has nearly half the voters in Homa Bay County, followed by Homa Bay (Ndhiwa and Rangwe) while Suba (Mbita and Suba) have the lowest numbers.

Local analysts contacted by the Kenya Free Press believe the pro-Awiti camp is relying on the numbers as a strategy to defeat debate on his performance. His team wants the current county leadership retained, with Mr Awiti as governor, Ms Wanga as women representative and Mr Moses Kajwang (who succeeded his late brother) as senator. With the latter two officials sort of assured of their positions in the Awiti camp, Mr Kajwang doesn't pay much attention to new alliances being forged, and Ms Wanga (who leads ODM in Homa Bay) has moonlighted with all camps.

Awiti faces a tought fight, with evidence of his administration's failures mounting as election approaches. A week ago, an expected mother died at the Homa Bay Referral Hospital ostensibly as there was no stock in the bloodbank at both the main hospital and Rachuonyo Sub County Hospital in Oyugis. A political activist, Vincent Osaso, says that Awiti should not waste his “time and looted resources campaigning because our people are fed up with impunity, corruption and open theft.”

However, the race is not as clear-cut as that. The key question for voters is competence, and on that subject many locals are wrried that none of the candidates that have come up has the required experience to manage a county administration. The only one who comes close to having some experience in a political position is Mr Magwanga, who has been praised for better use of constituency development funds than any other MP in Nyanza for two terms.

Perhaps lacking the self-assuredness required for the position, the MP has campaigned only minimally, leaving his supporters confused as to whether he would run for the governorship or defend his parliamentary seat. He also is challenged by propaganda of the Awiti camp that he was out to divide the governor's vote as a way of handing the post to Mr Wakiaga in the case of a hotly-contested nomination. It is also believed that he is intimidated by the massive resources that Awiti and Wakiaga have set aside for the campaigns.

Mr Wakiaga is the one who has campaigned the most, but he is struggling to earn the voters' confidence. There is a deep-rooted suspicion about the candidate's connection with top government leaders from the last decade when he was reported to be interested in the Mbita parliamentary seat then held by Kajwang. To this day, some voters see him as some kind of Trojan horse in ODM. He has also not persuaded voters in Suba that he can indeed win the seat, leaving the people conflicted about hitching on a candidate that would make them lose even the senator's seat they now have.

Such worries were amplified last week when no less a person than Suba MP John Mbadi said Mr Wakiaga would better run for a senate position. Mr Wakiaga charged back, accusing the ODM national chairman of spreading propaganda. “I want to assure you I am in the race for governor. And I want to tell Mbadi to stop lies that I am vying for seats which I am not interested in,” The Star reported him as saying, during his campaign tour at Sindo where his governor's bid was endorsed by Suba elders.

An insider in Mr Wakiaga's campaign team shared a dilemna facing the candidate, whereby his efforts to win the confidence of his Suba people have created a perception that he has concentrated his efforts only among the Suba. He is also beset by concerns that he is using excessive money in politics, with his meetings marked by big motorcades, heavy presence of hangers-on, bouncers and other handlers. However, the insider said his boss was only "meeting fire with fire", alluding to huge resources Mr Awiti had amassed for his re-election bid.

Notwithstanding the immediate interests of Governor Awiti and Mr Wakiaga in this election, the 2013 power-sharing pact has become a major fact of Homa Bay politics, with myth-making around it that, like all political myths, would require an extraordinarily gifted candidate to destroy.

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