Top Stories / 2017 Elections
Friday, 11 Nov 2016 14:20 EATnewsdesk@kenyafreepress.com
Campaigning for the 2017 elections has reached fever pitch in Taita Taveta County, with dozens of aspirants declaring interest for county-wide seats including the governorship, senatorial and women representative positions. The county, which voted solidly for the Orange Democratic Movement in 2013, could see a number of candidates elected on other party tickets this time around given the prevalent apprehension by leading candidates that the party’s nominations may not be free and fair.
ODM-allied parties like the Wiper Democratic Movement could get a slice of the seats this time as the CORD coalition remains the most popular in the region, judging by local opinion surveys and party affiliation of the leading contenders. Jubilee is also making inroads, in part due to the grassroots networks of Taveta MP Naomi Shabaan, who has twice braved the ODM wave to win her seat on the Kanu ticket, and media businessman Granton Samboja, who has campaigned heavily in the region since selling his Milele FM radio station to President Uhuru Kenyatta five years ago.
Several candidates have declared interest in the governor’s position, with incumbent John Mruttu facing stiff challenge from Senator Dan Mwazo (who has not publicly launched his campaigns), Wundanyi MP Thomas Mwadegu, and former CBK deputy governor Jacinta Mwatela on the ODM side. The latter ran against Mr Mruttu in the 2013 elections, and to this day her supporters believe she was cheated of the ODM nomination. After the controversial nominations, she defected to the Wiper Party and lost in the main election by less than 2,000 votes, a mark of how popular she was.
On the Jubilee side are Mr Samboja, who is an operations director of Kenyatta family-owned Mediamax which includes K24 TV, Milele FM, Kameme Radio among others. There is also Jared Nzano, who is a fringe candidate. Some local analysts believe Senator Mwazo could defect from ODM and contest the seat as the Jubilee candidate. The senator’s main concern, were he to do so, would be fear over ODM nominations for the seat. Like his other colleagues in the senate, Mr Mwazo has been critical of the local governor and has used his position to demand accountability for devolved funds in a way that advanced his own electoral interests.
The close relationship between ODM leader Raila Odinga and the local governor has sent chills down the spine of many an aspirant who would want to oust Mruttu. However, Mr Mwadegu believes the fear is exaggerated and ODM would give the ticket to whoever is elected by the voters. Still, the concern could be costing the ODM leader local votes since three key candidates running for the senate and women representative positions have indicated their intentions to run on a third party unless Mr Odinga himself can assure the aspirants of free and fair elections.
"One senate aspirant has taken the Wiper ticket, another is shopping for a small party, while a leading women representative candidate is also shopping for a ticket," a Voi-based journalist informed the Kenya Free Press during the research for this article. The main concern the voters have with ODM is that Mr Odinga abets corruption in the Taita Taveta county government. Mr Odinga is generally supportive of CORD governors, and last month the Kenya Free Press reported that his party has considered offering the governors automatic re-election tickets.
Several local activists have urged him to take a firm line against Mruttu, whose government has been accused of high level corruption and incompetence. However, one of Raila’s diehard supporters in the region, Victor Mwambi, holds a contrary view: “It is up to us to fight for accountability at the county level. If funds get stolen, we cannot wait for Raila to come from Nairobi to deal with it. Raila is dealing with the big fish, let’s deal with the small ones at county level without dragging Raila’s name into it.”
In addition to considerations over the governor's performance, the county has a formidable power-sharing agreement that was agreed in 2013 between the Taita, Taveta and Sagala, when the governor’s post went to a Taveta while the senate went to a Sagala. Now, the Taitas, who are the majority, say Mruttu has failed and the seat should cross to the other side, hence Mr Mwadegu’s candidature, but the Tavetas who support Mruttu argue the pact was for two terms. Mr Mwazo is a Sagala.
Also evident is a determination by young leaders to wrestle power from older politicians whose performance is seen as below par. All seats have attracted younger aspirants, but the craving for young blood is stronger in the race for the senate seat exepcted to be vacated by Mr Mwazo. Aspirants here include Eng. Elijah Mwandoe, the current minister for industrialization in the Taita Taveta County government. He is running on the Wiper ticket, of which he is the county leader.
As the election nears, Mr Mwandoe has taken active interest in Wiper Party matters as a way of building his brand. He was among the local leaders who were coordinating Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka’s visit to the region tomorrow Saturday 12th. The main challenge he faces is that many voters consider him as part and parcel of the corrupt and failed Mruttu government. So, even though serving in the local community over the last four years has given him easy access to the electorate, his campaign is yet to gain traction across the county.
So far, the strongest senatorial candidate is Mwalimu Jones Mwaruma, a teacher whose candidature has gained enthusiastic support among youth people. Mr Mwaruma is a part-time lecturer at Taita Taveta University. He has taught at many schools including St. Mary's High School Lushangonyi and is currently based at Voi Girls. His main focus even before his political interests came about has been education, where he has initiated and participated in many programmes that helped take several students to universities and colleges. Most recently, he has rallied his friends to adopt Werugha Primary School which they have been helping through donations.
His candidature has also won the support of teachers, for whom he has served as the executive secretary for the Kenya National Union of Teachers in Taita Taveta. He has also used school network, in particular his connection with teachers, former students in the many schools he has served and former schoolmates at Kenyatta High School in Mwatate. The aspirant enjoys wide support from both Taita and Taveta given that he was born in Wundanyi but has settled in Voi. Being a government employee, he has not campaigned directly for the seat as he will be expected to resign next year, but his influenced has been felt in Taveta, Sagalla, Wundanyi, Ngerenyi, Kishushe and Voi among other areas.
There is also Stephen Mwadime, a recent Kenyatta University graduate who served as a student leader in the college. Mr Mwadime is popular among the youths, though not many other age groups consider him as serious contender in the current campaigns. He is a recognized ODM supporter and is recognized nationally in the party’s youth league. A local teacher in Wundanyi, who knows Mr Mwadime's family, said the young politician could better sit out of the senatorial contest but identify a niche role in the ODM in Taita Taveta or nationally and prepare himself for future leadership.
The race for women representative has attracted six candidates, including the incumbent Joyce Lay who is defending her seat. The other five include Hope Anisa Mwakio, a former mayor of Voi Town who is currently a nominated MCA in ODM. Many consider her the undisputed frontrunner. Rozeina Kisochi, who is also a nominated MCA, will also run on ODM. Then there is Anna Kina of the Jubilee Alliance, as is former Voi councilor Priscilla Mwangeka and Janet Mwawasi. The position will likely go to Ms Mwakio, unless the power-sharing between the Taveta, Sagala and Taita went against her.