Top Stories / 2017 Elections
Tuesday, 15 Nov 2016 15:57 EATnewsdesk@kenyafreepress.com
The Kericho governorship and senatorial races have drawn a constellation of political heavyweights which will make the county one of the most closely watched in the South Rift region in the run-up to the elections. Governor Paul Chepkwony (popularly known as Timbilwet) is facing a battle of his life, with a tough group of candidates who have come up to challenge him.
Among the governor’s critics, his performance is extremely questionable. But he has failed in to deliver many of his election promises. He had promised to revive the Kericho Show, but there’s nothing to show for his efforts four years down the line. He had also promised that the county government would provide free artificial insemination for dairy farmers but is yet to do that. Some also accuse him of not leading from the front in terms of giving political direction to the county.
Matters have been made worse by some of the governor’s own initiatives. For example, he took it upon himself to fight for the compensation of tea farmers by the British government for historical injustices, a task that even the national government has avoided since independence. He’s being judged by his limited success in that regard.
The governor’s supporters take a long term view, pointing to his successes in putting the systems for the county government. Staff hiring in Kericho has been hailed throughout the South Rift, with employees at the county government generally well reputed. Kericho County is among the bes-resourced in terms of manpower. Procurement systems are working efficiently, making the county less corrupt than neighbouring administrations in Baringo, Nakuru and Kisumu. Kericho is also much cleaner than before, together with other small towns. County revenue is properly collected and processed, unlike in other counties that have been running parallel systems after the transition.
The governor’s main handicap remains politics. Many vocal activists have not forgiven him for going against the wishes of deputy president William Ruto for much of the early days of devolution when he was closely allied with rebel Bomet governor Isaac Ruto. Ainamoi MP Benjamin Langat, a close ally of the deputy president, has declared he will run for the opposition and until recently was seen as enjoying the DP’s support.
During this year’s Mashujaa Day events, his supporters and rival supporters of Governor Chepkwony clashed at the Kericho Green Stadium. The MP’s supporters were chanting that the governor had failed to fulfil the promises he made in 2013. The MP has also run a relatively successful campaign to paint Governor Chepkwony as an enemy of the DP, claiming that he is among the supporters of Chama Cha Mashinani being fronted by Governor Ruto.
However, Mr Chepkwony has recently fought off those claims and stated that he is firmly in Jubilee Party. He has promised to lead the campaigns for President Uhuru Kenyatta and DP Ruto. He said he will soon launch ‘Operation Ruto’ to enable the DP to win the presidency in 2022.
Also in the race is former Roads minister Franklin Bett. The former minister’s undoing is his perceived political inconsistency. At a time when DP Ruto was engaged in battles with Prime Minister Raila Odinga in ODM, Mr Bett oscillated between the Odinga and Ruto camps. In the definitive 2013 election, he stayed out of elections and announced his retirement from politics. But he defected to Jubilee some time in 2015, and the following year, during the Kericho senatorial by-election in January, he joined the race until he lost the Jubilee Alliance Party nomination.
Mr Bett’s inconsistency did not end there. After current senator Aaron Cheruiyot (KKK) was declared the winner, Mr Bett joined other opponents in endorsing the result. But soon thereafter he claimed the outcome had not been free and fair, and he mostly stayed out of the campaign that saw Mr Cheruiyot become the senator. Now, in 2017, he has declared his interest in the governor’s position.
This notwithstanding, Mr Bett’s ambitions for the seat have received immense interest, in particular among voters from Buret, Soin and Sigowet areas and as far as Kipkelion. He would give Mr Chepkwony a run for his money in a two-horse raise.
Also running is Eng. Fred Kirui, a director with Kenya Ports Authority. The candidate launched his bid at a harambee graced by Energy cabinet secretary Charles Keter. Although Mr Langat’s relationship with the DP could boost his chances, some pundits already see the race as a three-way contest between Eng Kirui, Mr Bett and incumbent Chepkwony. Richard Langat, the former managing trustee of the National Social Security Fund, is also in the race but many observers see him as positioning himself as a potential running mate to one of the top aspirants.
In the senate contest, incumbent Aaron Cheruiyot who is barely a year into the job maintains the upper hand. He is widely popular among the voters owing to his oratory skills and his close links with DP Ruto, who championed his election in March. This is not to discount the challenges he has faced recently, with a number of young supporters expressing their disappointment with his leadership.
Some of the youths who had supported the senator say he is too superficial in his understanding of their needs. His former campaign coordinator in Cheboin Ward has described him as a big letdown. Some of the youths allege that the senator is still stuck in his by-election campaign, looking at people only in terms of being his supporters or opponents.
One youth leader in Kipkelion who spoke to the Kenya Free Press on condition of anonymity said that wherever the youths raise problems with the senator’s handlers, they are accused either of seeking money from him or of being used by the leader’s opponents. “What is wrong with seeking financial help from a leader is he’s the one you feel closest to?” he posed.
Some youths accused the senator of relying for his dealing with people on bloggers such as his assistant Victor Bor who block people with contrary views from reaching the leader. Mr Cheruiyot’s closest challenger Sammy Chepkwony, known popularly as Motiriyot, is increasingly popular but he has a steep hill to climb to beat the incumbent.