Top Stories / 2017 Elections
Sunday, 18 Dec 2016 14:09 EATnewsdesk@kenyafreepress.com
CORD leader Raila Odinga’s visit to Vihiga County this weekend has raised the stakes for the local gubernatorial contest and given a boost to Emuhaya MP Wilbur Otichillo. For months, the race has been seen as a three-horse contest between incumbent Moses Akaranga, Vihiga MP Yusuf Chanzu and Dr Otichillo.
And rarely for a hotly-contested gubernatorial seat, the three aspirants are in different parties, with Mr Akaranga leading his own Progressive Party of Kenya (PPK), Chanzu being in Amani National Congress (ANC) and Otichillo in ODM. A fourth aspirant, Dr Helen Otolo, has said she will run as an independent.
The race was for long seen as Mr Akaranga’s to lose, with Chanzu and Otichillo having been beset by challenges of identifying the political parties they would use to run for the position. In Mr Chanzu’s case, he is a member of Musalia Mudavadi’s ANC which has morphed from the UDF party of 2013 elections. Likewise, Mr Otichillo toyed with the idea of decamping from ODM for years, in solidarity with other Luyia leaders.
Mr Akaranga’s advantage was also based on the fact that he is the first governor and, despite teething challenges, has done a lot to improve the standards of life for the residents. The county has tarmacked 75 kilometres of rural roads. Mr Akaranga’s administration has also seen the establishment of the first university in Vihiga. He has refurbished early childhood education centres, dispensaries, youth polytechnics, and improved service delivery at Mbale Referral Hospital.
The governor also has his own party and thus has not had to go around shopping for an election vehicle like did Mr Chanzu and Dr Otichillo. In fact, early this year he appointed a campaign manager to plan his re-election. His electoral strategy is to win the populous Maragoli vote, divide the Abanyore and get top up votes from the smaller Tiriki sub-tribe. For the Maragoli, he has been negotiating a deal with Mudavadi’s ANC where the party would not support gubernatorial and local assembly candidates. This didn’t go well with Mr Chanzu. The governor also plans to support a senate aspirant from Hamisi.
However, it is the Abanyore vote that is giving Mr Akaranga sleepless nights, especially should the ANC go ahead and field Mr Chanzu. The governor has devised a strategy of giving more clout in his re-election effort to Abanyore leaders. Though he intends to drop his current deputy Caleb Amaswache, the governor has assured his Abanyore allies that his next deputy would still come from the community. In addition, both his chief strategist for re-election and the campaign manager are from Bunyore. It is also believed that he is the one who has ‘planted’ Dr Otolo in the race to divide the Abanyore vote, a claim the aspirant has rejected.
The main danger facing Mr Akaranga’s ethnic arithmetic is a potential opposition coalition bringing together the ANC and ODM together in NASA. The alliance would upend the governor’s game plan and turn him to a fringe candidate overnight, as the coalition’s ticket would most likely be won by either Mr Otichillo or Mr Chanzu.
However, the unfolding alliance favours Mr Otichillo for two reasons. First, he is the better opposition leader in the region, with influence transcending his own constituency unlike Mr Chanzu who is yet to broaden his base despite his longevity in electoral politics. Secondly, Mr Otichillo’s supporters have spread the message of his being a proven leader, given the way his constituency fund management has topped in Vihiga since his first term.
Dr Otichillo's management experience has enabled his campaign to gain wide acceptance across the county with the youths and enlightened voters concerned about corruption in the county government trooping to his side. A third factor is his closeness to the CORD leader despite rumours that he would defect from ODM in 2015 when western Kenya leaders expressed their disaffection with the party. When Mr Odinga visited the region, he arrived in the same chopper with Mr Otichillo and ODM youth leader Ben Ombima at Mumboa School.
Mr Odinga was in the region for the burial of Mzee Nathan Muyera, the father of Engineer George Muyera, the ODM coordinator in Vihiga. Knowing Dr Otichillo's favourable ratings, Mr Odinga spent his energies mocking President Uhuru Kenyatta’s tour of the Western Kenya region earlier in the week and highlighting local issues only in passing.
The former prime minister said Uhuru and his deputy William Ruto were “conmen” who had gone to Kakamega and Bungoma counties to hoodwink the people in order to receive votes. “The so-called development projects will never be implemented. Why start launching projects now yet you had a whole four years to do this? Stop cheating our people,” said Mr Odinga, who briefly highlighted the role of county governments in local development.