It has been billed as the mother of all elections in the recent times in the Kalenjin nation.
The battle for Uasin Gishu, Deputy President William Ruto’s home turf, gubernatorial race is proving to be a battle of Titans pitting the incumbent Jackson Mandago against business magnate Zedekiah Bundotich, popularly known as Buzeki.
Others in the contest for the control of the cosmopolitan county are Dr Edward Serem and Felix Butit. But the face-off has turned into a two-horse race between Mandago and Buzeki. Buzeki is giving Mandago a run for his money for the Jubilee ticket and has been branded a ‘project’ being pushed by some powerful individuals. He has however shrugged off the project tag.
Since the Deputy President launched an epic campaign to trounce the then all-powerful Kanu stalwart and Eldoret North MP Reuben Chesire two decades ago, the regional politics have never been hotly contested as now. Ruto then clinched the elections even though retired President Daniel arap Moi personally campaigned for Chesire, warning residents against voting for Ruto.
Buzeki has launched a cut-throat and well-oiled campaign, complete with fleets of branded trucks and top-of-the range vehicles fitted with blaring music. He also has choppers. Debate among the supporters of the two aspirants has on several occasions turned chaotic with their followers pelting each other with stones and tearing up of campaign materials.
The political temperatures in the gubernatorial race have further been heightened by claims that some of Ruto’s aides have crafted a secret list of preferred candidates to take up different positions in the region, even though the DP has said he has no preferred candidate. Mandago and Kapsaret MP, Oscar Sudi, have warned that they will resist any attempt to rig the nominations following reports that Buzeki is the establishment’s preferred candidate.
The county is a cosmopolitan region made up of six constituencies and over 450,000 registered votes. Nandi community is predominant and the power brokers and wealthy businessmen in the region want the reins of power to remain with them.
Whipping residents emotions by invoking their ethnicity has also been witnessed. Mandago comes from the Nandi, while Buzeki is from the Keiyo community.
Controversial Uasin Gishu farmer-cum-politician Jackson Kibor asked the locals to re-elect Mandago: “People of Nandi, re-elect Mandago because the governor’s seat belongs to the Nandi sub-tribe as it is the most populous ethnic tribe in Uasin Gishu.” Mandago is viewed as more independent and aggressive and intolerant to other tribes, which has earned him friends and foes in equal measure. This was witnessed when he led other leaders from the region demanding the appointment of Professor Isaack Koskei as vice chancellor of Moi University instead of Professor Laban Ayiro.
“Before the entry of Buzeki, governor Mandago had ‘declared’ himself the county’s de facto leader, even before the General Election. He had dismissed his earlier competitors as weaklings without political networks,” said Sammy Kiplagat, a resident from Moiben Constituency.
Zephaniah Yego, a political analyst and an advocate of the High Court, says that coalescing around communities manifested itself as aspirants went on with their grassroots mobilisation.
“Buzeki comes in with the Keiyo and other communities who feel discriminated against by the incumbent administration. Even though Mandago commands four constituencies which are predominantly Nandi, he has a herculean task in defending his seat,” said Yego. Whereas Mandago has an advantage of incumbency with a development record which he will list to the electorate in seeking votes, Buzeki on the other hand appeals to those who feel they have not benefitted from Mandago’s administration and wish for an alternative leader with an enormous network of investors around the globe.