Kisii succession complex as Ongwae demands a say

Governor transformed from suave civil servant of a decade ago to a battle-hardened soldier

In Summary

•For three weeks, the governor had been holding secret meetings in a last-ditch attempt to scramble a credible succession team ahead of the August 2022 polls.

• Analysts say Ongwae has transformed from the suave civil servant of a decade ago to a battle-hardened soldier keen to decide who will fill his shoes.

Governor James Ongwae receives defectors to ODM.
ODM TROOPS: Governor James Ongwae receives defectors to ODM.

The race for the Kisii governorship has heated up and county boss James Ongwae wants to have a major role in deciding who will succeed him.

The governor is leading succession talks and seeking to strike a balance between ODM party politics and regional clan politics.

For three weeks, the governor has been holding secret meetings in a last-ditch effort to scramble a credible succession team ahead of the general election nine months away.

Analysts say Ongwae has transformed from the suave civil servant of a decade ago to a battle-hardened soldier keen to play a major role in his succession.

The ODM leadership is said to be planning to give him a national seat if Raila Odinga wins the presidential contest.

Many political figures are lining up to succeed him.

His preferred successors are said to be Senator Prof Sam Ongeri, Deputy Governor Joash Maangi and Woman Representatives Janet Ong'era.

Ongeri and Ong'era were in Ongwae's ODM winning lineup in 2017. Maangi is flip-flopping between ODM and UDA, which is linked to Deputy President William Ruto.

Kisii Governor James Ongwae is keen to craft a long-term succession line-up that consists of all three allies.

He has persuaded Maangi back from UDA to ODM  as  part of his succession matrix.

The three had already rolled up their sleeves to go for the governorship.

Some may have to climb down from their bids so that one would be picked to face off against Dagoretti North MP Simba Arati, former Bobasi MP Chris Obure and Nyaribari MP's  Ezekiel Machogu.

Maangi’s importance in the larger Kisii county succession debate is linked to the 90,000-vote strong Bomachoge block he commands.

Talks are underway in which he would run for senator, Ongera would defend her seat as woman representative and Ongeri would fight it out for the governorship.

The emergence of Dagoretti North MP Simba Arati and Chris Obure from the Bobasi clan appear to have seriously set back Ongera’s bid. The talks are aimed at prevailing on her to defend her seat, a source in the succession talks told the Star.

Ongeri hails from the 140,000 vote Nyaribari bloc in Kisii Central and he is said to have favour with the Bogetutu clan, courtesy of Ongwae political stalwarts who have begun to canvas for him.

The senator would, however, have to ward off cannibalism of his votes by the equally formidable MP Ezekiel Machogu, the Nyaribairi Masaba MP who appears to be determined be a candidate for governor.

Ongeri is said to be banking on his impressive performance  in the senator contests in 2013 and 2017.

He would be banking on past development projects he lobbied for while he was cabinet minister during the Moi era.

The fact that Ongeri came to Ongwae's support in 2017 when the governor faced stiff competition from then Kisii Senator Chris Obure gives Ongeri an edge in terms of reciprocity.

Obure had defected from ODM to Jubilee.

And lately, Ongeri has been traversing Kitutu Chache North constituency accompanied by Jimmy Angwenyi.

During a church function at Masakwe in Kitutu Chache North last Saturday, Angwenyi told the congregation  he has worked with Ongeri before and during the Moi regime. And he is poised to work with him again.

"While working as minister, Ongeri helped establish and expand many schools, hospitals and local authorities  in Kisii. He is also serving well as senator and whatever he needs again, let him tell us and we will support him," he said.

In Bogetutu, apart from Ongwae, it's Jimmy Angwenyi who also holds sway in political decisions among the Kitutu clan.

That's why Kitutu Chache MP Richard Onyonka, who is currently teaming up with Arati, has been on record saying in the fullness of time, he would still need political direction from Ongwae and Angwenyi.

Back to the county politics.

Governor Ongwae's decision to stamp his authority o the succession race may also be due the recent attacks on his administration by Dagoretti North MP Simba Arati.

Arati had been saying he wants Ongwae to "account for his sins while in the office," causing discomfort in the governor’s camp.

"The Governor wants at all cost to be felt in the succession matrix and whatever team he settles for will carry the day," Steve Nyarangi, the governor’s political adviser, said.

Arati’s team includes former Nyaribari Chache MP Simon Monda as running mate.

Kitutu Chache South MP Richard Onyonka says he may go for senator.

On Saturday, Deputy Governor Joash Maangi told the Star the relationship with his boss has been consistently intact.

"We have a warm relationship with him nothing has changed," he told the Star, brushing off succession talks to persuade him to climb down from his governorship bid.

He said he is still in the race.

In the event of Maangi going for senator, he would then be expected to deliver the 90,000-plus Bomachoge vote to the basket, suggesting his boss's possible endorsement.

Maangi appears to have brushed aside calls on him to vie for the Bomachoge Chache parliamentary seat.

"That would be the most stupid thing I could do," he told the Star in a text last week.

Meanwhile, campaigns for governorship are gathering steam as  aspirants visit churches over the weekends to galvanise support.

With Maangi back in ODM, DP Ruto has been left with former South Mugirango MP Omingo Magara as a potential candidate for governorship.

Though UDA still enjoys massive support at the grassroots, the DP does not have a team in place to manage his campaigns in the region. This deficiency could severely dent his support in the countdown to the polls.

Others expected in the race are former South Mugirango MP Manson Oyongo, Charles Matoke and Rachel Otundo.

(Edited by V. Graham)