Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago is a besieged man. At least that is what comes out in his energetic machinations against the onslaught of his arch-enemy, Zedekiah Kiprop Bundotich, better known as Buzeki.
Buzeki has been cleared by the IEBC to challenge Mandago for the Uasin Gishu gubernatorial seat as an Independent. This comes only weeks after Mandago had floored him in the Jubilee primaries and indeed had breathed a sigh of relief, which wasn’t to last long. During the Jubilee primaries, Mandago had brought in ‘reinforcements’ in the names of Oscar Sudi, who was fighting for his Kapseret parliamentary seat and Alfred Keter from neighbouring Nandi county, to help him fight the very well-financed Buzeki juggernaut.
Being a rather poor orator and an unconvincing public debater, Mandago has appointed Keter and Sudi as his lieutenants in the battle against Buzeki. Keter has an extraordinary gift of the gab and is an excellent campaigner and crowd mover, especially when he is speaking in his native Nandi tongue. Mandago on the other hand speaks like the headmaster of yesteryear, wielding a stick ready to beat someone. What has shocked the nation is how he has managed to drag the name of Deputy President William Ruto into his problems and is now even threatening to mobilize against Jubilee.
Mandago is treading on a very tight and demographically unique election. Uasin Gishu is a county of migrants. There is hardly anyone who can claim that their ancestry in Uasin Gishu dates more than a century, except perhaps the Indians and a handful of remaining European settlers. Uasin Gishu as a district was established as a predominantly European settler area, with very few Africans living there. When the first Europeans arrived in 1903, they were mainly Dutch-speaking Afrikaner farmers from South Africa who took up huge tracts of land for themselves. The Boers generally kept relations with Africans at arms length. The Wasin Nkishu Maasai were pushed away to Kilgoris, leaving behind only their name. They also pushed away the few Kalenjins in the area, especially when, in January 1912, two of them – araap Saiwa and araap Chemorua – lured an unsuspecting Afrikaner settler farmer, Bon van Breda, into the bush and speared him to death.
The entire county, which sits on the Uasin Gishu Plateau, was then designated exclusive European farming country, with few, if any, African colonial-era chiefs. It was only the need for labour that allowed squatters to live on their farms and so Keiyos and Marakwet from neighbouring Elgeyo-Marakwet were encouraged to move in as were the Nandi from further South. There was also a considerable number of Luhya and Kikuyu migrant workers who came in during the colonial period.
At Independence, Uasin Gishu was up for grabs for anyone who had the money. Many Nandis came in to take over the European farms, as did the Keiyo. Not to be left behind, the Kikuyus organized, through land-buying companies, to settle in Uasin Gishu and this wasn’t without ethnic tensions. Nandis who were close by, frantically sold their land and livestock with the hope of getting bigger land in Uasin Gishu. Prominent early Nandi settlers of Uasin Gishu included Malakwen araap Sisiwa aka Kimuringor, Isaac Kosgey, Paul Kiplimo Boit, Noah Chelugui, William Morogo Saina, Kapting’ei araap Tuwei (who later became MP for Eldoret South), among others. The Keiyo on the other hand were led into Uasin Gishu by Kite araap Tiren (father of Moiben MP Silas Tiren), John Kibogy, Charles Murgor and Jackson Kibor, among others.
WHY MANDAGO IS SCARED STIFF
Demographically, among the Kalenjins, the Nandi are the majority at 60 per cent, followed by the Keiyo and Marakwet, including nearly all other Kalenjin sub-ethnic groups making up the remaining 40 per cent. The non-Kalenjins form about 23 per cent of the total population, with the Kikuyus and Luhyas being the majority. At the last registration, Uasin Gishu has 460,000 registered voters. Using the above demographics then there is an estimated 105,000 voters that are non-Nandi migrants. Mandago, a Nandi, had appointed a Keiyo – Daniel Kiprotich Chepno – as his running mate. Buzeki is a Keiyo and his wife Kikuyu, and has appointed a Nandi as running mate. If the Keiyo vote for Buzeki and the Kikuyu vote for their in-law, then indeed Mandago has a real reason to be scared because of the split Nandi vote. Besides, the Nandi of Uasin Gishu are rather detribalized and they are not exactly looking at Mandago strictly as one of their own. Mandago’s strength therefore was to ride on the Jubilee Party ticket, but it is increasingly apparent that he might still lose in spite of it.
TIPPING THE BALANCE
After antagonising the migrant communities in his sometimes careless talk and actions, Mandago has made himself unpopular among them. It is clear to all that they are likely to tip the balance against him. Mandago’s careless actions began when he actively played down the bid by a local Kikuyu leaders bidding for the deputy governor position. They stated that they had been in the county for over 50 years and had contributed immensely to the economic development of the county. They cited neighbouring Nakuru county, in which the majority Kikuyu have a Kalenjin deputy governor and also Trans Nzoia and Bungoma, where the majority Luhya had Kalenjins as DGs. Huruma MCA Peter Chomba was seen as the likely contender for the position. Mandago was deaf to those arguments in what appeared to be ethnic chauvinism on his part. However, when Buzeki, who has close Kikuyu relatives, came into the picture, things suddenly changed. Deputy President Ruto himself has close Kikuyu relatives, his sister is married to a Kikuyu.
WHY UASIN GISHU VOTE TRANSCENDS PARTY
Long starved of leadership, the Kikuyu will want to see Buzeki become governor. Such outfits as the recently formed Kikuyu Elders’ Welfare Association, led by Samuel wa Kabari of Yamumbi, are seen as part of that effort to rebuild Kikuyu influence in Uasin Gishu after being badly hit by the post-election violence of 2007/8. Mandago has a few Kikuyu allies, including prominent businessman Joseph Wainaina. Other than Chomba, the Langas MCA Francis Muya is likely throw his weight behind Buzeki as will the NASA-leaning Luhya, who have been treated coldly after one of their own – Kevin Okwara – won the Turbo constituency Jubilee ticket.
THE YOUTH VOTE
The youth vote and the urban elite is another very important factor worrying Mandago. Seventy per cent of Uasin Gishu are young people below 23 and they often are in need of jobs and a toehold in life. These demographics tend to be attracted to self-made individuals and rags-to-riches stories that mirror their own. For that, Buzeki is their man. Besides, Buzeki has brought in Samuel Cheruiyot, a soft-spoken Nandi professional, as running mate. Samson Cheruiyot, a graduate of the University of Eastern Africa Baraton (just like deputy Governor Daniel Chemno), is bringing to the Buzeki ticket the vibrancy of youth. Chemno, on the other hand, at 53, is older than the governor by nearly a decade.
WHY NASA IS SMILING FROM A DISTANCE
Mandago’s meeting this week in the Eldoret CBD in which he was breathing fire against Buzeki’s bid, has massively raised ethnic tensions in the area. The area was the epicentre of the post-election violence that rocked the country in 2007/8. The end of the violence saw the ICC trials that crafted a fragile but formidable Kalenjin-Kikuyu alliance that swept the national polls in 2013. It was the ICC cloud that buoyed Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto into power with the understanding that the Kikuyu will back Ruto in 2022. However, soon after coming to power, the same threat of violence is likely to unravel the fragile union much to the detriment of Ruto’s bid in 2022. In fact, it may be NASA’s biggest boon as it could be the key to weakening Jubilee’s grip on the Rift Valley. NASA has tried almost desperately to break the Kikuyu-Kalenjin bond, including casting aspersions on whether indeed the Kikuyu will keep their end of the bargain in 2022 to support Ruto. Now, Mandago is doing it for them for free! This has got Ruto worried, if indeed an alliance of his generals is going to turn against him. Keter, Sudi and now Mandago are plotting to mobilise the Kalenjins to vote NASA if Buzeki does now withdraw his bid.
CALLING MANDAGO’S BLUFF
Mandago has positioned himself as promoter of ethnic nationalism. From leading an onslaught against the Moi University’s non-Kalenjin Vice Chancellor to frustrating Kikuyu interests in Eldoret town, he has not left anyone guessing where his heart and mind is. Almost needless to say, he has few Kikuyu friends, except, of course, Wainaina, who is eyeing an MCA position. Mandago made the prominent mistake of ignoring Turbo constituency, which is the largest constituency in Uasin Gishu county, with a majority Nandi population and a considerable non-Nandi population. Turbo got the least attention of his governorship and is also whence the Deputy President comes from. He has therefore come out quite unpopular in that region. Buzeki is therefore confidently calling Mandago’s bluff. He has cleverly selected his running mate from Turbo constituency, which ups the ante against Mandago. Samson Cheruiyot comes from a well-known Nandi family of Turbo.
ETHNIC MATH AS A ZERO-SUM
There is in a sense political ‘fatalism’ on the part of the Nandi of Uasin Gishu when it comes to ethnic considerations. Uasin Gishu is indeed the ethnic chauvinist’s worst nightmare. The fact that Gladys Boss Shollei, a Keiyo, won the Woman Rep ticket in Jubilee means that the Nandi voted for her overwhelmingly. Even the Senate ticket was taken by Prof Margaret Kamar, also a Keiyo, who beat a Nandi incumbent. These are countywide seats that should ordinarily be won by a Nandi. Pressure will now be on the Nandi to ensure that Mandago, one of their own, remains Governor. However, ethnic, racial, gender arithmetic has never been known to sway them, even voting India-born ‘Kiprop’ Mishra as Kesses MP. In 1974 they shocked Kenya by voting Chelagat Mutai, young, unmarried, born outside Uasin Gishu, yet at 24 she beat 11 men on the ballot! Sudi of Kapseret is a Marakwet while Jubilee nominee Okwara of Turbo is a Luhya. These are predominantly Nandi constituencies but have representations from people from further away. Knowing this about the Nandi, Mandago is understandably insecure about his position, which is why he has hired some political guns.
Mandago is not leaving anything to chance. He has hired a number of political mercenaries to fight his battles for him. Sudi, a Marakwet, is keen to ride on Mandago’s ‘Nandi-nationalism’ for the sake of his Kapseret seat, which is predominantly Nandi. Mandago is also playing to the gallery by bringing in Keter, who is DP Ruto’s friend-turned-foe-turned-friend; but now again turned foe. Keter is known to shoot from the hip and is now introducing the same old narrative that, by going independent, Buzeki is indeed the hireling of DP Ruto to frustrate Mandago. Keter was the chief spokesperson on the onslaught against independent candidates by Rift Valley Jubilee ticket-holders who mobilized themselves last week at Sosiot in Kericho county, to breath fire against independents. Sosiot was really Mandago’s meeting essentially, since he is the one who could be the biggest loser in August to an Independent candidate. All these factors may deeply hurt Ruto’s chances in 2022. By fighting such battles, Mandago may well be chewing more than he can swallow.