• The businessman vied in 2017 and gave incumbent Governor Jackson Mandago a run for his money.
• He came short, but respectably so, and proved he could punch above his weight despite the odds against him.·
Tough, truculent, incongruous. And enigmatic. These and perhaps more could easily describe Bundotich Zedekiah Kiprop, better known as Buzeki. He is a businessman-cum-politician now eyeing the Uasin Gishu governorship in 2022.
He turned his personal acronym into a business name and built a successful empire around it.
He has since converted it into a political brand and nom de guerre. He recently came out guns blazing, sensationally ditching DP William Ruto’s camp in favour of former Governor Isaac Rutto’s, puzzling friend and foe as to what informed the move. His decision has received mixed reactions, with many thinking he might have shot himself in the foot.
He vied in 2017 and gave incumbent Governor Jackson Mandago a run for his money. He came up short, but respectably so, and proved he could punch above his weight despite the odds against him, including a late entry as an Independent.
The youthful Buzeki captured the imaginations of many when his trucking business and numerous other enterprises began flourishing, making him one of the youngest multi-millionaires in Kenya. ‘Self-made’ millionaire would be arguable but he was able to craft the image of a focussed go-getter and one not willing to settle for second place. He was already a household name.
All was well until he decided to enter the devious world of politics and was suddenly opened to the murk and treachery that comes with it. He entered full, as may be expected, of great expectations when he announced his candidature. Running his campaign as an Independent, his entry suddenly threw the Uasin Gishu gubernatorial race wide open in what had been assumed would be a shoo-in for the incumbent.
Left with few options, Mandago ran a campaign that painted Buzeki as the establishment candidate, Ruto’s puppet and an imposed leader. This was not too hard to sell given the huge wealth associated with both men.
Banking on the ethnic divisions in the county, which has a Nandi majority, Mandago pulled a fast one on Buzeki, whose campaign was more inclusive and centred on rallying the ethnic minorities, including the Kikuyu who felt ignored by Mandago. While Mandago had a Keiyo running mate, Buzeki’s candidature divided his own ethnic Keiyo and his Nandi running mate Samson Cheruiyot did not add much to the camp.
However, his recent move to ditch his ‘Independent’ status, bypass the popular Jubilee Party and go for CCM has been questioned by many, even his die-hard fans.
While we still can’t tell what the fast-shredding Jubilee will look like by 2022, it was safer to stick to a party that holds sway in the region. His high-profile fallout with the Deputy President in whose county Buzeki intends to run in 2022 has not helped matters, further dividing opinion about him.
He fired salvos at the DP’s men, particularly Farouk Kibet, Ruto’s indefatigable ‘Mr Fixit’, who controls whoever sees him. Buzeki sensationally accused Farouk in a viral video of being a ‘tax-collector’, demanding bribes from whoever wishes to see the DP.
Earlier this month, Buzeki met with Rutto and officially decamped to CCM in a move that signalled a complete break with DP Ruto. Analysts are puzzled at what informed the decision when in fact he had in the past worked well with the DP and only narrowly lost the Jubilee nominations to Mandago.
Some say that if he had stuck with the DP's party, the Jubilee nominations were his to lose. Without a presidential candidate and a national outlook, CCM may not raise enough of a storm to sweep Buzeki into office, particularly when Ruto will be the presidential candidate who must win in his own backyard.
It has been rumoured that Farouk has been in overdrive realigning the political landscape in Nandi, Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo Marakwet and Trans-Nzoia counties and, indeed, in the entire Rift Valley ahead of 2022.
For instance, he is grooming former Agriculture minister Kipruto Kirwa for a comeback to take on Cherangany MP Joshua Kutuny, who has since fallen out with the DP. Others on the cards for Farouk include rebels Moiben MP Silas Tiren and Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter. These MPs have been so vocal against the DP and have since openly associated themselves with the Team Kieleweke, which brings together Rift Valley and Central MPs who are opposed to the DP.
While Buzeki has distanced himself from Team Kieleweke, insiders say he is not far from their model of thinking — if the viral video in which he thundered in his native Keiyo dialect against Soy MP Caleb Kositany and Farouk accusing them of rejecting his candidature for being a Keiyo — is anything to go by.
While indeed the Nandi are the majority in Uasin Gishu, the ethnic make-up of the current leaders shows they don’t really care what tribe their leader is.
Woman Representative Gladys Boss Shollei and Senator Margaret Kamar are Keiyo, while only the governor is Nandi in the county leadership. His deputy is a Keiyo as are three of the six MPs in the county. Only Kositany and Turbo MP Janet Sitienei are Nandi, while Kiprop Mishra of Kesses is Indian-born.
Tiren and William Chepkut (Ainabkoi) are Keiyo, while Oscar Sudi is a Marakwet.
But it would be patently unwise to antagonise Nandis in the manner Buzeki has done. Of the 148,000 votes he garnered, the bulk of it came from the Nandi and he should have been thankful that they did not first regard him as a Keiyo but a capable leader.
Despite Mandago being a Nandi as it gets (even leading circumcision songs in the middle of Eldoret streets), he was not their shoo-in candidate. He had to earn it. Ruto, too, has to work hard to win their vote given that they have suffered greatly from the manner in which the government handled the maize and fertiliser issues, among other things.
THE ELUSIVE LINE-UP
It is possible that Buzeki has since learnt that a line-up has been made and it does not include him. Dr Julius Bitok, a Nandi from Kesses, is being touted as perhaps the preferred Jubilee candidate for the seat.
Bitok narrowly lost the primaries to Mandago in 2013 and is now Kenya’s High Commissioner to Pakistan. Meanwhile, Deputy Governor Daniel Chemno, a Keiyo who is also quite popular with the Nandi, is said to be yet another strong candidate for the Jubilee ticket. He will be banking on reciprocity on the part of the Nandi, now that he stood by their man for two terms.
The elephant in the room, however, is what to do with the minority communities, including the Kikuyu, who have a powerful political stake in the county. They have been gunning for the position of deputy governor and the person they were banking on the most was Buzeki.
Buzeki’s move to move away from Jubilee could repulse powerful local Kikuyu leaders such as Francis Muya, Joseph Wainaina and Peter Chomba away from his camp as many Rift Kikuyus don’t want to be openly associated with anti-Ruto sentiments, more particularly Team Kieleweke. This could also sway the Kikuyu vote from Buzeki, despite the fact that his wife is a Kikuyu, a fact that gave him lots of mileage in 2017.
Since Mandago secured his reelection, there has been an unquiet détente between him and his former rival. Jubilee went on and gave Buzeki a job appointing Chemelil Sugar chairman. It appears he has not been thankful now that he has opted for a rival party.
Some also say his vast resources have since dissipated in the changing times and the SGR has dealt a major blow to the trucking business in general. It is also said the last election spread him thin and financiers have at some point come calling. We would have to wait and see if he can mount a major challenge to whoever Jubilee will field.