• Kakamega is the epicentre of Western region politics and its control is significant for political bigwigs eying national leadership.
• Among those angling to take over are Deputy Governor Philip Kutima, Ketraco boss Fernandez Barasa, Lugari MP Ayub Savula and former Senator Boni Khalwale.
As the 2022 polls draw near, candidates are lining up to succeed Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, who is serving his second and final term.
Kakamega is the epicentre of Western region politics and its control is significant for political figures eying national leadership. It's the third most populous county after Nairobi and Kiambu.
Oparanya, who is also an ODM deputy party leader, has been rated as one of the best performing governors. He is also chairman of the Council of Governors.
This means hopefuls have big shoes to fill.
Eight aspirants have expressed interest in the governor's seat and the list is expected to grow longer.
The aspirants include Oparanya's deputy, Prof Philip Kutima, and Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (Ketraco) boss Fernandez Barasa - seeking the ODM ticket.
Lugari MP Ayub Savula, former Medical Services minister Prof Amukowa Anangwe, Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala and businessman Samuel Omukoko will fightfor the ANC ticket.
Former Senator Boni Khalwale, a close ally of Deputy President William Ruto, is expected to vie on the newly registered UDA party.
Kakamega assembly clerk Laban Atemba is yet to decide on the ticket he will choose.
Despite the heavy CVs being paraded, political dynamics will also be important factors in determining the winner.
ODM leader Raila Odinga, Deputy President William Ruto and ANC boss Musalia Mudavadi will weigh in.
Ethnic arithmetic, regional balance (northern and southern), party influence, financial muscle, political alignments at the national level, party's presidential candidates and personal records of candidates will all inform voting patterns.
Kakamega has about 800,000 registered voters.
The county is divided into three regions: Southern, including Mumias West, Mumias East, Matungu, Butere and Khwisero; Northern, comprising Likuyani, Lugari and Malava and Central incuding Lurambi, Navakholo, Ikolomani and Shinyalu.
Oparanya, who served as MP for Butere, hails from the southern region.
Consequently, aspirants from the central and northern regions insist it’s their turn to lead.
Atemba, Anangwe, Omukoko and Baraza come from the south, while Kutima and Savula are from the north.
Malala and Khalwale are from central.
Governor Oparanya says he will back Kutima, who has deputised him since 2013, to complete the programmes he began.
"I have worked with my deputy for the last eight years. He is my friend. I will support him in 2022. I encourage him to go out there and speak for himself," Oparanya declared on December 22.
"We have done a lot of development with Prof Kutima. Let him seek support across the expansive county as I do my best to get him more support for his bid,” the CoG boss said.
He is banking on his enviable development track record to propel Kutima to power.
However, the eventual ODM candidate will face strong opposition from the Musalia and the Ruto teams.
Pundits say it may be a three-horse race among ANC, ODM and UDA as realignments take shape. Political formations at the national level are expected to have a direct bearing on the succession.
Should Mudavadi be on the ballot as either a compromise candidate for any of the formations or for his ANC party, the grouping leaning towards him could have an edge.
The morphing camaraderie between Mudavadi and his Ford Kenya counterpart Moses Wetang'ula could also have an impact.
In their working arrangement, the two will avoid competing against each other n the two parliamentary by-elections in Matungu and Kabuchai. This could be a headache for Oparanya, who is seeking to dislodge the two as the Luhya regional kingpin.
DP Ruto, who is struggling to gain a foothold in the vote-rich region as he runs for President, is expected to rattle both ANC and ODM.
Several MPs are allied to his camp, including Mumias East MP Benjamin Washiali.
Political commentator Martin Andati said candidates running on ANC and Ford Kenya under the newfound union between Mudavadi and Wetang’ula will have an advantage.
"Oparanya rode on the foundation built by ODM in the region by Mudavadi and company when they were still in the party but the party's grip on the county has diminished," Andati said.
"The rising glamour of Luhyaism will present candidates presenting themselves outside the Mudavadi and Wetang'ula axis as a major challenge as they risk being branded traitors to the community,” he added.
Andati said individual track records of the candidates will also be significant as will the financial war chest and the amiability of the candidates.
He said though Oparanya is believed to have performed well as governor, poverty levels have risen from 56 per cent to 89 per cent.
Political analyst Martin Oloo said party politics and the Building Bridges Initiative will also play a key role in the election.
"Whoever aligns himself to the BBI and its proponents will have an edge over others," he said.
The analyst said the politics of the northerners and southerners will be central since the seat has been in the south for 10 years.
Oloo said money and parochial politics of divide-and-rule will also be factors.
Prof Philip Museve Kutima
Kutima is a professor of Microbiology from the University of North Carolina in the US. He ran unsuccessfully for the Malava parliamentary seat. Before Oparanya picked him as a running mate, he was lecturing at JKUAT.
He the ODM chairman for Kakamega county.
Dr Boni Khalwale (The Bullfighter)
The University of Nairobi-trained medical doctor worked in government before moving to private practice until 2002. Then he was elected Ikolomani MP on the Ford Kenya ticket under the Narc coalition.
In 20013, he was elected the first Kakamega senator. He unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2017. He is now the interim deputy party leader of the United Democratic Alliance, which is associated with DP William Ruto.
Ayub Angatia Savula
Savula worked as a journalist with the Standard Group and is also a businessman. He was elected Lugari MP on the UDF ticket in 2013 and re-elected on the ANC ticket in 2017. He holds a Bachelor's of Communication from Moi University and Master's of Philosophy from the same institution. He is pursuing a PhD in Communication from the same varsity.
Malala is a thespian and was Mahiakalo MCA from 2013 to 17. He holds degree from the United States International University (USIU) but in an unspecified field. He also holds a diploma in TV and Film production from the East African School of Media.
He is an alumnus of the University of Nairobi, where he attained Bachelor;s and Master's degrees. He is an accountant and the founder/ managing director of Metropol Corporation that introduced credit rating in Kenya and Uganda. He formerly worked in the Ministry of Agriculture as a research assistant and the Kenya Commercial Bank as a senior manager.
Prof Amukowa Anagwe
Anagwe is a renowned academic. He worked as a doctor of ostheopathic medicine before becoming a lecturer. He served as MP for Butere and a Cabinet minister in three successive portfolios — Cooperative Development, Development Coordination and Health.
Atemba is an alumnus of Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology with a Bachelor's of Business Management.He is currently the finance director and clerk to the Kakamega county assembly. He initially worked for the old Butere/Mumias County Council, the Kakamega Municipal Council and Mt Elgon County Council as a revenue officer, deputy treasurer and treasurer, respectively.
He is the Ketraco Chief Executive officer. He is an accountant by professional and holds a Master's in Finance from the University of Nairobi.