GOVERNOR SERIES

Mandago's succession hots up in Uasin Gishu county

Analysts say the race will be mainly between Ambassador Bitok and businessman Buzeki.

In Summary

• DP Ruto has for over two decades played a critical role in local politics and 2022 will be no different.

• Mandago is expected to play a role in determining his successor considering the influence he wields.

Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago.
UASIN GISHU BOSS: Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago.
Image: MATHEWS NDANYI

Does this make sense? 70/50 per cdnt?

"The county is largely cosmopolitan, with the Kalenjin constituting more than 70 per cent of the residents, while the Kikuyu and the Luhya have substantial numbers.

The Nandi constitute more than 50 per cent of the population, the Keiyo account for about 20 per cent, while the rest are from other communities.

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The battle to succeed Governor Jackson Mandago in Uasin Gishu has started in earnest, as aspirants line up to head Deputy President William Ruto's home county.

Mandago’s entry in the 2013 governor race was a surprise because he was little-known and rode on simplicity to defeat influential and well-connected rivals.

They included Ambassador to Pakistan Julius Bitok and Uasin Gishu Senator Margaret Kamar.

Almost 10 years down the line, Mandago has built himself into a formidable politician in the Rift Valley and beyond but his legacy is under intense scrutiny.

His admirers say has performed beyond expectation but his critics claim there is nothing much to smile about. They accuse the governor of engaging in big talk without matching his words with actions and delivering on promises.

Mandago’s administration has invested tangible resources in health, agriculture, water and infrastructure projects.

He said he is proud of his record and said residents should judge for themselves.

Almost all 130 health facilities have been expanded in terms of facilities and equipment and are better managed.

“Mandago has achieved quite a lot  because he has also  championed the co-operatives movement.. He has also led in helping farmers diversify instead of relying on cereals alone,” resident Janet Kimeli said., a resident, said. 

Mandago’s infrastructure achievements have been boosted by World Bank-funded projects, especially in Eldoret town. 

To many residents, Mandago is a hands-on and workaholic governor, leading from the front, reporting to work as early as 6am and working deep into the night.

 “We will complete all the projects we initiated before the end of my tenure,” Mandago said.

DP Ruto has for more than two decades played a critical role in politics and 2022 will be no different.

Mandago will also play a role in determining his successor, considering the influence he now wields. He is chairman of the North Rift Economic Bloc (Noreb).

He has said residents should elect a leader who will continue his development agenda and work for the peace and unity.

“When I complete my term, I will be a peace worker to ensure we maintain unity between communities and I will have time to deal with those who want to disrupt the peace we enjoy,” he told a meeting a few weeks ago.

He has not announced his next political move amid speculation that he may vie for either the Senate seat or Soy MP.

Mandago is a close ally of the DP and in 2017 he faced a tough re-election battle with businessman and politician Bundotich Kiprop, also known as Buzeki.

Buzeki ran as an independent after losing the Jubilee primary. He lost by fewer than 60,000 votes.

COUNTY DYNAMICS

With more than 460, 000 registered voters, Uasin Gishu has six subcounties — Moiben, Turbo, Soy, Ainabkoi, Kesses and Kapseret.

The county is largely cosmopolitan, with the Kalenjin constituting more than 70 per cent of the residents, while the Kikuyu and the Luhya have substantial numbers.

The Nandi constitute more than 50 per cent of the population, the Keiyo account for about 20 per cent, while the rest are from other communities.

Mandago is from Nandi, while his deputy, Daniel Chemno, is from Keiyo.

Rivalry among the Kalenjin subtribes is expected play out. The dominant Nandi and Keiyo subtribes have been facing off over leadership positions.

Uasin Gishu is also a high-producing agricultural county and farmers issues play a huge role in determining county leadership.

With more than 18 months to next year's polls, more than 10 key aspirants are already doing groundwork for their bids.

Buzeki, who is from the Keiyo community, and Ambassador Bitok who is from the Nandi, are considered as the leading candidates.

Bitok tops the list of aspirants and he confirmed to the Star he will be on the ballot.

If elected, he said he will use his international connections to take Eldoret and Uasin Gishu to the next level of development.

“I have supported Mandago and given him time to serve residents.  He has done well but now I have plans to build Eldoret town to a modern city and to strengthen agriculture, which is our economic backbone," he said.

He has been returning home frequently and through his Ambassador Bitok Foundation, he has been supporting education for youth, women's empowerment and other causes.

“If elected I will work with all communities and make them feel they are part of Uasin Gishu. I will also focus on stabilising staff challenges through a harmonious working relationship," the envoy said. 

Bitok is a highly respected academician and finance expert. Many professions argue his expertise and good politics can take the county to the next level.

He is from the southern part of the county where residents argue it’s their turn to lead after Mandago, who is from the north.

Businessman Buzeki has publicly said he will perform better as governor.

“I will vie again based on my capacity to work for the people of Uasin Gishu and not because of the narrow thinking about where one comes from or which individual I support," Buzeki said. He enjoys substantial support from the Kalenjin and other communities.

While Buzeki does not see eye to eye with DP Ruto, his supporters believe he has the capacity to go against the grain and win. Ruto is associated with the new Democratic Alliance (UDA) party, which is likely to  dominant the region's politics.

Buzeki he said he will not succumb to threats or intimidation to back Ruto and that his politics is based on his principles and the desire to work for the people.

Buzeki said he will announce which party he will vie on by June after leaving CCM, which endorsed DP Ruto. He had been secretary general but quite after the endorsement.

His agenda will be industrialisation, value addition in agriculture, support for small businesses and the youth.

"The people of Uasin Gishu got a raw deal from Mandago's administration yet they were told a lot of lies about me," Buzeki said.

Most aspirants are already jostling for the UDA party to position themselves and it's expected that the party primaries will be more competitive than the general election.

Soy MP Caleb Kositany confirmed to the Star he is considering a run and is consulting constituents and stakeholders.

“I have the qualifications and capacity to succeed Mandago and I am consulting so I make a decision at the right time,” Kositany said.

He is a close ally of Ruto and Mandago but says the DP has never interfered with the political wishes of the residents of Uasin Gishu.

Kositany is an influential county politician known for establishing deep grassroots connections and his entry will complicate the race.

Also running is politician Jonathan Bii popularly known as 'Chelilim'. Bii is also an influential operative widely known in the county and with the capacity to pull a surprise.

Prominent businessman Charles Kigen is also interested. He ran in 2017 but came third in the Jubilee primaries.

He is a former director of the Kenya Industrial Industrial Estates and known for his ground networks and activities to support manufacturing. He is a strategic management expert.

Nairobi county executive Vesca Kangogo who ran in 2013 and lost in the Jubilee primaries is also said to be keen on running but has not announced. She is in charge of Devolution, Public Service and Administration.

Assembly Speaker David Kiplagat is also considered a possible aspirant.

A series of meetings have been taking place as aspirants and communities strategise.

Elders from the Keiyo community recently met near Kaptagat to discus  political trends. They expressed concern there was a scheme to push the community out of leadership in the county where they live and work.

“As the Kalenjin community, we all support Ruto to go for the presidency. We should not be doing the opposite in Uasin Gishu where we are being told that leadership is reserved for a certain group," Mzee Kibet Mursin said.

Deputy Governor Chemno, who is also from the Keiyo community, is known as a humble and highly religious man who could provide a formidable challenger to succeed his boss. He is a man of few words who prefers to keep his cards close to his chest.

Just as Mandago came in when he was little known, it’s possible shrewd ground operators like Bii could spring a surprise.

Although more hopefuls are expected to join the long list, analysts say the race will be mainly between Bitok and Buzeki.

Kenya's envoy to Pakistan Professor Julius Bitok.
BITOK: Kenya's envoy to Pakistan Professor Julius Bitok.
Image: MATHEWS NDANYI
Businessman Bundotich Kiprop Buzekil.
BUZEKI: Businessman Bundotich Kiprop Buzekil.
Image: MATHEWS NDANYI
Soy MP Caleb Kositany.
KOSITANY: Soy MP Caleb Kositany.
Image: MATHEWS NDANYI
Nairobi county executive Vesca Kangogo.
VESCA: Nairobi county executive Vesca Kangogo.
Image: MATHEWS NDANYI
Uasin Gishu Deputy Governor Daniel Chemno.
CHEMNO: Uasin Gishu Deputy Governor Daniel Chemno.
Image: MATHEWS NDANYI
Politician Johnathan Bii.
BII: Politician Johnathan Bii.
Image: MATHEWS NDANYI
Businessman Charles Kigen.
KIGEN: Businessman Charles Kigen.
Image: MATHEWS NDANYI