Battle for Siaya governor: Did Raila endorse Wandayi?

Heavyweights including Orengo, Gumbo and police spokesman Owino seek to succeed Rasanga

In Summary

• Siaya Governor Cornel Rasanga is serving his second and last term in office.

• Raila termed Wandayi as “a go-getter and a sharp politician.”

Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi and ODM leader Raila Odinga in Ugunja on February 27.
CONSULTING: Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi and ODM leader Raila Odinga in Ugunja on February 27.

Influential allies of ODM leader Raila Odinga are fighting a do-or-die contest for the Siaya governor seat that could be a litmus test for the Orange party.

Last weekend, Raila showered Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi with accolades that some observers said amounted to a direct endorsement over other political heavy weights.

Wandayi, who is ODM's director of political affairs, is facing other heavyweights, including Siaya Senator James Orengo.

Others in the race are Siaya Deputy Governor James Okumbe, former Rarieda MP Nicholas Gumbo, police spokesman Charles Owino, Dan Omoro and Edwin Ng’ong’a. Siaya is Raila's home county.

Siaya Governor Cornel Rasanga is serving his second and last term.

Opening the Kenya Medical Training College on February 27, Raila called Wandayi “a go-getter and a sharp politician". 

“Opiyo Wandayi is my son. He has grown under me. He is pro-active, he is not reckless. He is a go-getter. If you send him somewhere, he dashes very quickly and he is very sharp. He sees far,” Raila said.

He said Wandayi had invited him in 2020 to launch a technical college and in just a few months, they were launching a KMTC college.

“Isn’t that not an achievement? Isn’t that not development? Raila asked.

Speaking in his Dhuluo language, Raila said, "The sister-in-law who  pulls the best dance moves is the one who is chosen.”

“Youro ma ogoyo otega maber ok ema itingo bade,” he said to applause.

The race is shaping up as a contest between ODM insiders and loyalists against politicians presenting themselves as development-conscious. 

However, given past election patterns in the area, the candidate likely to carry the day will be the one with the full backing of Raila and the ODM machine.

The ODM boss is taking a keen interest in the governorship since Siaya is his political bedrock.

Amongst those aspiring, Orengo is the longest-serving politician having been elected Ugenya MP at the age of 29 during a by-election in 1980. He is presenting himself as the choice candidate for ODM as governor.

Orengo is a close Raila ally and also struggled for multiparty and the new constitution.

He was part of the team Raila entrusted with the delicate task of birthing a peace deal following the disputed 2007 elections. Orengo was also lead counsel during the successful presidential petition in 2017.

Orengo has wooed to his camp Gem MP Elisha Odhiambo and Samuel Atandi of Alego-Usonga. 

However, Orengo has a huge task convincing Ugenya MP David Ochieng' to back his bid. Ochieng' surprised the country by upsetting ODM in a by-election where he clinched the seat Orengo held for years. The MP is yet to publicly voice his support for any aspirants. 

Another Orengo headache is Wandayi, who represents Ugunja constituency that was carved out of Ugenya.

Owino, who hails from Ugenya, recently announced his interest in the race.

Orengo was known to rub Kanu the wrong way with his demands for more democratic space; as a result, his area was starved of projects.

Nyatien’g’, as he is fondly known, was labelled anti-development and will have to shed that tag.

Wandayi is serving his second term in Parliament and chairs the powerful Public Accounts Committee.

Like Orengo, the MP enjoys close working relationship with Raila. 

He is amongst the MPs from Nyanza perceived to be Raila most loyal foot soldiers. In 2016, he was suspended for five months by the speaker for booing President Uhuru Kenyatta in the House. 

Wandayi enjoys a close association with Governor Rasanga, who’s said to prefer him as his successor to the other contenders.  Rasanga comes from Alego-Usonga and Wandayi hopes to inherit this block as the governor exit the scene. 

He will also be banking on his development track record as MP. 

Wandayi has initiated a number of projects, ranging from roads, education, agriculture to youth and women empowerment. He also has a history with the fighters of the second liberation under Raila.

In a region where liberation heroes are celebrated, this might be a plus for the soft-spoken politician. 

“This time you must tell the people what you were able to do during the period you were in office. Your track record must speak for you,” he said recently.

The other top contender for the seat is Gumbo, who represented Rarieda as MP for two terms having floored Raphael Tuju in 2007. He successfully defended the seat in 2013 .

Gumbo will be making the second stab after losing narrowly to Rasanga in the last elections as an independent candidate. He ditched ODM after a fallout over the primaries ahead of 2017 polls.

Last year,  when ODM welcomed back members who  had decamped, Gumbo was conspicuously absent. 

It remains unclear if he will still contest as an independent candidate.

There are those who believe if Gumbo decides to run outside ODM, it will help him establish a strong base and recruit his lieutenants who will remain loyal to him throughout the journey.

According to Salim Odeny, a aprty leader in Siaya, doing so will help Gumbo to  discard the tag of being considered  an ODM rebel because he will have started his quest from outside the Orange party.

Gumbo had immense support in Rarieda and parts of Bondo subcounties where he beat Rasanga.

Okumbe is also assembling his arsenal in readiness to succeed his boss. He as managed to avoid run-ins with his boss. He comes across as a patient deputy who has been keenly waiting for opportune time to inherit the seat. 

A Rasanga endorsement, is however, not guaranteed. 

In fact, some insiders in Rasanga’s camp have publicly dismissed his bid telling him to be content with the position he occupies. 

 The Deputy Governor will be banking hope that Bondo and his larger Sakwa clan will be moved by the desire to produce a governor and back his bid.

Dan Omoro who ran in the last elections as an independent candidate against Gumbo and Rasanga is amongst those who are expected to be in the ballot come 2022 .

He comes from Alego where Rasanga also hails from. This could dim his chances as it could be hard to convince voters across the county that Rasanga’s successor should come from the same region. This is the same case with Edwin Ng’ong’a of Karuoth clan.

Ng’ong’a, aNairobi-based businessman, has been a close Raila associate for years. 

Should the people elect him as governor he plans to promote production of cash crops such avocados, coffee and macadamia in the county. His other interest would be in afforestation. 

“Maternal healthcare is also dear to me and I’ll ensure it is given priority . I’ll establish the County Bureau of Statistics , data collection, collation and analytics ,” he said.

He says his government will also leverage on information technology, artificial intelligence and robotics.