By Chris Sali
The Bungoma gubernatorial race is a rematch between the incumbent Governor Wycliffe Wangamati and Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka in the August 9, polls.
The two political antagonists have renewed their rivalry just five months to the general elections and they are now clashing in public functions with each of them pulling the strings to his side.
The latest being an incident in Mt Elgon when Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala openly campaigned for Lusaka and declared that Wangamati will lose in the forthcoming polls, remarks that necessitated chaos at the burial of erstwhile lawmaker John Serut.
Lusaka appears determined to reclaim the seat he narrowly lost to the incumbent in 2017 and has already promised the latter a bruising battle during the electioneering period.
The incumbent won the seat on Ford Kenya ticket with a slight margin of 21, 493 votes after garnering 197,422 votes against Lusaka’s 175, 929 votes. Lusaka ran on the Jubilee Party.
Besides Wangamati and Lusaka, a Nairobi based businessman, Zachariah Barasa, has also cast his net in the race and former Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) Director General Francis Wangusi.
Former assistant minister Alfred Khanga’ti and Cofek Secretary General Stephen Mutoro vied in the 2017 are not vying in the forthcoming polls. Khang’ati will vie for Kanduyi MP seat.
Lusaka has faulted Wangamati’s administration by telling residents that he performed better during his regime.
Lusaka says that he is coming back to reclaim his seat and complete the projects he started as pioneer governor that his predecessor abandoned like the Mt Elgon High Altitude Training, the Chicken Slaughterhouse and the subsidised farm inputs.
According to Lusaka, the county’s economy largely depends on agriculture and that when you starve the farmer, you are killing the economy leading to skyrocketed unemployment that is being experienced Wangamati’s regime.
Lusaka said Bungoma has good soils for growing of coffee, tea, tomatoes, onions and Irish potatoes, saying he will fast track its production on large scale in order to get improved earnings after value addition.
Lusaka has also faulted the current governor of not empowering the locals by giving contracts to contractors who are nonresidents thus exporting the resources of the county to other regions, saying he will also ensure there equal distribution of resources.
He said ones he reclaims his seat, he will continue empowering local contractors to ensure there is constant flow of money in the county, saying the people who got contracts during his tenure have employed many youths and improved their standards of living.
“I have been a governor and a Speaker. I have looked at the sins all the 47 counties have been committing while in the Senate and when I reclaim my seat, I will never commit similar mistakes,” said Lusaka.
The Speaker said he was still shopping for a party to use in the forthcoming polls. He will get a running mate from Mt Elgon.
“Last time I climbed an uphill by using jubilee party for my re-election. This time I will use a party that resonates well with the ground. We delivered some MP seats but I lost my seat and would not want to go that direction again. I have up to March 26 to make up my mind,” said Lusaka.
When asked about working with Wetang’ula who was instrumental in his downfall, he said there are no permanent enemies in politics and could work together if there interests will be same.
“Wetang’ula has expressed interest of working with me and I don’t mine. There are no permanent enemies in politics but about interests. I cannot carry the burden of unforgiveness in my heart, even President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga had a handshake deal,” said Lusaka.
Wetang’ula has announced that Lusaka will be there Ford Kenya candidate for the governor’s seat.
On the flip side, Governor Wangamati is confident that he stands a better chance of being re-elected than the rest of the candidates based on his development track record.
His clarion call to the voters is to be given a another final term so that he can complete his flagship projects he initiated, which he says will spur economic growth and create jobs for the locals.
Following the botched Ford Kenya coup where Wangamati actively participated to dethrone Moses Wetang’ula as party leader, ditched the lion party and will now defend the seat on the Democratic Action Party of Kenya (DAP-K).
The governor initiated construction of the 6.5km Musikoma-Kanduyi dual carriageway to decongest Bungoma town at a cost of Sh1.3billion, the 5,000-seater Kanduyi stadium at a cost of Sh700million and the 300-bed capacity at Bungoma referral hospital among other projects.
“The governor scholarship is sponsoring more than 4,000 needy but bright students in top flight National and Extra County schools across the country. If another person takes over as governor, he or she may not continue with the programme,” said Wangamati.
Mr Wangamati noted that the county government has upgraded Bungoma and Kimilili towns into municipalities which will see them attract funding from the World Bank to improve infrastructure, saying other towns lined up for upgrade to municipalities are Webuye and Chwele.
“The county has realised much development as compared to my predecessor. We have opened up the road network, invested heavily in the dairy sector and agriculture and Bungoma people are now enjoying the fruits of devolution. I am the best candidate to steer the county to the next level,’ said Wangamati.
Wangamati will have to shop another running mate after falling with his Deputy Governor Prof Charles Ngome, who has declined to deputise him and instead go for the Senate seat on UDA ticket.
For Barasa, who hails from Bumula Sub County is championing for equity in distribution of jobs and county resources, expansion of the road network and revamp the economy through agribusiness if elected governor.
“The passion to serve people and not the desire to make money in politics is the driving force behind my candidature. The county has failed to get a people centered and issue-based leader who has people’s interests at heart but in me, I got the qualities to be governor,” said Mr Barasa.
The aspirant said he will ensure there provision of the universal healthcare to all by ensuring that the healthy facilities in the county are well equipped and stocked, arguing that the vulnerable will get free treatment as their bills will be catered by the county through NHIF.