The gubernatorial race for Kakamega County promises to be a titanic battle as Senator Boni Khalwale angles for the seat.
The announcement by Dr Khalwale that he will be challenging Governor Wycliffe Oparanya has raised political temperatures in the county.
But Mr Oparanya has dismissed Dr Khalwale’s candidature as insignificant. Nonetheless, the outspoken lawmaker has told the governor to brace for a tough duel barely 14 months to the general elections.
“Those who want to support the incumbent are free to do so but all I know is that I will beat the governor hands down,” the senator said before Cord leader Raila Odinga during the funeral of businessman Jacob Juma at Approved School grounds in Kakamega town last month.
Dr Khalwale has been on Oparanya’s neck over alleged mismanagement of devolved funds meant to facilitate development projects in the area. According to him, the governor presides over a rotten administration due to corruption.
“Mr Oparanya owe the people of Kakamega an explanation on how billions of shillings released to this county have been spent in the last three years,” he said.
The senator argues that economic indicators show little has been achieved in terms of development. “The work that has been done is not commensurate to billions of shillings trickling down from national government,” explained Dr Khalwale.
He singled out multi-million ‘Mikopo Mashinani’ and the ‘one cow’ initiatives launched by Governor Oparanya as conduits through which colossal sums of taxpayer’s money is stolen.
“Ask him to give you records of beneficiaries of the Fund and go and verify, you will discover it is hogwash,” claimed Dr Khalwale.
On the other hand, Mr Oparanya argues that he is in charge at the county and that most development projects he initiated are on course.
“We are in full control, anyone thinking I don’t fit in the governor’s seat properly are day dreaming,” the governor is on record saying.
He has vowed to give Dr Khalwale a run for his money in 2017. “I hear that Khalwale is positioning himself to unseat me, I dare him to try and he will see dust,” Mr Oparanya has repeatedly told supporters.
The sudden death of former Housing Minister Soita Shitanda seemed to have given the pair a platform to scramble for a share of vote-rich Malava sub-county.
Unfortunately, both have watched their hopes fade away as Jubilee MPs from the area ring-fenced the funeral to themselves locking both Dr Khalwale and Mr Oparanya out.
Earlier attempts by Mr Oparanya to set aside public funds meant to meet hospital bills and funeral expenses of the former no-nonsense Malava legislator hit a brick wall after President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President stole the show by settling the bills and procuring a plane that flew the body from Nairobi to Malava.
MPs Ayub Savula (Lugari), Benjamin Washiali (Mumias East), Bernard Shinali (Ikolomani), Emanuel Wangwe (Navakholo) and Dan Wanyama (Webuye West) among others drawn from Western accompanied Water and Irrigation CS Eugene Wamalwa to the late legislator’s home for a mini-fundraiser for the funeral expenses.
Other candidates eyeing the gubernatorial seat are Mabel Muruli (business woman) and former Provincial Commissioner Paul Olando. Several others are likely to show up.
Political analysts argue that Mr Oparanya has the advantage of incumbency but he would have to work hard to beat Dr Khalwale and the rest.
One of the political analysts, Mr Martin Andati, said Mr Oparanya’s financial muscle gives him an advantage.
“He has amassed a lot of wealth since when he was a cabinet minister up to now and that gives him an edge over his opponents,” he said.
However, the chairman for bishops and pastors association of Kakamega Julius Abungana said that it was hard to bet on either leader to be the executive for the largest rural county.
Pastor Abungana said the two brands of politics are unpredictable and other aspirants like Wycliffe Osundwa and Raphael Olando may come in and complicate the arithmetic.
“Mr Oparanya and Dr Khalwale have been in parliament and politics at large for over a decade. They cannot be wished away. They have all worked as MPs and also campaigned in the entire Kakamega and understand the dynamics of the area better than competitors,” he said.
Pastor Abungana said Dr Khalwale and Mr Oparanya were popular among the electorate for different reasons and that’s why their competition is complicated.
He at the same time feared that the emotive tones and hardline stance the fanatics for the two protagonists hold could lead to violence if not checked.
Nonetheless, the heckling of Mr Oparanya during the Soita Shitanda funeral service at Tande Secondary School in Malava before President Uhuru Kenyatta, his Deputy William Ruto and a host of political stalwarts could be a pointer to a tough battle beckoning.
While Dr Khalwale was cheered by the mourners, Mr Oparanya had a difficult time addressing them.
“The late Shitanda utilised Sh4 billion as Housing minister on upgrading slums in Kibera, putting up a health centre and two schools and modern house units in Kakamega town and other parts of the country, but people are yet to see what billions the county has received so far have done,” the senator said.
Mr Andati argues that Khalwale is not a team player, a fact that could cost him a lot of votes. “Besides, the larger Butere-Mumias where Oparanya hails is a solid bloc while the upper region including Lurambi, Malava, Ikolomani and Shinyalu could have their votes split between the senator and Ms Muruli,” he added.
However, Dr Khalwale and his supporters are counting on his ability to sway the masses by his oratory skills which Mr Oparanya does not possess. Mr Andati noted that the gubernatorial post will remain a two –horse race between the two rival politicians.
Mr Olando and Ms Muruli are likely to perform dismally according to Andati. While Ms Muruli was barred to contest against Oparanya in the last general elections by IEBC, Olando finished third.
Mr Oparanya’s victory will not come as a surprise to the locals according to Andati since even some of senator Khalwale supporters do not take him seriously.
“They believe he is more of an activist than a manager and would prefer to have him retain his senator seat as opposed to going for the governor one,” Mr Andati said.