Will Simba Arati’s Combative City Politics Sell in Kisii?

Published on 14th December 2021

The gubernatorial contest in Kisii County to succeed Governor James Ongwae, in 2022 has put Dagoreti North MP Simba Arati under the spotlight as he is reported to have rubbed most of the county leaders in the wrong way.

The contest will attract candidates from four out of the six main clans in the county with exception of Bonchari and Bogetutu clans.

Bobasi, Bogirango and Nyaribari clans have more than one candidate save for Bomachoge clan whose only candidate is the outgoing deputy governor Joash Maangi.

Maangi who prides himself for being loyal to his boss and believes in honesty and fairness is keen to use his relationship with Ongwae to clinch Bogetutu clan before seeking support from Bonchari clan adding that his open-mindedness is a tool to capture votes from unexpected quarters.

From Bobasi clan, Kisii Women representative Janet Ong’era, Chief Administrative Secretary Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Chris Obure and Arati are in the race.

Nyaribari clan, has Senator Sam Ongeri, Ezekiel Machogu, Rachel Otundo and Charles Matoke from diaspora who are aspiring while from the South Mugirango clan, there are Manson Oyongo and Omingo Magara who are former MPs.

Two clans- Bonchari and governor Ongwae’s Bogetutu clan will be battlegrounds in what promises to be a tough duel compared to 2013 and 217 general elections.

Though it is still early to figure out who will win and what strengths, opinions on the ground favour, Ong’era, Arati, Maangi and Ongeri quartet as lead aspirants as Ongwae hold the key of outgoing incumbency with his Bogetutu clan tightly behind him which he may unleash to determine his successor.

Ongwae’s undisputed grassroots network and financial resources will work in favour of his preferred successor though remain unnamed.

It remains to be seen how a county facing a myriad of challenges ranging from inadequate infrastructure, lack of water and, and unemployment will vote their next governor to succeed Ongwae, whose signature achievement is the improvement and refurbishing of Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital (KTRH).

Voters in the county of Kisii are observing with keen interest how the candidatures of Arati, Ong’era and Ongeri will play out in the dominant party, Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party primaries where only one of them will be picked as flag-bearer.

Arati, may find it an uphill task to mend fences with the Catholic Church following a fracas that occurred last week at Nyamagwa Parish in Bobasi, where he allegedly stormed out of Cathedral after he was “denied” a chance to address the congregation.

Critics argue that Arati’s aggressive and intimidating personality will ruin his gubernatorial bid unless he spruced up the negative reputation.

The Diocese of Kisii head Bishop Joseph Mairura, the Pope’s representative to Kenya, Hubertus Matheus Maria, Ford Kenya leader Moses Wetangula, MPs, Chris Wamalwa (Kimilili), Ezekiel Machogu (Nyaribari Masaba) and the host MP Innocent Obiri (Bobasi) attended the function.

It must be observed that the Dagoretti North MP is perceived to have fallen out with almost all elected leaders in Kisii county from Ongwae, Ongeri, Ong’era and Obiri who is from Arati’s Bobasi clan.

He is reported to have uttered some unkind words to the said leaders. It’s foolhardy to attack governor Ongwae in his Bogetutu backyard and expect members of his clan to vote for you.

Senator Ongeri is more experienced followed by Janet Ong’era as an ODM insider and former executive director of the party.

Party insiders claim that it is Ong’era who fronted Arati as a civic nominee for Nairobi in 2007 thereby, catapulting him to public limelight and five years later, that is 2013, he successfully vied for Dagoretti North parliamentary seat and in 2017 respectively.

A major disadvantage of Ms Ong’era is her gender because Gusii land too is patriarchal. However, it is changing gradually and recent by-election in Bonchari in which United Democratic Alliance (UDA) candidate Ms Theresa Oyioka lost with a margin of one thousand votes behind Pavel Oimeke of ODM.

Unlike in Nairobi, the entry of Arati in the gubernatorial race has completely altered the political theme in the Kisii region due to its combative and abrasive nature which is alien to rural voters as some are scared while others have embraced it.

Sceptics liken Arati’s brand of politics to that of former governors for Nairobi Mike Sonko and Ferdinand Waititu.

Murmurs on the ground are directed at, his Boda Boda supporters who have on a number of occasions exhibited lawlessness towards his perceived political opponents.

Though the youthful MP who celebrated his 40th birthday last week is still viewed as an “outsider” in Gusiiland politics by virtue of holding a parliamentary seat in a city-county, he has tried to build a sizeable following in the county’s nine constituencies.

In the ODM party, he is rated highly as a great mobilizer. On development, he has helped in many fundraisers for many churches and self-help groups besides contributing iron sheets for poor families to put up residential structures.

It remains to be seen how far Arati’s dalliance with the only senior elected Kisii MP Richard Onyonka of Kitutu Chache South will go.

Onyonka, is known to be flip-flopping on parties as his modus operandi, but his oratory skills and articulate expressions may work for Arati.

Some ardent supporters of Arati are already throwing caution in the air saying that holding the grip of the county till August 9, 2022, requires wisdom, well calculated and executed strategies.

“The fastest swimmer is the first one to drown,” said Sally Ombasa of Igare Market.

Other sources from ODM opine that Arati’s superb mobilization skills are a boon for “Baba's” campaign in Nairobi thus Raila may prevail upon him to shelve his gubernatorial ambition to remain in the city leadership.

In Kenya’s political culture, success is largely determined by the deep pockets, clannism, tribalism or ethnicity one is attached to unlike advanced democracies, where policies and manifestoes hold key to success as money comes second.

As Justus Ondari of Nyagesenda village put it, “Mkono mtupu haulambwi” (You can’t lick an empty hand). Arati’s deep pocket has the capacity to take care of a market crowd all individually,” he added.

In a rejoinder, a taxi driver- Vincent Okenye-is cagey about cash handouts saying that aspirants should instead focus more on policies and manifestoes and where need be use their personal wealth to initiate development projects rather than engage in dishing out cash.

For Ms Ong’era, her perceived good performance at the helm of the ODM secretariat and the good rapport she has with top party echelons may favour her in a bid to clinch the ticket for the race as it is echoed that during her heydays the party won the majority seats in elections.

During her stint at the senate, Ong’era has initiated an agri-business concept geared at empowering women and youth groups on poultry rearing across the county.

She also is in sync with small business operators in Kisii, Keroka and Ogembo Towns where she has donated umbrellas for those who operate at the open-air markets.

Voters perceive her as affable, motherly, and approachable. She referred to as “Mama Christmas” in Kisii town for sharing goodies with vulnerable groups every festive season. Besides, she has donated water tanks to many schools, and churches within the county.

For Senator Ongeri, despite his closeness to the ODM leader Raila Odinga, his bid may be disadvantaged because he is not regarded as a solid party insider.

He is viewed as a Johnny come lately in ODM. The age factor too may not favour his bid due to the pressure that comes with the coveted seat.

Elsewhere the professor of medicine whose other attribute is an honest statesman is also credited for initiating health and educational projects beyond his Nyaribari clan which include Kenyenya Teachers Training College in Bomachoge.

There are talks of the line-up in which Ongeri, Ong’era and Maangi are said to be inclined to if what was seen in a recent fundraiser in Kitutu Chache North is anything to go by.

As larger communities continue to dominate political leadership on the national platform, the same is happening in the counties where large clans will continue dominating the county leadership.

It is important to note that ODM managed to capture the two gubernatorial seats in Nyamira and Kisii counties largely because of building a team whose membership was drawn from all major clans in which leadership slots for the two counties was shared. 

By Joseph Lister Nyaringo

President of Kenya Patriotic Movement, a diaspora lobby based in the US.

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