Trans Nzoia is a cosmopolitan county with a complex mix of issues ahead of the 2013 elections.
Top on the list is ethnic relations, especially between the majority Bukusu and the minority Sabaot.
The two groups have over the years had a love-hate relationship that regularly explodes into bloody violence during elections leading to deaths and destruction of property.
It is not surprising therefore that ahead of the elections, the idea of negotiated democracy between the two is gaining currency.
One of the big grouses has been that the Sabaot have never had an elected MP and given their numerical inferiority, they are unlikely to get one of them elected to a key position in the county.
It is for this reason that they pushed for the creation of Endebess constituency which was hived off Kwanza.
But the race for this area will still be interesting to watch given the fact that the Bukusu still form a significant voting bloc here and if any party fields a member of the group, it will seriously challenge for the seat.
Sabaot leaders from across the political divide are hoping that not only should this seat be reserved for them but also that through talks they will get representation in other positions.
Mr Pius arap Kauka, the Kitale deputy mayor says: “The new constituency will help solve the animosity that has for long been witnessed between the two communities during electioneering period.”
Ms Jenifer Masis, an aspirant seeking the Wiper Democratic Movement ticket, says the seat should be reserved for the Sabaot.
Sabaot leaders and aspirants from across the political divide are negotiating a pre-election agreement with Ford Kenya with a view to clinching other county seats.
Mr Kauka, the ODM chairman, Mrs Masis and United Republican Party’s Philip Sakong are spearheading the talks with Ford Kenya.
Mr Kauka said they had decided to work with the party because its leader, Mr Moses Wetangu’la, was the only one who has given them a hearing on forming a pre-election pact.
“We Sabaots believe that when we work closely with Ford Kenya we will have our interests taken care of because other parties have dismissed our negotiations,” he told the Nation.
Mr Sakong, a civic leader in the area, said that the pre-election pact is very essential to avert post-election chaos.
With the new national alliances, Ford-K has become a major player in Trans Nzoia, just like in neighbouring Bungoma which has an almost similar Bukusu-Sabaot demographic mix.
Ford-K is in the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) alliance together with ODM and Wiper Democratic Movement.
Justice minister Eugene Wamalwa’s New Ford Kenya is another significant player, as is William Ruto’s URP which is in the Jubilee alliance.
Mr Wamalwa is championing another alliance that brings together Lugari MP Cyrus Jirongo and National Vision Party’s Nicholas Biwott. He is also in talks with Musalia Mudavadi’s United Democratic Forum.
Trans Nzoia has many other issues that will dominate the campaigns.
It is Kenya’s bread basket because it is the biggest producer of the staple food maize. Consequently, the county’s maize farmers hope the leadership will focus on poor roads, expensive inputs and lack of markets.
Mr Job Talam, a large scale maize farmer in Kwanza, lays the blame squarely on the government saying there has been much focus on production but minimal focus on marketing and value-addition.
“Most farmers produce well but they are taken advantage of by millers and cartels who buy their maize cheaply,” he said.
Most astonishing is the lack of a milling plant in the region, with most of the produce being taken outside the county for milling. Final products like flour are then brought back at a higher price meaning that the farmer does not gain much.
Saboti constituency aspirant Ken Simiyu observes that the solution lies in setting up a milling plant “so that farmers can fully enjoy the gains from the final product instead of selling their maize to cartels”.
Trans Nzoia West District Agricultural officer Josphat Ling’ang’a has an alternative solution. Farmers, he says, should stop their heavy dependence on maize and diversify.
“This region has potential for good coffee production which farmers should take advantage of,” notes Mr Ling’ang’a.
Trans Nzoia has not been spared from insecurity owing to its border with West Pokot and Mt Elgon regions that have a history of conflicts.
Many people in the county, for example, were victims of the Sabaot Land Defence Force violence whose genesis was in neighbouring Bungoma.
It also suffers cattle raids from West Pokot county and neighbouring Uganda.
This has made it easy for the proliferation of firearms in the region which are being use in the commission of crime.
Mr Wafula Mutacho, a Saboti aspirant argues that this has been worsened by the fact that many youths are unemployed.
The most affected are areas on the porous borders of Saboti Division, Endebess constituency and parts of Kwanza District.
Poor road networks greatly affect transportation of farm produce to markets. The worst affected is the Kitale-Suam road which links Kenya to Uganda which is long overdue for tarmacking.
According Kenya National Highways Authority (KENHA) director Meshack Kidenda, the road has been earmarked for tarmacking but has been delayed due to logistics.
“This road needs to be tarmacked because it connects Kenya to Uganda,” said Mr Kidenda recently in Kwanza.
Another issue in Trans Nzoia is the high number of squatters who are victims of colonial, political and historical injustices.
Most squatters and IDPs in the region lay blame on past governments for interfering with their resettlement.
Submitting their views before a parliamentary select committee on land in Kitale in March, a number said politics, tribalism and nepotism were hampering the allocation of land.
The groups accused the government of discriminating against them by putting more focus on settling 2007 IDPs while ignoring them.
They claimed past regimes have been settling the landless basing on their tribal and political affiliations.
Finding a solution to the squatter problem therefore should rate high the aspirants’ priorities.
January 1, 2012: Uasin Gishu