The contest for the Narok governor seat is shaping up into a three-horse race whose outcome will be determined by clan and party dynamics.
The defection of Narok West MP Patrick Ntutu to Chama Cha Mashinani two weeks ago only complicated the battle.
Many had expected him to battle it out with the incumbent Samuel Tunai for the Jubilee flag.
The youthful MP is a scion of the paramount chief Lerionka ole Ntutu, an influential family that has dominated Narok politics for decades. His brother, Stephen ole Ntutu, is the outgoing Narok senator.
The Jubilee nominee would battle it out with the ODM aspirant Joseph Tiampati, a former principal secretary.
Clan factor, the Kipsigis bloc and the three political forces in Narok namely Deputy President William Ruto, Orange Democratic Movement boss Raila Odinga, Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto and Baringo Senator Gideon Moi (Kanu leader) are expected to tilt the race.
It is widely held that whoever garners 50 per cent of the populous Purko clan would have an upper hand.
But Mr Ntutu and Mr Tiampati, who hail from the Purko clan, could split their support to Mr Tunai’s advantage.
In the 2013 elections, the Purkos fronted three candidates for the governorship, giving Mr Tunai an advantage.
Moreover, Geothermal Development Corporation managing director Johnson ole Nchoe, who contested the governorship alongside Mr Tunai in 2013, has now thrown his support behind the incumbent.
Mr Nchoe, who vied on an ODM ticket, came third with more than 40,000 votes with Mr Tiampati second on a Kenya National Congress ticket.
It is notable that though the region elected a high number of MPs from DP Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP) in 2013, disgruntlement over failed promises appears to have strengthened the Orange party.
Mr Odinga has been getting warm receptions in the area, with one of the MPs, Keitalel ole Kenta, defecting from Jubilee to ODM.
This has raised concern among Jubilee supporters.
“Narok is a Jubilee zone and we will ensure the party scoops all the seats in the region,” Mr Nchoe, who last month led members of his clan to endorse Mr Tunai, says.
Mr Tunai comes from the minority Siria clan in Trans Mara and enjoys support of other small clans such as the Kekonyoike, Ildamat, Uasin Gishu, Moitanik and Loita.
However, some of the small clans have complained that the incumbent has not assisted them as expected.
The Kipsigis force, which backed Mr Tunai, will also be a major factor.
Support from the DP and his then ally Isaac Ruto, Chama Cha Mashinani leader, saw Mr Tunai garner the Kipsgis votes.
The Kipsigis community forms 40 per cent of the county’s population.
But the entry of Governor Ruto and to a larger extend Mr Moi is giving him sleepless nights.
The Isaac Ruto-Gideon Moi camp, which has an axe to grind with the Deputy President, has thrown its weight behind Mr Ntutu.
The political supremacy fight in the Rift Valley between the DP and Mr Moi has spilt over to Narok politics.
A win for Mr Ntutu will be a major blow for the Deputy President.
The DP was in January heckled in Narok by residents who claimed that the Jubilee government had not improved roads in the area as pledged in the 2013 campaigns.
Narok North MP Moitalel ole Kenta said "Maasai nationalism" will be the key factor in the Narok election.
Revolving around grievances touching on marginalisation and land redistribution, the Maasai nationalism campaign is a push for the community to re-assert itself and define its place in Kenya’s political space.
“The Maasai nation is rising. It is alive to the fact that at no time in living memory have they been more marginalised than now, both at the national and county levels,” Mr Kenta says
He said Narok County compared to other Maasai inhabited areas like Samburu and Kajiado has experienced the worst marginalisation, blatant looting of their resources and runaway corruption.
He says the past and current land injustices will be another crucial determinant.
Lands like Laikipia, Kinangop, Naivasha and others, which formed the white highlands, were supposed to be reverted to the Maasai at independence, according to Mr ole Kenta.
But the pieces of land were, allegedly, instead fraudulently gifted to other communities loyal to the Jomo Kenyatta government.
“The fact that the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) report has been blocked by Jubilee will work against its candidates,” Mr Kenta adds.
He notes that the death of eminent Maasai politician William Ntimama, a warrior for the community, had emboldened them to fight for their land rights.
The TRJC report recommends that the government addresses historical injustices around land, an emotive issue, which is Mr Odinga’s major rallying call whenever he addresses members of the Maasai community both in Kajiado and Narok counties.
“Our great leader Mr Ntimama taught us to be fighters, we will fight for what is ours by denying regimes that have oppressed us leadership,” he says.
He adds that the destruction of Mau forest has alienated the Maasai community against both the national government and the current governor.
But Mr Tunai argues that it will be easier for him to win in 2017 compared to 2013.
He says his development record will endear him to more voters unlike in the previous election.
“My re-election is not an issue. What I am after is the margin that I will beat my opponents with,” he says.
WE SUPPORT TUNAI
The former special branch officer with immense wealth says his development record cannot match that of the last 50 years.
Mr Kenta has thrown his weight behind Mr Tiampati, who he says was endorsed by elders from the Purko clan who wanted to field one candidate to face Mr Tunai.
Mr Tiampati, a mathematician, says his vast management experience in government and banking industry will enable him do the job.
He served as a general manager at the National Social Security Fund before moving to the Kenya Commercial Bank until 2010, leaving the financial institution as the head of credit.
“Being a devoted Christian, I will ensure our county resources benefit Narok residents. I was also anointed by elders to compete against Mr Tunai but Mr Ntutu went against an oath and announced his candidature too. He should support me,” he says.
Emurua Dikirr MP Johana Ngeno says Governor Ruto played a big role in supporting Mr Tunai secure the Kipsigis votes in Narok County.
“With half of Kipsigis chopped off from Tunai by Isaac’s team, what is left for the incumbent is to scramble for the small clans,” Mr Ng’eno, of KNC party, says.
He accuses Mr Tunai of failure to develop the county despite the massive resources at his disposal.
He says Narok needs a governor who is keen on proper utilisation of county resources.
During the last General Election, the Emurua Dikirr MP campaigned for Mr Tiampati but has now shifted his loyalty to Mr Ntutu.
“We need a strong candidate and one who has a strong determination of removing Mr Tunai from power, hence my support for Mr Ntutu this time round,” he says.
Narok East MP Lemanken Aramat and Kilgoris MP Gideon Konchella are backing Mr Tunai with the argument that he is development-oriented.
Mr Konchella says Mr Tunai’s critics are aggrieved that he comes from a minority clan and in 2013 defeated the Purko clan candidates against their expectations.
He says the populous clan had always dominated Narok politics.
“We know he has tried to unite all clans in the county and has given the minority clan an equal opportunity with the populous Purko clan,” he said.
MP Ntutu has the support of his elder brother Stephen ole Ntutu, who is also the Narok Senator.
Senator Ntutu has announced that he will retire from politics and support his younger brother for governorship.
The younger Ntutu says the current county administration has failed to account for over Sh30 billion from the National Treasury and proceeds from the world famous Maasai Mara Game reserve in the last four years of devolution.
He says he is best placed to remove Mr Tunai from power noting his development record as Narok West MP is a clear indication that he can equally manage a county.
“I have moved all over the county seeking support for my candidature. But there has been an outcry of no county development,” he says.
Mr Ntutu was first elected to parliament in 2013 on a URP ticket.
He studied at the Roosevelt University in Chicago and has a Bachelor degree in Administration, majoring in Management and a Master’s degree in finance.
He has worked in the Office of the President as a secretary before joining the Provincial administration as Malindi District officer.