The perennial rivalry between Nandi and Keiyo communities is expected to feature prominently as the race for the Uasin Gishu governor’s seat hots up.
The incumbent, Jackson Mandago, a Nandi, is expected to face stiff competition from a number of aspirants including Zedekiah Kiprop Bundotich alias Buzeki, a Keiyo.
Also plotting to unseat Mr Mandago is Nandi County Health chief officer, Dr Edward Serem, as well as Mr Felix Butit, a businessman based in Senegal, also a Keyio.
The aspirants, most of whom are allies of Deputy President William Ruto, are all eyeing the Jubilee Party ticket.
Anyone who loses the nomination at this stage would have to sit out the entire election, unless he or she defects to another party.
This is why the aspirants are of the opinion that the primaries should be free and fair, devoid of any external interference.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto have already assured aspirants that the primaries will be free and fair.
In the wake of the nomination uncertainties, Mr Mandago has moved to dispel swirling rumours that he was mulling ditching the ruling coalition for independence party Kanu, whose fortunes have lately been on the rise in the Rift region.
He has termed the claims as propaganda and maintained that he is in Jubilee to stay.
“I believe I am going to be re-elected on a Jubilee ticket in the coming party primaries due to my sound development record. I have no intention or plan of ditching the party in favour of Kanu as being claimed by my rivals,” said Mr Mandago.
In the gubernatorial race, the Keiyos feel they have a stake in the county’s leadership, having invested in the region.
The Nandi, on the other hand, feel they are the natives.
Mr Buzeki, a prominent businessman, says his “unparalleled” track record as an entrepreneur has prepared him adequately to be the next governor of the county.
“I have heeded the calling of the people of Uasin Gishu and after a good and deep thought, I have made a decision to be the next governor,” Mr Buzeki told the Nation in an interview.
“My decision is founded on the poverty levels that are increasingly getting out of hand in Uasin Gishu County.
"In simple terms, to say that I am shocked is an understatement on how Uasin Gishu County has been poorly managed,” added the soft spoken aspirant.
According to Mr Buzeki, the fruits of devolution were yet to be felt in the county despite the billions of shillings it is allocated every financial year.
“The youth are jobless and are becoming desperate by the second; our old men do not have anything they call retirement. And it is not because resources are not available. It’s just that we do not have our priorities right,” said Mr Buzeki.
“If elected, I will create a robust management structure where the people of Uasin Gishu will get value for money, every cent will count,” he added.
In a bold move meant to enable him ride on the fame of his thriving milk business known as Buzeki, the aspirant who is in his 40s, has since formally adopted the name.
He will now be officially called Zedekiah Kiprop Bundotich Buzeki.
Mr Buzeki is the owner of Buzeki Logistics, the previous owner of Molo Milk, which he sold to Brookside Dairies, a company associated with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s family.
For his campaigns, he has adopted the slogan ‘Buzeki Nebo Chego’ (Buzeki of the milk’).
“I have done a lot of work. I have built institutions in the whole of Kenya, starting in Mombasa, which is the base of our business. I’m a strong believer in a society that is just,” Mr Buzeki, who hails from Ainabkoi, told the Daily Nation.
But Mr Mandago too, said he had done a lot in his five years in office and urged residents to re-elect him so that he can finish the projects he started.
He cited the Sh20 million, which has been used for upgrading the Eldoret Hawkers Market, which is serving all people in the county.
Mr Mandago said that all the 30 wards in the county have also benefited from Sh6 million each for water projects.
On education, some 20 students from each ward have been sponsored by the county government to study vocational courses at the Rift Valley Technical Training Institute in Eldoret.
The county boss dismissed claims that his administration was discriminating against other people living in the county.
“I’ve always fought to ensure that affirmative action is upheld in the county. I even declined to approve the Cabinet until other ethnic groups are brought on board,” said Mr Mandago.
Analysts also view the more than 100,000 votes from the non-Kalenjins as another crucial factor that would tilt the outcome of the August 8 polls.
Indeed the minorities have been fronting that a non-Kalenjin be appointed as a deputy governor to accommodate all the tribes in the region.
“This has been witnessed in Nakuru where the governor is a Kikuyu while his deputy in a Kalenjin. This should also be the case here for all people to feel accommodated in the county’s leadership,” said Huruma Ward MCA Peter Chomba.
But Mr Mandago has sought to dispel any probability of a non-Kalenjin being his running mate, citing the Keiyo factor and the metropolitan nature of the county.
“I don’t want to cheat you on this. You very well know that politics is a treaty, just like the one the President entered into with his deputy. I entered into a 10-year treaty with my Deputy (Daniel) Chemno.
"What do you want me to tell him and his Keiyo community?” asked Mr Mandago. Mr Buzeki is yet to pick a running mate.
It is widely believed that the candidate who will win the swing vote will carry the day on election day.
This explains why most of the candidates have been trying to reach out to these ethnic groups through sports events and projects at the grassroots.
The issue of negotiated democracy has also played out in the county’s politics, with a section of elders pushing for various political seats in the region to be shared equally among all the constituencies.
The elders who come under the umbrella Kalenjin Myoot Council of elders argue that negotiated democracy is the only way to go to ensure equitable distribution of political seats in the county.
The Myoot elders claimed that they had agreed to share positions in a negotiated democracy to allow equal political representation.
“In the last elections, all the seats went to one region, but this time we have agreed that the governor seat should go to Eldoret North, the senatorial post be held by someone from Eldoret East and the women representative should go to Eldoret South,” said Mr Joseph Cherono, Myoot elders’ county chairperson, in reference to the old administrative units.
The elders, however, declined to name individuals for the various elective positions.
Major (Rtd) John Seii, another elder, said the consensus was reached after a ‘series of meetings’ with representatives from the three regions.
“This is like a polygamous family where we have agreed to share positions for the sake of peace and unity in our devolved unit.
"We don’t want disagreements to divide our county. These positions have been agreed upon based old administrative units,” he added.
But another group of elders has told off their colleagues supporting the move, which they termed as selfish, and aimed at achieving selfish political interests at the expense of all people residing in the region.
The elders said the move was not welcome in the cosmopolitan region that is home to all the 42 tribes in the country.
“If we go that way, we will be treading on very dangerous grounds, especially with the events of 2007 still fresh in our minds. We respect the elders but let the people decide on their political destiny without any form of coercion from anybody,” said Mr John Seurei from Segero.
The opposing group has termed their colleagues’ views as personal, and which do not represent the position of a majority of residents in the county.
“Such views are being pushed by selfish interests. The opinion of all the tribes residing in the county should be sought before making such a major decision,” said Mr Wilson Ng’etich, another elder from Kesses.
Religious leaders in the region have also rejected the push, which they have termed as undemocratic and an attempt to impose leaders on the people.
North Rift Council of Imams and Preachers chairman Sheikh Abubakar Bini dismissed the idea, which he termed a recipe for conflicts.
“Who was consulted before such a major statement was made? This will encourage tribalism. The power is with the people to elect leaders of their choice,” said Mr Bini.
In the race for the senatorial post, Senator Isaac Melly will battle it out with former Higher Education Minister Margaret Kamar and Mr Joseph Lagat.
Former Judiciary registrar Gladys Boss Shollei and former Eldoret South MP Peris Simam are front runners for the woman representative’s position.
The incumbent, Ms Eusilah Ng’eny, will run for the Soi parliamentary seat.
Both Mrs Shollei and Prof Kamar come from the Keiyo community.
Governor Mandago hails from Eldoret North as well as Dr Serem while Mr Kiprop comes from Eldoret East.
Senator Melly is from Eldoret North while Prof Kamar and Mr Lagat are from Eldoret East.