Report & Essay
The Home Run
Another excerpt from our series of dispatches on the election, The Home Run chronicles the parliamentary race in Eldoret.
Elijah Lagat ‘Mheshimiwa’ – Honourable, as they call him – began running simply to lose weight and not necessarily to compete at the highest level of the sport. As a young man, a physician told him that he ‘had a lot of fat around his heart’ and needed to lose weight. It was 1992, and he weighed 158 pounds. Lagat started jogging in 1993, then began competing in 1994 after realizing he was fast enough to make some money at it. By the time he won Boston Marathon his weight had decreased to 125 pounds. Peter Chepkonga was raised in north Rift Valley and can run very fast. He is a journalist with Kass magazine.
He was already 27 years when he first began competing; an unusually late start, and a testament to his innate talent. Before running, Lagat worked as an educational administrator. Now here was Elijah Lagat at 41 years, taking his second shot at representing Emgwen constituency in parliament. In his first attempt he was told by the voters to go to university then come back after five years time. That time had come. He attended Kass marathon partly to give his moral support, but mostly to meet his campaign financiers, fellow athletes both young and old.
Fast forward three weeks later.
“Hallo Mheshimiwa, this is Felix, tumefika hapa Kapseret. Ng’ete ii, there is this guy ne bo kaseetisiek kamache kogeer ole u campaign neng’uung. Mungwana matinye ng’al……he is a very nice guy and my friend – he is not Livondo’s mole. Don’t you remember him? You met him during the marathon….eee… kongoi ara ngetuiye benki Kapsabet.”
“You know he is very particular about the press. Henry Kosgei could easily send some to our team to report bad things then we are finished. But it should be fine with me around. These big buys are trying hard to plant their families all over the country. It is not fair, but the world is never fair anyway. You know how we are treated whenever we represent the country in meets. It is important that we have one of us in parliament.” So says my cicerone Felix Limo, London and Chicago marathon podium finisher. Limo is taking me to join Elijah Lagat, who is in the latter stages of his grueling campaign duel, laden with blackmail, political espionage and bribery from his opponents.
The most formidable of Elijah Lagat’s challengers is Sir Alex ‘Livondo’ Kimutai Kosgei. The young man – in his early thirties- was ‘knighted’ and christened Livondo, an allusion to his bottomless pockets full of money and campaign goodies. He draws most of his political finances from his dad’s political empire, business domain and connections. Having spent most if not all of his years abroad studying, the young Kosgei completely lost touch with the local folk. But whenever he came home he caused a stir in the village. His age mates would congregate in small groups by the roadside to share the news about the one who has come from ‘nga’mbo’ – and marriageable women working in the shambas would giggle while stealing a glance in the direction of the village path from which strong scented cologne emanated and jammed their sweaty nostrils – then put down their tools and walk to the end of the shamba and greet him. Likewise, village elders would fall over themselves as they emerged from nearby liquor dens to greet him and declare their unwavering support to his dad. “Wewe ni wetu Aleksander. Papa yako sisi tumeishi na yeye kutoka samani sana. Weri, naona ile tip ya ng’ombe ukoo… msee nasaidia sisi kuchenga kama yeye bado barnoti kama wewe. Hata leo sisi naogesha huko na kusema asande sasa kwa msee. Na yeye hata bado kusimama bunge hapa! Leo wakaaji ya namgoi nasema ni wewe tu! Na ufanye kasi kama papa yako. Kama sisi naita wewe arambee, kucha, na sisi niambie watoto na vichana yetu kuangalia wewe siku hiyo…si namna hiyo weri? Kongoi.. asande sana.. aah.. asande.”
Sticking to custom, they would ‘shake’ his hands and spray them with a thick tobacco-coloured spittle – a gesture of blessing – then hastily go back to their watering points and engage in heated arguments about Kosgei. Back at Mama Pima’s den, they would immediately split into two camps: one supporting Kosgei and the other casting its lot behind Elijah Lagat, the latter constantly quoting a Kalenjin saying: “Ngo samis muriat ko bo koot ne bo”- Even a if a rat is bad it still belongs to its home.
Elijah Lagat ‘Mheshimiwa’ – Honourable, as they call him – began running simply to lose weight and not necessarily to compete at the highest level of the sport. As a young man, a physician told him that he ‘had a lot of fat around his heart’ and needed to lose weight. It was 1992, and he weighed 158 pounds. Lagat started jogging in 1993, then began competing in 1994 after realizing he was fast enough to make some money at it. By the time he won Boston Marathon his weight had decreased to 125 pounds.
Peter Chepkonga was raised in north Rift Valley and can run very fast. He is a journalist with Kass magazine.