Chiloba trades ballots for beans and finds peace

Suspended IEBC chairman’s new passion is tending his five-acre farm in Trans Nzoia county

Mwangi Willy

The hands that were adept at handling election material, as he demonstrated how voting kits and other gadgets work, were muddy last week as he dug a hole in which he planted a eucalyptus tree seedling and covered it with damp earth.

Ezra Chiloba, the suspended CEO of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), was in an unfamiliar casting, far from his Anniversary Towers office.

He was in his farm in Mutua village, Kolongolo, about 40 kilometres from Kitale town in Trans Nzoia county.

The IEBC chief executive whose fate appears sealed after the acrimonious suspension, has taken to tilling the land with gusto and stirring the local political scene as speculation builds that he is laying ground to vie for a position in the 2022 elections.

People Daily found Chiloba on a recent Sunday, shorn of all glamour and finesse of office, in jeans and gumboots as he planted trees undeterred by a  downpour that was pounding the area.

“Farming has made me a new person,” says Chiloba, “Seeing crops in my farm maturing gives me satisfaction and peace.”

Astute composure

“Don’t think Chiloba is idle. I’m busy and I have peace here. I don’t want to hear the noises out there. My target is to make this piece of land more productive,’’ he told People Daily.

Last year, between August and October, when two presidential elections were conducted amid high political temperatures, Chiloba maintained astute composure as he guided IEBC through its most turbulent chapter.

Even when he was the highest trending topic on social media and Opposition politicians were leading demonstrations calling for his sacking, he did not buckle under the pressure.

Although he survived the demonstrations, he fell to a blow by his chairman Wafula Chebukati who suspended him in March.

If he is hurting from that blow, he is doing a great job of concealing it.

When we found him tending his five-acre piece of land, his demeanor spoke of a person who is completely at peace and resigned to a new role.

Speculations among villagers interviewed about the CEO-turned-farmer is that he may be on charm offensive in readiness to launch a political career.

He, however, declined to talk about the speculations, only saying: “That is a bridge to be crossed when we arrive there.”

That has not, however, deterred his neighbours from treating him like a celebrity.

Political undertones

While introducing dignitaries during the funeral of his father George Ogeto recently, Court of Appeal judge Patrick Kiage bowed to pressure from mourners who demanded that  Chiloba address them. Among the dignitaries was Chief Justice David Maraga.

The crowd cheered when he was given a chance to speak. Although he avoided politics in his speech, the undertones of the crowd’s reaction was not lost on observers.

Joseph Wataka, a teacher who schooled with Chiloba in Kwanza secondary school said of him: “Ezra is a man to watch closely whether in 2022 or in future. The good thing is that age is on his side and people here like him.”

        Another resident Reuben Barasa says the IEBC boss has been spending most of his time farming and visiting families in the neighbourhood.

Chiloba’s mother, Mama Joan Chiloba, is his greatest fan. He describes her son as a strong Christian, an Adventist, “who is a humble, respectful boy”.

Mama Joan, who declined to have her picture taken, believes her son is innocent of all accusations levelled against him.

Model farm

Chiloba wakes up early to supervise work on his farm where he has grown maize, beans, coffee and passion fruits. He is optimistic that the farm will soon be a model where local farmers can learn better farming methods.

“I want to teach our people how to farm and earn from it. I have introduced new crops because I think our people are suffering due to reliance on maize which fetches low  prices in the market. My desire is to make residents  transform their lives through agribusiness,” Chiloba said as he cast his eyes on Mt Elgon, as if to survey the heights he wants to soar to with his newfound passion.

He also intends to plant 4,000 trees before the end of the month.

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