Tribalism hurts Coast unity bid, says Shahbal

Argues the last leader who was able to unite people was the late Ronald Ngala.

In Summary

• Politician says Coast leaders have not found a common thing to unite every community in the region.

• He says the last Coast leader who was able to unite all the people was the late Ronald Ngala. 

Suleiman Shahbal and Hassan Joho at the Governor's office on April 14.
JUST FRIENDS Suleiman Shahbal and Hassan Joho at the Governor's office on April 14.

Tribalism, the lack of a common political goal and a unifying leader and an uneducated mass are the reasons the Coast region is divided, Mombasa businessman Suleiman Shahbal has said. 

The politician on Sunday said Coast leaders have failed the masses and the region is paying for it. 

Speaking on Msenangu FM, Shahbal, who has declared he will be vying for the Mombasa governorship in 2022, said there are internal talks to try and right the wrongs that have been done by leaders in the past.


“We have started discussions on individual levels. But there have to be some disruptive factors that must first be eliminated,” he said.

Shahbal said tribalism is the biggest impediment to Coast unity, adding that leaders identify themselves more by their ethnic cocoons than their being residents of the Coast. 

He said the history of Coast-based political parties shows that they fail to appeal to all the people because of tribal affiliations. 

The last Coast leader who was able to unite all the people was the late Ronald Ngala, he said. 

He said former Kisauni MP and Tourism Minister Karisa Maitha was on the way to achieving this before he died in 2014. 

“Maitha unfortunately he died before he was able to expand his network to unite all the communities at the Coast region,” Shahbal said. 

He also said politics differs in regions of the Coast. 


“Lamu politics is not the same as Taita Taveta politics. We have not created a common goal for all Coast people and leaders to work towards,” he said. 

Former Kaloleni MP Gunga Mwinga said the problem is that there is no leader to unite all the leaders. 

He said for leaders to work together as one, they also have to have a leader.

“So, we have leaders but we do not have a leader of the leaders. And without this leader of leaders, no matter what we do, we will not be united,” Mwinga said on Sunday. 

Shahbal termed it sad that the region has no leader who is acceptable across the region. 

He said many leaders focus on where they come from only. 

“A leader in Mombasa will focus on issues that touch on Mombasa alone. A Taita Taveta leader will not be recognised in Kwale,” Shahbal said.

He said Coast leaders have failed to identify the common purpose that will glue them together like communities in other regions.

“And this is because of our tribal affiliations. A Giriama will not be in good terms with a Duruma. A Taita will not share resources with a Taveta and a Pokomo will want nothing to do with a Swahili, Luo or Kikuyu,” he said. 

“In Central, there may be the Kikuyu, the Embu the Meru but when it comes to politics they vote as a block and that is why they can produce a strong presidential candidate,” the businessman said.

Umoja Summit Party of Kenya was formed to demolish the tribal walls that hinder unity at the Coast.

USPK secretary general Naomi Cidi said once the tribal walls have been demolished, the region will take its rightful place in the national politics.

“We have the numbers, resources and the will. If we only can look at ourselves not through the tribal lenses but through the regional lenses,” Cidi said on phone Monday.

Shahbal said the idea of a Coast political party is noble but there are hurdles that must be overcome before that is achieved. 

On his political activities in Mombasa, Shahbal said he is doing all he can to promote education to create a pool of youths who can be self-dependent. 

However, he denied that his activities are geared towards the 2022 general elections.

“2022 is still far. Any politician who starts politics two years to elections is mad. This is a marathon, not a sprint."  

He said after 2017, he decided to retreat and concentrate on his businesses that had suffered because of his indulgence in politics.

Shahbal said his meetings with ODM boss Raila Odinga has nothing to do with 2022 politics, saying he has known ‘Baba’ for more than 20 years, even before he stepped into politics.

“I met Baba in 1999. We travelled together in 2000, to the Middle East to look for investors. In 2011, Baba and I went to Iran to look for investors. In 2013, I wanted to vie through the ODM ticket,” Shahbal said.  

“Don’t listen to people’s stories. Nobody will be given an elective seat. One has to fight for it."

He said his close relationship with Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho stems from their long friendship at a personal level.

He said they may have differed in political opinions before but that does not erode their personal friendship.

“This, however, does not mean that there are any plans to hand over leadership of the county to anyone. This is not a hereditary seat. It is an elective one. The people will decide,” Shahbal said.

Edited by R.Wamochie 

Suleiman Shahbal, Ida Odinga and Raila Odinga at the Odingas' Karen residence in Nairobi on April 17.
TAPPING POLITICAL WISDOM Suleiman Shahbal, Ida Odinga and Raila Odinga at the Odingas' Karen residence in Nairobi on April 17.