As 2017 came to an end, three issues preoccupied Coast leaders and the communities — the proposed secession of the region, political unity and a homegrown political party.
The vexing issues of historical injustices and marginalisation also featured, including during the August 8 General Election.
These issues will continue to capture the headlines, notably among indigenous coastal communities and their leaders, even though the secession talk appears to have lost momentum, waiting for the proposed Secession Bill to be tabled in Parliament by Kilifi North MP Owen Baya.
The issue of a regional leadership vacuum has also been a thorn in the flesh for many and it is likely to remain vexing as the region searches for its place in 2022 succession politics.
This prevailing leadership vacuum is not necessarily the lack of available leaders; rather it is the consequence of party affiliations and the politics of divide and rule among Coast leaders.
The absence of a viable regional party has compounded the problem and the Coast has conspicuously been invisible in national decision-making processes. The region has had no leader to call “party principal,” neither in the Jubilee nor in NASA affiliate parties.
Yet, in this pessimistic view of the Coast, there is room to get leaders who would transform the face of Coast politics in 2018 and beyond, given the political will.
Below are some of these leaders:
Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho is presently the most popular politician to assume the regional kingpin position, in part, because he has been the most forceful advocate of the Coast cause in the form of marginalisation and inaction by Jubilee on historical injustices. Joho has equally been the fiercest Jubilee critic, earning himself the nickname “the Sultan” of Mombasa. His daredevil confrontations with the JP leaders has earned him friends and enemies in equal measure.
With his Kilifi counterpart Amason Kingi, they have invoked secession of the region as the solution to the region’s injustices.
As the ODM point man in this region, Joho has been the man behind the party’s wave. Nevertheless, he has failed to exert his party leadership position to influence the cross-ethnic voting bloc to his favour in his quest for regional leadership or his announced 2022 presidential bid.
This means that the unification of the diverse coastal communities should be Joho’s starting point in the realisation of his twin ambitions — being the regional kingpin and the Presidential bid — failing which both dreams shall come a cropper.
Politically, Joho is Kingi and Kingi is Joho. The two play twin politics. What separates these two is that Joho is the descendant of the minority, rich and relatively wealthy Arab and Arab/ African community, the Swahili.
Kingi, on the other hand comes from the populous, largely impoverished Giriama sub-ethnic group of the Mijikenda community that, besides the Giriama, includes the Chonyi, the Digo, the Duruma, the Kambe, the Ribe, the Jibana, the Kauma and the Rabai. He thus has the advantage of leading the largest and most populous county at the Coast.
Kingi, like Joho, is a secessionist. He recently declared he was ready to die in support of a breakaway Coast region. He has the potential to fill the regional leadership vacuum if he can put into good use the numerical strength he has with the Giriama community and part of the Mijikenda. Unfortunately, as of now, the Kilifi governor has remained more of the “King” of Kilifi than a regional or national figure.
Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya, who served his first term on the ODM ticket before he joined Jubilee in the 2017 election, is the other politician to watch.
Mvurya has twice served as vice chairman of the Council of Governors and he is touted to serve as the chair after his Turkana counterpart Josphat Nanok. He has remained non-controversial in regional and national politics, preferring development politics to controversies. Consequently, Kwale has variously been rated among the best0performing counties in the country.
If Mvurya is to assume the Coast leadership position, it should be on the basis of his development record.
The former Kilifi North MP and one time ODM Minority whip is the man presently in the shadows. Since losing the Kilifi governor race in 2017, he has been discounted by many critics as inconsequential.
Yet, given the musical chairs of Coast politics, it is much easier to discount Mung’aro than to speculate on the future course of his political career. He remains a significant factor and enjoys support from his Giriama people and across the Mijikenda. He is still a potential threat to regional leadership, especially if he can restructure his campaign winning strategies for 2022.
There are other politicians worthy of consideration in the quest to fill the existing leadership vacuum. They include Tourism CS Najib Balala and the relatively new Kilifi North MP Owen Baya and his Lunga Lunga counterpart Suleiman Dor, who chairs the Coast Parliamentary Group.
A number of women are also in contention, even though this remains a long shot. They are former Kwale woman rep Zainabu Chidzuga, Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa and her Likoni counterpart Mishi Mboko.
The longest-serving Coast woman MP, Naomi Shaban of Jubilee, has not exhibited any further leadership ambitions beyond Taveta subcounty, her home turf.
There are many other politicians in the offing who, with time, can change the face of Coast politics. However, in the absence of a unifying leader and a regional political party, the region shall continue to depend on external factors to articulate its unique interests and for its survival.
Let 2018 mark the beginning of coastal political transformation, to rethink the region’s place in national politics, and in particular with regard to 2022 succession politics.