Last week’s historic handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga could be the beginning of a process of national healing that could radically alter the course of Coast politics. The region has much to gain from joining the healing and reconciliation bandwagon.
Although various parts of the country can claim some form of marginalisation or exclusion, the Coast is among the hardest hit. For historical reasons, some of its problems are unique. For example, it is rare elsewhere in this country to wake up one morning under loud bangs of doors by armed police, accompanied by land officials, waving some form of land titles claiming ownership of land that communities have occupied for decades.
Yet this is a common sight in the Coast.
Raila was right when he told ODM MPs after his talks with Uhuru, “We’re going nowhere if we engage in the kind of antagonism we have been engaged in the past five years. We shall not be effective in our push for reforms because we shall be talking at each other instead of to each other.”
The collaboration between ODM and Jubilee, according to Raila — as reported — should be to work closely with Jubilee in Parliament and outside so that unity and harmony can prevail.
This fits well with the demands of the vast majority of coastal communities, who have been politically manipulated much too long by self-interests. The region has been the most vulnerable to manipulation and exclusion.
Politically, also, the Coast has been at odds with itself. The absence of a viable homegrown political party has compounded the problem. Right now, it is split into two loyal political camps — ODM and Jubilee — with the former calling the shots.
From this standpoint, politicians from both camps have behaved as if the only food to be consumed by coastal communities is political rhetoric. Development has taken the back seat.
Some Coast politicians have benefitted and thrived from this divide. To them, politics is about bashing others and their parties, not the real issues affecting the people. Enmity is the game of politics rather than dissent of political opinion. And it is worse in a region that is predominantly ODM.
Working together between ODM and Jubilee parties should be the answer to this vexing and protracted problem. It is a changing political environment that should disappoint many and still please others. Political survival then has to change. Politics should no longer be about ‘us versus them’ but realpolitik.
This means some of the vocal politicians will operate from a political vacuum. If they want to ensure relevance, they must rethink their vociferous political rhetoric. Bashing other leaders and parties is coming to a halt.
Rapprochement will ensure politicians talk about issues affecting the people. This is especially so in the 2022 election.
Party polemic saw some politicians win in the August 8 election, not necessarily because of their characters and ability to serve but because of party loyalty and waves. This was the case in ODM in this region.
Now that both ODM and Jubilee plan to march along similar objectives, party loyalty and dependences will come under scrutiny. The great party divide that characterized party politics also divided and alienated communities. So far, coastal communities are uncertain about their inclusion in the reconciliation process. The absence of Coast leaders, especially Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, from the Harambee House handshake, was not without political significance.
Without a doubt, Joho is among Raila’s closest allies and supporters. He is the hallmark of ODM politics in the Coast. To cap it all, Joho was the only ODM-NASA Governor to attend Raila’s purported swearing-in as the ‘People’s President’ in Uhuru Park on January 30. Joho is the de facto Coast national political representative. But his regular fiery criticisms against the Jubilee government and its leaders may have served his exclusion from the national talks. A number of times he has publicly differed with President Uhuru and Deputy President William Ruto over issues such as land and ownership of development projects in Mombasa.
It is early to fully assess the impact of the talks on the Coast, but the initial effect should be the region charts its own political course.
The consequences of exclusion can prove costly to the Coast’s political unity of purpose. The August 8 election already showed that in the absence of its own political party, the Coast does not matter much when it comes to party or other national decision-making processes.
Although ODM, JP and the other parties can indeed be viewed as national parties, they are rooted in their respective regions. Their loyalty is first in their own communities. In this arrangement, the Coast is conspicuously absent.
As we await the details about this unity of purpose, it is time the Coast and their leaders stand up and be counted. Political change in this region should not be left in the hands of politicians. Professionals, civil society and the communities should as well take it upon themselves to drive the desired political change.