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November 21, 2018

Somali enter the fray in Mombasa, eye on 2022

Somali leader Mohamed Hurie Ibrahim addresses journalists in Mombasa. file
Somali leader Mohamed Hurie Ibrahim addresses journalists in Mombasa. file

The Somali in Mombasa are talking loud and clear about their political stand in 2022: They will support and vote for a Jubilee-leaning governor and field their own candidates in the parliamentary seats.

If they do this, they will join other upcountry communities that have successfully entered the political frayin Mombasa, Lamu and elsewhere across this region. The political success of the Somali could also mark the beginning of the transformation of Mombasa politics.

The Somali quest for political space in Mombasa was first raised last week by community chairman Mohamed Huri, who said they would vote for a JP-leaning presidential candidate and hinted at Deputy President William Ruto.

This week, the message was repeated by other Somali leaders, who elaborated that the Somali would front one of their own to vie for the Mvita constituency, presently occupied by Abdulswamad Nassir, the son of the late Kanu Coast strongman, Shariff Nassir.

The political talk in Mombasa indicates Nassir will vie for governor.

The Somali are counting on Mombasa leaders such as Nassir to support their cause. The community is estimated to number about 50,000, and most of them are engaged in business and other professions.

The Somali made a mark for themselves last year when Mohamed Ali, the flamboyant former KTN investigative journalist, won the Nyali parliamentary seat. Another Somali, Abdi Daid, unsuccessfully ran for Changamwe MP. In 2022, Abdi is expected to vie again in Mvita.

The entry of the Somali in Mombasa politics poses a challenge to the Mijikenda, the majority in the county. Already, the community has for decades lost control of political power and control, despite its numerical voting power. The Mijikenda have controlled Mombasa politics only twice in the post-independence era. Between 1963 and 1972, the late Ronald Ngala, a Mijikenda, was the Coast region’s political supremo. Ngala died in a road accident on the Nairobi-Mombasa Road as he travelled to Mombasa in December 1972.

The Mijkenda were again in control of Mombasa and the region’s politics between 2002 and 2004 under Karisa Maitha. Maitha died in 2004 while on an official visit to Germany. He was then the Minister for Tourism.

The other communities that have had substantial political and economic power are the Arabs and the Swahili. However, lately, the influx of upcountry people has impacted on the supremacy of these two groups. And one of the factors that has contributed to this is marginalisation, which has resulted in an inferiority complex in the community. This fear has advantaged upcountry communities that have amassed political and financial influence. The Mijikenda have also been submissive to the dominant cultures. For example, some of the members of the community have opted to reject their own cultural heritage for alien linguistic and religious beliefs. They prefer communicating in Swahili even among their own brethren.

Lack of higher education is also to blame. Until recently, there were neither public nor private universities at the Coast. This lack of education has only served to further marginalise the community from meaningfully participating in politics, business and the economy.

Politics is about money and resources. Due to the above factors and others, the Mijikenda have not been able to fully assert themselves in the competitive politics The opportunities that have been available to the Mijikenda in the devolution era were to vie as running mates for the more financially endowed politicians. For example, twice in his gubernatorial bids, Joho’s deputies have been drawn from the community. Other politicians such as former Senator Hassan Omar have done the same.

In part, the Mijikenda have been disadvantaged by the lack of political unity of purpose. In an era in which every region in Kenya manages its own political party and has a unifying leader, the Mijikenda have had none of this. This disunity has been the community’s own undoing. It has given way to the politics of divide and rule. And the situation is not likely to end soon.

The entry of the Somali into Mombasa politics offers some lessons to the Mijikenda, some drawn from history. Both communities have historically suffered marginalisation by the national governments in Nairobi. They had no education and had limited representation in national government. Today, however, the Somali have overtaken the Mijikenda. They are in various professions — law, medicine, education, among others, both in Kenya and abroad. The Somali are also successful business people and they are found in almost every sector of the national economy.

Although the Somali also suffer from ethnic or tribal biases among themselves, the political unity of purpose they have demonstrated in Kenya is admirable. They have used this unity of political purpose to empower themselves in politics, business and commerce. They also have a penchant to support one another. In doing this, the Somali in Mombasa are following in the footsteps and the successes of other upcountry communities that have made it in Mombasa and the region such as the Luo and the Kamba, who have been elected to political positions in the past.


Katana is a political commentator

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