Frustrated by the slow pace at which elected leaders have worked to effect political change in the Coast, some 100 professionals, women, youth and community leaders from the region are to meet in Mombasa on April 21 to discuss the future of the region’s political unity.
The ‘Coast We Want’ meeting comes at a time the country is bracing itself for change following the handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga.
To many observes in this region, the handshake should be the litmus test to induce political change. For far too long, the Coast has depended on external sources to drive its political and economic development agenda. Now is the time to change.
The specific agenda for this meeting is still in the works, but the issue of unity of purpose ranks high among the organisers and the participants. Other issues likely to be discussed are the formation of a regional party and the search for a unifying political leader as a spokesperson.
Since the deaths of Ronala Ngala in 1972, and Karisa Maitha in 2004, the Coast has operated from a political leadership vacuum. It has remained without a substantive political leader and the search for one has been in vain. This is in a region that has nearly three million people, almost over half them eligible voters.
In the struggle to find its own identity, the Coast has found itself even more divided, with elected leaders professing political parties formed outside of the region in what could be characterised as self-serving interests. The political gains that the region made during the Ngala and Maitha eras have been eroded over the years. The April 21 meeting will seek to unblock this impasse and try to return the region’s past political glory. Umoja Summit (Pwani), a registered professional entity that started as a WhatsApp group to brainstorm about coastal unity is behind the April 21 meeting. The group is administered by Katana Ndurya, and its members are drawn from the six counties — Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi, Taita Taveta, Lamu, and Tana River.
Naomi Cidi, a long-time leading advocate of coastal unity, who in 2013 unsuccessfully vied for Kilifi senator, sponsors the meeting. In an interview in 2014, Cidi cautioned against the idea of blindly supporting external parties at the expense of a homegrown party —“unless we agree on a coalition formula to accommodate each other.” Mustafa Idi, then MP for Kilifi South, echoed her remarks.
“Every region now speaks in one voice on issues agreed by everybody,” Idi said at the time. “We are 38 ODM elected leaders and we have no voice in national politics, whereas others with only 14 elected leaders have more voice than us in the majority.” Idi added that it was time the Coast region had a leader “so we can come together to accommodate other leaders as a coalition”.
The dream of political unity has never been realised, in part because of strong opposition from some local elected leaders who have argued that a homegrown party is not a necessity. However, the fervor for political change is on the rise. The handshake has emboldened coastal professionals and community leaders to seize the opportunity to drive change, whereas serving politicians have hesitated.
Those who have confirmed participation to this meeting are men and women who have made a mark in the region’s political, economic, social and cultural sectors. They are lawyers, doctors, farmers, business people, clerics, youth, women and community leaders. Aside from the conference organisers — Cidi, Ndurya, Ephie Chari, Masai Mwawira and Witness Tsuma — the others in attendance include Major (Rtd) Rama Mwang’ombe, retired Anglican Bishop Julius Kalu, businessman John Mumba, former PS Phelemon Mwaisaka, Mombasa youth leader Ibrahim Babangida, community leader Reuben Tsuma, and Third Way party running mate Emmanuel Nzai.
If the outcome of the meeting is to be positive, it shall mark the start of a serious search for the political identity of the Coast, which has long been left up for grabs by external political interests. It shall also mean the Coast needs to do things differently, especially about the 2022 election.
THE DABASO DECLARATION
On January 4, 2014, over 3,000 people, among them prominent elected leaders gathered at Dabaso, the home village of former Kilifi North MP Gideon Mung’aro, to mull over the formation of a regional homegrown party. Soon after, the Dabaso declaration came a cropper. Greed, personal vendettas, self-interests and power plays within the Coast leadership, scuttled Dabaso.
The April 21 meeting shall seek to reverse these failures.
“We need to push this unity agenda to the fullest,” one of the confirmed participants told me. “The political pulse of this region should be felt in 2022 and beyond.”
Whether or not the professionals shall succeed in their quest for political unity is a matter to be discerned. The significance of this meeting is that the Coast has had enough with the present crop of leaders who have hesitated to bring about political change at a time the country anticipates massive transformation following the handshake.
Suddenly, there is this realisation — on the part of non-political actors — that the political future of the Coast region lies in the hands of the people themselves, not the politicians.