Hostile politics that characterised rival parties at the Coast is giving way to to politics of détente, thanks to President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga’s handshake-cum-hug.
Old alliances are breaking down as new ones emerge. And the 2022 succession is the crux of these unfolding changes.
Coast politics and the consequent changes are premised on the ambitions of Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho and his Kilifi counterpart, Amason Kingi. By virtue of their positions and style of politics, they have had control of regional politics since 2007.
In the hands of opposition leader Raila Odinga and ODM, Joho and Kingi found themselves as the de facto leaders of the Coast. But now that Jubilee and ODM are working together, giving way to the politics of appeasement and reconciliation, politicians such as Joho and Kingi, who have thrived on the politics of rivalry, must devise new ways to remain relevant.
The immediate effect of the truce is the realisation by opposition politicians and their followers that working with the national government should be the starting point. This became a reality in Mombasa last week when Kingi shook hands with his rival, Deputy President William Ruto. Out of necessity, the impossible became possible.
Not only did the two shake hands but they also boarded the same helicopter to Tana River to distribute food. In Mombasa, Governor Joho shared pleasantries with upcountry JP legislators during a tree-planting function at Kanamai.
On Thursday, he met with Kanu chairman and Baringo Senator Gideon Moi “in the spirit of the building bridges initiative.” Indeed, the face of Coast politics is changing. The old adage that there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics has been demonstrated.
Before the August 8 election, Kingi and Joho were the fiercest Jubilee critics. They accused Uhuru and DP Ruto of neglecting the region and claiming ownership of development projects initiated by the counties.
The handshake is also breaking up political alliances. While Joho has publicly acknowledged he will continue supporting Raila and ODM, Kingi has remained uncommitted to the handshake.
If anything, he has publicly proposed the formation of a homegrown party. Kingi’s position can be understood in the context of the outcome of the August 8 election. The Kilifi governor is disgruntled by the fact that despite his sterling performance in delivering for ODM, the party has not publicly acknowledged his efforts. ODM won all the seven parliamentary seats — governor, Senate and woman representative, as well as 32 of the 35 MCA seats. Kilifi was Orange.
Kingi also feels sidelined by the national party organs that have exaggered Joho’s role, despite the fact that Kingi represents the most populous county on the Coast. In many national party gatherings, Kingi has visibly played second fiddle, or none at all.
The key factor that may tear asunder the now-troubled Kingi and Joho alliance, is about a homegrown party. Before the August election, Joho and Kingi shared the view that a Coastal party was unnecessary since the interests of native communities were catered for by the ODM. With the handshake, this view is changing: Kingi now prefers a homegrown party while Joho sticks to ODM.
The Kingi-Ruto handshake may deepen the political rift between these two governors. Already, the rumour is that Kingi will join a Coast-based party that will link him up with Ruto, and perhaps Kingi could be his running mate in 2022.
The problem in this arrangement is that Kingi’s political opponents, Gideon Mung’aro and Kazungu Kambi, have been ardent supporters of Ruto and the Jubilee Party. However, given their vulnerabilities, they could easily be prevailed upon to support the Ruto-Kingi political marriage.
The Uhuru and Raila handshake has had another effect on Coast politics. Given the perpetual external dependence of Coast politicians, some of them feel abandoned, in this case by Raila and ODM.
Yet, the handshake provides a unique opportunity for them to reinvent themselves, abandon the politics of personalisation and, instead, initiate new strategies to meet emerging challenges. That way, they will remain relevant.
The much-touted Joho or Kingi presidential bids have been stymied and muted the secession talk of the Coast region.
The objective of the ongoing political shifts is the politics of 2022. Presently, through his frequent whirlwind tours of the Coast, Ruto is considered the man to beat, though he still has a long way to go and politics is never static.
As the handshake effects keep rolling on, some politicians will win, and others will wither away.