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November 21, 2018

Why Jumwa is emerging as Coast's Iron Lady

Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa Katana is the Coast politician of the moment.  Since March, when she publicly declared support for DP William Ruto in 2022, Jumwa has increasingly been in the news.   Her raucousness has earned her the nickname the “Iron Lady’ of the Coast.

Despite criticisms from ODM leaders and opponents, Jumwa has remained adamant: “I have already made up my mind that I will support Ruto for the presidency in 2022.”

“We cannot stop an idea whose time has come,” Jumwa said.

Jumwa’s unabashed support for Ruto has stirred the Coast. Indeed, it has split the political leadership.   Five months after initiating the debate on Ruto, over two-dozen ODM MPs and five governors have supported her. These are from Kilifi, Kwale, Taita Taveta, Tana River and Mombasa counties.  Only Lamu ODM leaders have been less vocal. 

To tame Jumwa’s political rising star, House Minority Whip Junet Mohamed suggested her removal from the Parliamentary Service Commission.   Party leader Raila Odinga is yet to react, even though Jumwa says that there is nothing she has done against the party and there are no wrangles between her and the opposition chief.  In Jumwa’s view, her mingling with other people is an extension of the handshake initiated by Raila.

Beyond criticisms from the party, Jumwa’s politics threatens to split existing alliances at the Coast.  The camaraderie that has been in place between Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho and his Kilifi counterpart, Amason Kingi, is under threat.  The two are apparently partying ways.

Even in the uncertain future of the Coast region with respect to the March 9 handshake, Joho has stuck with RaIla in ODM.  Kingi, on the other hand, has called for the formation of a homegrown party. He has also doubted benefits from the March 9 handshake, if land issues are not addressed .To compound the split between these two governors, Kingi is establishing rapprochement with Ruto, whicle Joho is moving towards Senator Gideon Moi.

The two leaders pushing the Ruto presidential bid bandwagon are Jumwa and Msambeni MP Suleiman Dori, who is also the chairman of the Coast parliamentary Group.  However, it is Jumwa who is being targeted, probably because she is the most vocal and daring.  

Jumwa’s latest about-turn to Ruto is intriguing, but not exactly new.  Before the 2013 election, she was an ardent supporter of Ruto.  She was the anchorwoman of table banking in Kilifi, the women saving initiative by Ruto’s wife, Rachel.  Because of the rising tide against the Jubilee Party, Jumwa ditched Ruto for ODM, which was the winning side, first as the Kilifi Woman Rep. It is easy to argue had it not been for the ODM, Jumwa would never have been elected.

Over time, politics had to change and Jumwa’s political association with Raila has been on the rise, at times overshadowing Governors Kingi and Joho — the two cornerstones of ODM at the Coast.  It is this departure from the Raila camp that has remained a puzzle to both her supporters and party officials.

In her defense, she says the Coast cannot remain in the opposition forever.  In her view, it is time the region joins the government, and in her reckoning, that should be Ruto’s in 2022.  This is  Jumwa’s Achilles’ heel.

Can she win a repeat election?

Those who support her removal, defection, or expulsion from ODM argue that without this party, she cannot retain her seat in another election.  I disagree.  On the contrary, she would be re-elected with a huge margin and ODM’s loss would be felt across the Coast, impacting negatively on its chances in 2022.

Now, let me tell you why.  First, her views in  regard to opposition politics and fatigue reflect the true position of many coastal communities who want change.  Their decades-long support for ODM has not yielded tangible results.

Second, Jumwa enjoys the support of women constituents, who are the bulk of the voters in Malindi.  She has invested in women and youth empowerment, as well as men through education and sports.  Her development record within the short time remains unchallenged in Kilifi. 

Third, the ODM wave in the Coast is on the decline.  Since March 9, a lot of things have happened here, including political realignments that affect ODM’s influence.  Some of these reverses are the ODM leaders’ own making.  People are disillusioned the party shunned inclusivity in the appointment and nominations of Coast leaders and people to Parliamentary positions.  For example, it took immense pressure from Coast ODM MPs to have Jumwa appointed to the PSC. 

Also, in the absence of ODM, Jumwa can opt to vie for re-election on anyone of the available local parties, pending the formation of a viable local party.   The parties most likely to absorb Jumwa if push comes to shave, include the Devolution Party of Kenya, Kady Asili, and Shirikisho. 

Of necessity, I would dissuade Jumwa from vying on the Jubilee ticket, which remains immensely unpopular here.

Finally, to understand the cultural and political dynamics of the Mijikenda, the community Jumwa hails from, it is important to appreciate the role women have played in the past to drive change.  The perfect role model in this instance is Mekatilili wa Menza, who fearlessly challenged British colonial domination among the Giryama.  She dared to tread where men feared to go.

Of course, Jumwa is not Mekatilili.  Times and dynamics have changed.  However, looked at it from a historical perspective, Jumwa could as well be in the footsteps Mekatilili — she fears nothing but fear itself.  

The overall impact of these unfolding events is that Jumwa’s style of politics may serve as a catalyst for change.  The region that has for decades remained a spectator in national politics is gradually re-awakening from its own opposition slumber.





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