A blessing because it is re-awakening the region’s political consciousness and suddenly, communities and leaders are waking up to the realisation that they have been sidelined and marginalised in national politics and opportunities. They are fatigued in the opposition and they want to be in government — any government. In their reckoning, business should never be the same again by 2022.
On the other hand, it is a curse because it has created political disunity and uncertainty. Leaders are falling apart, and others are seeking alternative ways to remain relevant. After decades of dressing down the Jubilee government for Coast’s underdevelopment, the bashing forums have stopped. It is now everyone for himself.
Ironically, many of the leaders asking for political change belong to ODM, the party that has swept every election at the Coast since 2007. The fallout among the politicians has to do with the 2022 succession politics and Deputy President William Ruto’s presidential bid. Two camps are emerging: One is fronted by Mombasa governor Hassan Joho, while the other is led by his Kilifi counterpart Amason Kingi.
The political alliance and dalliance that has existed between Joho and Kingi in ODM before the handshake, is now falling apart. Joho continues to support Raila Odinga and ODM, while Kingi is crouching towards Ruto. He has called for the formation of a homegrown party and has cast doubt on the handshake, if coastal land issues are not addressed.
From the outside, the Joho is linked to what he calls “like-minded” people, among them Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, who is also the Kanu national chairman. To cap up this relationship, Joho and Gideon met in Mombasa about two months ago. Sources within the Joho camp hint to the fact that the governor is more comfortable working with Uhuru’s former TNA wing of the Jubilee Coalition, rather than Ruto’s URP. Last week, Joho disclosed he would rather work with Moi than Ruto.
The natural ally of King’s camp is Ruto. Politicians in this camp are working with Ruto, while others, such as Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa and her Msambweni counterpart, Suleiman Dori, have said publicly they will support his 2022 bid. Thus, the protest for political change in the Coast region is about the future of ODM, which has dominated opposition politics for a decade.
Ruto’s bid is only serving as a catalyst to effect this change. In so doing, it has driven a wedge among Coast leaders. It began last March in Voi town, Taita Taveta, when the raucous Jumwa asked coastal communities to vote Ruto for President. She was supported by the gaggle of county leaders, who attended the rally. Within weeks, dozens of MPs had professed to work with Ruto, if not to support his bid.
The MPs who support Ruto are from across the six counties of Kilifi, Kwale, Taita Taveta, Mombasa, Tana River and Lamu. Initially, the MPs, many of them from ODM, were protesting against their exclusion from the March 9 handshake, which they blamed on Raila. Then it blew over to include other issues such as opposition fatigue, their need to be government, and the formation of a local party.
The leaders of the political change are Jumwa and Dori, who is also the Coast Parliamentary Group chairman. ODM national leaders have reacted to the rebels by asking them to desist from discussing 2022 politics or supporting Ruto. The MPs have in response said that given Raila shook hands with Uhuru and they are working together, they, too, should be free to shake hands and work with other leaders, including Ruto. This is the stalemate.
This week ODM wrote show cause letters to Jumwa and Dori for their stands. I can only speculate that if ODM has to expel these MPs and fresh elections are held, this would be the litmus test for the party. If it loses in those by-elections, it will be the end of its wave at the Coast. Conversely, if ODM wins, that would be the continuation of the party wave beyond 2022.
Something else. It was reported this week that governor Joho held private talks with Uhuru and Raila during their stay in Mombasa. To deepen the political divide, the Kilifi rumour mill says Jumwa was denied access to meet Raila at his new residence at Nyali, Mombasa. Within Malindi and Kilifi county, Jumwa is a sensation. And some politicians have scorned her, while others have encouraged her to soldier on.
POLITICS OF ETHNICITY
The scramble for the control of Coast politics is gradually turning ethnic, which is rare given it is heterogeneous in nature. The divide-and-rule strategy is meant to isolate the majority communities such as the Mijikenda, the Taita, the Taveta and communities from Tana River, like the Pokomo, from the minority but more influential Arab and Swahili communities. The rationale is that if these communities were to be brought together and vote as bloc, they would tilt the elections in favour of Ruto. Perhaps, the DP would in turn, peak one among the leaders of these communities as his running mate.
This explains, in part, why Ruto’s frequent visits have focussed on areas dominated by these communities. But the handshake is consolidating the communities.
Joho and Tourism CS Najib Balala reconciled this week, the first time they met since the 2013 election, the latter lost the Senate seat to Cord.
The Joho-Balala handshake is not only meant to consolidate political unity within their communities, but also has to do with Balala’s 2022 governorship ambitions. Even if ethnicity will be a factor in 2022, the influence and wealth of the Arab/Swahili communities should not be underrated. They have controlled Mombasa and Coast politics in the past elections.
This week, a reader of this column called me about the regular visits by leaders and politicians to the Coast. He had in mind the visits by Uhuru, Raila, Ruto, Moi, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula. My answer is that there is a leadership vacuum that needs to be filled. It is that vacuum that they are competing to fill.