Why the Coast plays second fiddle in national politics, affairs

Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho with his Kilifi counterpart Amason Kingi during a rally in Mtwapa Kilifi county on Sunday November 20,2016.Photo/Alphonce Grai
Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho with his Kilifi counterpart Amason Kingi during a rally in Mtwapa Kilifi county on Sunday November 20,2016.Photo/Alphonce Grai

Events unfolding in the country indicate clearly that the Coast region plays second fiddle in national politics and public affairs.

The Coast, which has since Independence been associated with opposition politics, has seen its political fortunes dwindling with time. Not even calls by the opposition for peaceful protests could reignite its acknowledged political consciousness. Very few people have heeded the call, and this is only in Mombasa county.

Gone are the days when the contributions of Coast politicians such as the late Ronald Ngala, Mwinga Chokwe, Robert Matano, Karisa Maitha and Sharif Nassir, among others — both inside and outside Parliament — energized the Coast. Their contributions shaped the cause of Coast political unity of purpose on issues dear to coastal communities — land reform and marginalization.

It is still difficult to discern when the region lost the course of political unity of purpose.

Nevertheless, as we wade through the muddled waters of coastal and national politics, there is an emerging crop of politicians that coastal communities, academicians and professionals need to push hard to make them leaders.

In mind, I have politicians such as Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, Kilifi’s Amason Kingi, and Kwale’s Salim Mvurya, among others. Joho has, however, made his mark. His daredevil criticisms against the Jubilee government and his fervent support for Raila Odinga and ODM have helped propel him to the national limelight. Through these actions, Joho is a hero to his supporters, and an enigma to the establishment.

This image of Joho’s heroism came to the fore when ODM won the hotly contested 2016 Malindi by-election. Ever since, his working relationship with Jubilee worsened. The point of disagreement being that the ruling party has failed to address land issues and other historical injustices in the Coast.

Yet, despite his determined effort to push the Coast agenda, he is yet to earn the recognition and acceptance as the regional kingpin, or spokesperson. Reason? There are at least two factors that may explain this. One is that his politics is still Mombasa-centric. Mobilising the diverse coastal communities into a single vote bloc behind him remains his major obstacle.

The second reason is the lack of a home-grown political party to back him up. Joho is indeed a very influential person in ODM, yet there is growing demand by coastal communities for a political party with roots from the region — a party they would call their own. Joho can only ignore this reality at his own peril, especially as he plans to vie for President in 2022.

The other politician who could change the political face of the Coast is Governor Kingi. To his added advantage, he has the numbers — he hails from the Giriama (also known as the Giryama), a subgroup of the Mijikenda and the most populous in the region.

Like Joho in Mombasa, Kingi is ODM’s strongman in Kilifi. In the August 8 election, for example, Kingi made history by being the first politician in the Coast to deliver all, except seven MCA, seats to ODM.

And now, Kingi and his ODM MPs want to make more history — they want the Coast to legally and constitutionally secede. The secessionist talk is yet to gather momentum. It may very well serve Kingi’s populist politics to not only ascend to regional politics as the kingpin, but also his public intent of vying for President in 2022. But in all these endeavours Kingi wants to accomplish, there is a catch. It appears that his efforts to ensure ODM is the party to beat in Kilifi and in the Coast has not attracted the ear of Raila. Unlike Joho, Kingi has been conspicuously absent from ODM national rallies. Kingi also appears not be as close to Raila as Joho and Aisha Jumwa, the maverick former Kilifi Woman rep and current Malindi MP, have been.

Kingi’s absolute loyalty to Raila and ODM could, in the long run, be his undoing. In Kenya, if one wants to vie for the highest office, or even be considered as a partner in coalition politics, one has, of necessity, to get there through the sponsorship of a party, preferably one of his own. If Kingi aspires to lead the Coast and vie in 2022, he needs to re-think his options in regards to party politics.

In Kwale, Governor Mvurya seems contented with his position. He has never exhibited any political ambitions beyond Kwale borders. Perhaps this may explain why Kwale is the overall leader in this region’s development record, especially in education.

The other crop of Coast politicians that had a chance to change the political face of the region, but failed to accomplish this, includes former Kilifi North MP Gideon Mung’aro, Suleiman Shahbal and Najib Balala.

Mung’aro, in particular, had the best chance, given that he hails from the populous Mijikenda. He was at one time extremely popular. He is sociable and generous; and his mobilisation skills are beyond reproach.

Mung’aro’s loss of his grip on Coast politics is of his own making. In 2006, he invited dozens of politicians and thousands of supporters to his rural Dabaso home, where he declared the Coast should either join an existing local political party or establish a new one to articulate its interests. Known as the Dabaso Declaration, the idea became an instant hit.

But within no time, Mung’aro abandoned the idea and opted to join Jubilee instead. The Dabaso fiasco was later to be Mung’aro’s own undoing. His political star nose-dived and it has never risen up again. Back to the question: Why does the Coast play second fiddle in national politics? In my view, I attribute this state of affairs to the absence of a kingpin — a spokesperson of the communities — and the lack of a homegrown party as the missing link. These two factors, in part, have contributed to the Coast region’s second fiddle role-play in the present day national volatile politics.