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POLITICAL RELEVANCE

Coast leaders' 2022 presidential bids clamour to serve self-interests

In Summary

• The most vocal of the 2022 pro-presidential campaign in the Coast are Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho and his Kilifi counterpart Amason Kingi.

• However, the clamour for the presidency is one alternative way of seeking to remain politically relevant after the 2022 General Election.

Mombasa governor Hassan Joho with his Kilifi counterpart Amason Kingi during the former's swearing-in at Mama Ngina Drive in on August 22 2017
Mombasa governor Hassan Joho with his Kilifi counterpart Amason Kingi during the former's swearing-in at Mama Ngina Drive in on August 22 2017
Image: JOHN CHESOLI

 Since Independence, the Coast region has produced three presidential candidates — the late Ronald Gideon Ngala in 1963, the late Sociology Professor Katama Mkangi, and former Kaloleni MP Chibule wa Tsuma — both in the 1990s.

Whereas the presidential candidacies of Chibule and Mkangi were largely viewed as symbolic, that of Ronald Ngala was more impactful regionally and nationally. It marked the first time ever by any politician from the Coast to plunge into a presidential race.

Though it has been years, Ngala’s 1963 presidential bid offers some useful lessons to the budding Coast politicians, who have expressed interest to vie for the presidency in 2022. One of these lessons is that politics is local. Presidential ambitions alone, without grassroots community support, can hardly yield tangible results.

Ngala was adored because he fought to politically unify coastal communities, in particular, the natives. He had a vision for a federal government that would, among other things, protect minority rights, in particular, land rights.

Ngala was aware that the indigenous coastal communities had been victims of unjust colonial laws regarding land and feared the continuation of these injustices in a post-independent Kenya. But he was to be sure that the Coast was politically united before he teamed up with other leaders from outside the region to form Kadu, the first opposition party in Kenya. Even though Ngala lost the presidency to Kanu’s Jomo Kenyatta in the independence elections of 1963, he left an indelible mark in Kenya’s political history. At the Coast, he remains the political conscience of the region. Nationally, he led Kenya’s first black government.

Now, 56 years later, a new crop of coast politicians has come out to follow in Ngala’s footsteps. They want to lead Kenya but unlike Ngala, they do not have a clear vision about what they should do for Kenyans and the coastal communities, in particular, or the strategy to lead the country.

The most vocal of the 2022 pro-presidential campaign in the Coast are Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho and his Kilifi counterpart Amason Kingi. Both have expressed interest to campaign for the presidency in 2022; even though Joho has been more vocal about this than Kingi.

Before the March 2018 handshake, Joho and Kingi were the staunchest critics of the Jubilee government and its leaders, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto. The handshake has since cooled down the political temperatures, to the advantage of Governor Joho. Besides his role as the ODM pointman on the Coast, Joho is Raila Odinga’s most trusted politician in this region.   Additionally, the handshake has enabled him to come closer to Uhuru Kenya.

The clamour for a coastal presidential candidate moved a notch higher at a fundraiser rally in Kilifi county where, to the urge of his close supporters, Joho repeated his interest to vie in 2022. Specifically, in his own words, he wants to oppose DP Ruto. Citing his closer links to the ‘powers-that-be’ — thanks to the handshake —Joho says he is the most suitable person from the Coast to vie for the presidency.

Joho’s strategy, however, differs from Kingi’s.  

The Kilifi governor prefers political unity of the coastal communities before going presidential. Many times, he has suggested the establishment of a home-grown regional party to unify the people, build a solid voting bloc and move on to the top seat.  For Joho, ODM is his preferred party.

However, any presidential bid by Joho, Kingi, or anyone else within ODM, is complicated by the Raila factor. If the ODM leader chooses to stand in 2022, all other presidential ambitions will consequently be stillborn.   This is because parties in Kenya are not necessarily mass parties; rather, they are created to, first and foremost, cater for community and ethnic interests and preferences.  

In contrast to parties in advanced democracies, such as in the US, where party members are free and at liberty to contest party primaries for any available elective positions, in Kenya, despite the regulations in place, only the party leader is the unchallenged presidential candidate in any given election.

This means that if Raila vies Joho, Kingi and the others harbouring presidential ambitions within ODM should re-think their positions. The unwritten law is that the party leader is supreme, unchallengeable in any presidential race. And this applies to the other parties, including the Jubilee Party. Presidential contests are the preserve of party leaders.  

In the context of Coast politics, what this means is that without a viable regional party, the clamour for the region to produce a presidential candidate in the next polls is untenable. At best, it is only symbolic. It is a push meant to sooth the Coast voter who has repeatedly, without success, expressed a desire to one day have a presidential candidate from the region.

For some of these politicians, however, the clamour for the presidency is one alternative way of seeking to remain politically relevant after the 2022 General Election. This is particularly true of the governors who are serving their last terms in office, under the law. They need some soft spots to land after 2022. Like the proverbial giraffe, these leaders are stretching their necks to see far and beyond, in search for available opportunities in the future.

And the opportunities are plenty. For example, the contemplated changes in the Constitution, which the ODM brigade is determinedly fronting, provide for a parliamentary system and a three-tier government that, if effected, should be the right avenues for those jostling for positions after 2022.  

The rising clamour in the Coast regarding the region producing its own 2022 presidential candidate, should be understood in this context.  It is a clamour by our politicians to continue holding onto political power and to serve self-interests.