• The political supremacy battle was indeed fought at the regional level.
• The goal is the control of Coast politics, the place of the BBI referendum and the 2022 elections.
Although the Msambweni parliamentary by-election has been termed as a contest of political supremacy between ODM leader Raila Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto, these two leaders only played the role of facilitators to the teams they supported.
The political supremacy battle was indeed fought at the regional level. The goal is the control of Coast politics, the place of the BBI referendum and the 2022 elections.
In this regional contest for political supremacy, two opposing camps emerged. One was led by Mombasa Governor and ODM deputy party leader Hassan Joho and his Kilifi counterpart Amason Kingi. These two led the Raila Team.
The other camp, closely associated with Deputy President William Ruto, was fronted by Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya, aided by a handful of vocal MPs, notably Malindi’s Aisha Jumwa and Nyali’s Mohammed Ali.
The leading candidates in these competing camps were ODM’s Omar Boga and Independent candidate, Feisal Bader.
So, why did ODM lose Msambweni?
There were several factors at play during this by-election. They include the politics of the late Suleiman Dori — upon whose death the seat fell vacant; the influence of Governor Mvurya; ODM’s leadership behaviour towards the Coast region and fatigue among voters.
For starters, Dori was a pragmatic politician. Although he had been elected on the ODM ticket, he routinely stated that he would work with other leaders across party lines for the benefit of his people.
This pragmatism attracted the wrath of the ODM leadership. In January 2019, the ODM National Executive Council expelled Dori from the party, unless he apologised to Raila. Under duress, Dori had to apologise and his expulsion was rescinded.
In this by-election, the people of Msambweni may have wanted to remember their leader and to reward him — in life as in death — by electing a pragmatic leader such as Dori. That leader is Bader, the Independent candidate.
Mvurya’s influence in the by-election was the other factor. Himself a victim of ODM politics of vengeance, Mvurya ditched the party in the 2017 General Election to vie on the Jubilee ticket. He was reelected.
Inwhat can be characterised as a diplomatic campaign, Mvurya conducted a quiet campaign in Msambweni, which was marked by the politics of chest thumping and verbal diarrhoea a la ODM.
Mvurya was surrounded by vocal politicians such as Jumwa and Ali, who lent support in having ODM defeated. The trick worked. He overcame stiff campaign challenges from governors Joho and Kingi, who had campaigned spiritedly for Boga.
Mvurya had also an added advantage over Joho and Kingi. In terms of performance, he has persistently been officially and unofficially rated the best governor in the Coast region. These qualities must partially have influenced the voters of Msambweni to listen to their governor and vote for Bader.
The behaviour of the ODM leadership at the local and national level may as well have contributed to the defeat. At the peak of a revolt by some ODM MPs at the Coast in 2019 —and after the party’s massive win in 2017 — the behaviour of some party leaders in respect to the Coast region bordered on political abuse.
For example, one ODM official in Mombasa mused that if elections were to be held anywhere in the Coast, even a chicken vying on ODM ticket, would win.
This arrogance may as well have contributed to the party’s loss in Msambweni.
ODM fatigue along the Coast could also have been a factor in the party’s defeat. There have lately been mounting murmurs among voters in the region that the party they have continually voted for n every election since 2007 has abandoned them.
Examples abound — from the region’s sidelining when Raila was Prime Minister to recent cases of coastal people being denied influential opportunities in the party hierarchy in Parliament, ODM positions, and those it has enjoyed under the handshake. This deliberate exclusion may have influenced the decision of the Msambweni voters to abandon the Orange party.
Overall, the impact of the ODM’s loss is that it threatens to reverse the electoral waves the party has enjoyed in every election since 2007. It also threatens to reverse Raila’s influence in Coast politics, including the push for the BBI and his presidential fortunes in 2022.
In the final analysis, however, the by-election was not just about Raila and Ruto’s supremacy war to win the Coast. For many of the coastal communities, ODM’s defeat should be the beginning of a political reawakening in a region that for decades had been without a substantive regional leader.
Suffice it to say that the political winds of change have begun to blow across the Coast region, with Msambweni subcounty as the starting point.