PINCH OF SALT

Is Joho’s presidential bid a myth or reality?

If ODM leader Raila Odinga decides to run for president, Joho’s ambitions will be nipped in the bud.

In Summary

• Joho’s presidential bid has only served to fuel Coast region’s political divisions, especially because he wants to vie on the ODM ticket.

• The governor believes that coastal interests at the national level can be realised through ODM, if it forms the next government.

Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, ODM leader Raila Odinga and Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi during a rally in Mariakani, Kilifi.
ODM TRIO: Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, ODM leader Raila Odinga and Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi during a rally in Mariakani, Kilifi.
Image: COURTESY

Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho’s announcement this week that he will vie for president in 2022 has sent mixed signals.

This is particularly relevant to the success of the ongoing debate about Coast regional unity and the prospects of a homegrown party with a regional leader or spokesperson to drive the Coast agenda.

To be clear, the debate about regional unity boils down to a singular conclusion — that the Coast, fatigued by opposition politics since 2007, wants to be in government in 2022. It is an issue that has torn Coast leaders apart.

Joho’s presidential bid has only served to fuel the Coast region’s political divisiveness, especially because he wants to vie on the ODM ticket.

The governor believes that coastal interests at the national level can be realised through ODM if it forms the next government.

Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir summed up Joho’s sentiments this week when he said, “We will not desert a house (ODM) that we built to go and build another one from scratch."

What this means is that Joho is not ready or willing to support a party brewed in the Coast region.

But his presidential bid is problematic in that if Raila Odinga, the party leader, decides to run for the presidency — and he will — Joho’s ambitions shall be nipped in the bud.

At best, Joho’s presidential bid can only be characterised as an attempt to justify ODM’s pretentions to internal democracy. It is inconsequential.

The divisive issue facing Coastal unity is not the lack of support from leaders and the people but how to achieve it.

For example, is regional unity achievable through established national parties such as ODM or Jubilee, or is it achievable through a home-grown party?

The other question is who should lead this regional unity of purpose?

To respond to these vexing questions, three opposing camps have emerged.

I have talked about the Joho camp, which strongly believes that ODM is the answer to the articulation and implementation of coastal interests. 

The other camp is leaning towards Deputy President William Ruto and his Jubilee wing, which is by extension, the United Democratic Alliance (UDA).

The local leaders behind this camp include Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya and his Lamu counterpart Fahim Twaha — both elected on the Jubilee ticket.

Though they have not participated in any unity talks, these governors have the support of vocal area MPs such as Aisha Jumwa (Malindi), Owen Baya (Kilifi North), Mohammed Ali (Nyali) and Khatib Mwashetani (Lunga Lunga).

This camp has advocated the formation of a local party with direct links to Ruto.

The third camp is centrist. It is led by Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi of ODM, who seems to be fatigued with the party’s politics of exclusion.

Although ODM swept all the leading representative seats in Kilifi in the 2017 elections, the party’s pulse, including the handshake, has not been felt in the county.

Upset by the national party leaders’ inaction, Kingi at one time considered stepping down as the Kilifi county ODM chairman. He had to re-think his decision.

His argument is that if the Coast region has to be in government in 2022, of necessity, it must be on its own political party.

That party, according to his reckoning, could then negotiate for coalitions with like-minded parties and leaders to form the next government.

To achieve this objective, Kingi has been working extra hard to bring local parties together to form a grand regional coalition of parties that will lead the Coast into government.

The missing voices in the Coast regional unity quest and inclusion in government are Tana River Governor Dhadho Godhana and Taita Taveta’s Granton Samboja. Although they are committed to regional unity, their positions on how to achieve this objective have not been expressly stated publicly.

These muffled drums in Coast politics raise another vexing question: Who will lead the Coast in 2022?

Given that Raila is likely to vie in 2022, Joho’s bid is viewed with a pinch of salt among leaders and communities here. This raises the question: Is Joho’s presidential bid a myth or reality?