By Awadh Babo
The battle to control Lamu’s rich resources has provided a volatile incendiary to the county’s political campaigns ahead of the forthcoming General Election.
Three aspirants are eyeing the governor’s position in Lamu County, an island with a cosmopolitan population that throws the political contest wide open.
Two of the contestants—Lamu West MP Fahim Twaha and Mr Issa Timamy, a long-serving head of the National Museums of Kenya—have had a long-standing rivalry.
Mr Swaleh Imu, an engineer who served as the Electricity Generation Manager at KenGen, is the other contender.
None of the three aspirants have named a running mate yet.
The county, where construction of one of Vision 2030’s flagship projects, the Lamu port, is underway, has provided a fertile hunting ground for votes, even for presidential hopefuls.
Key presidential aspirants have made exploratory forays in Lamu, especially at Mpeketoni, underlining the strategic interest of this remote region to their campaigns.
Famous for the Lamu cultural festival and exciting donkey races, competition for the position of governor is heating up.
Historically, the indigenous people are the Bajuni (farmers and fishermen), Boni (hunters and gatherers), Wa Amu (farmers and traders), Giriama (farmers), Wasanye (hunters and gatherers) and Orma/Wakore who are pastoralists.
However, the establishment of settlement schemes on the mainland after independence transformed the county into a cosmopolitan region. And with an estimated population of 101,539, the cosmopolitan composition throws the political contest wide open since no single ethnic community is large enough to wield a majority vote.
Twaha was the first to declare interest for the governor’s position. A wealthy man, Twaha is serving his third consecutive term in Parliament after making his debut in 1997 on a Kanu ticket.
He has associated himself with Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta’s The National Alliance party, which has gained popularity in the region.
His bid faces a challenge because some of his key campaigners have joined his opponents. He also has to defend his record as an MP, especially because of the thorny land issues.
Twaha also has to respond to criticism he has not been in touch with his constituents as he has mostly lived in Mombasa although he owns property in Lamu.
Timamy is seeking the governorship if he can secure the UDF nomination. A prominent Mombasa-based lawyer, Timamy was the chairman of the National Museums of Kenya board of directors for a decade.
He cites the transformation of NMK during his tenure as his major achievement and proof that he can manage a county. It was during his tenure as chairman of NMK that the government seized water catchment areas , particularly the sand dunes in Shella and Lamu Island, to protect the environment.
This sparked a dispute between him and Twaha after some title deeds acquired by the Twaha were revoked. The land was taken over by NMK under the water catchments conservation programme.
Timamy hopes to make use of his business networks to make up for his inexperience in politics.
Mr Imu, an engineer who served as the Electricity Generation Manager at KenGen, unsuccessfully contested the Lamu West parliamentary seat in the 2007 General Election but narrowly lost to Mr Twaha.
Kanu later nominated Imu as councillor. He is remembered for playing a crucial role modernising the Lamu power station while at KenGen, reducing the frequent power outages in the region. He made sure the station got new generators.
Imu hopes his experience in civic politics will help him set up a strong grassroots support base. He has not declared his party of choice although he was earlier associated with TNA.
Lamu County is unique in many respects—the county comprises the famous Lamu archipelago and expansive arable land on the mainland where much of the population lives.
The county has two constituencies —Lamu East and Lamu West—which also form the only two districts.
The archipelago section of the county has about 55 barrier islands. Some of these islands are inhabited but most are not. The major islands are Kiunga ya Pili, Mwongo Shariff, Kui, Kiwayuu, Ndau, Pate, Manda and Lamu.