So near yet so far: Why Coast parties don’t stand test of time
SEE ALSO :Bill through as MPs seek increased payHe says ODM leader Raila Odinga has retained Coast voters under his fold since 2007 because he championed land reforms and devolution, two key issues that resonate with residents. “The problem with the existing political parties is that they did not have trusted leaders to drive our agenda. We have to rally our people around the ideology; we don’t have to have a lot of resource to convince them. Leadership of party matters a lot,” he says. But other leaders and political pundits beg to differ. Pwani University lecturer Hassan Mwakimako says the region should focus on the challenges previous political parties have faced and address them. He believes Coast residents can revive or use existing parties instead of creating new ones. According to Prof Mwakimako, parties like Shirikisho and Kadu Asili had “people-friendly policies” and only needed effective mobilisation to attract strong support. “Existing Coast parties have a people-friendly ideology on land reforms, jobs and devolution. We don’t need new political parties. We need leaders with a strategy to strengthen and popularise the parties. The problem is that some individuals want new parties just to control the agenda,” he says.
SEE ALSO :MPs defy Uhuru, Raila on Gender BillSince the return of political pluralism, seven parties have sprung up from the Coast and fizzled out without impact. They include the Islamic Party of Kenya, Chama cha Majimbo na Mwangaza, Shirikisho Party of Kenya, Republican Congress, Uzalendo Party of Kenya, National Labour Party of Kenya, Kenya National Congress, Federal Party of Kenya and Kadu Asili. In the run up to the August 2017 elections, Jubilee-allied politicians led by former Kilifi North MP Gideon Mung’aro also toyed with the idea of forming a political party following the so-called Dabaso Declaration of 2014. in June 2015, the region also launched Coast’s social-economic bloc Jumuiya ya Kaunti za Pwani (JKP) which analysts say has been derailed by turf wars. The architects of the bloc admit that the idea has been held hostage by deep seated political differences among governors. Others dismissed it as an ODM affair. Compelling agenda Political analysts now say that the new efforts mainly led by leaders from Kilifi must have a compelling agenda that captures the aspirations of all communities living in the region and avoid stocking racial overtones. Others argue that calls for the formation of the Coast party are sponsored by leaders from other regions to stop the ‘secession bushfire’ and spark division between Kingi and Joho. According to Caleb Ng’wena, a human rights activist, historical, racial and religious differences pit Coastal people against each other, making it hard for a local party to flourish. “In the past, Coast politics was controlled by an affluent clique based in Mombasa that held ultimate power of political control. That is why they could not allow a party formed by leaders from other areas to flourish,” Ngw’ena says. Ngw’ena however says if Joho and Kingi were to team up, a party with a base in the region will be viable because of the two leaders’ charisma and financial muscle. Lawyer Yusuf Abubakar, who once chaired the Shirikisho Party of Kenya, says he encountered problems with Christian Mijikenda who viewed it as an Islamist party with a Muslim at the helm. “The inclusion of ethnic Swahili officials, he said, alienated the Mijikenda further,” said Abubakar in a recent interview. According to Halimu Shauri of Pwani University, Coast residents have dreamt of a strong regional party since before independence. “It is a serious issue, not just a bait for votes. A strong party can unite the region. Many of the problems afflicting the region can be blamed on lack of a strong political party that gives direction. If we are supporting parties from other regions bearing their visions, it means that we, as the people of Coast have no vision. It is as if we have failed to identify ourselves, Prof Shauri said early this year. According to former Cabinet Minister Chirau Mwakwere, past political parties from the region were dogged by lack of unity. “If unity is forged, we will benefit a lot,” he said.