Coastal unity remains a mirage unless Mijikenda speak in one voice

Last week, Matano Chengo and a group of coastal politicians announced the setting up of a new party called Umoja. Matano spoke with a hint of sadness and anger. Matano had been the Chairman of the Jubilee Party of Kenya in Mombasa. Before that, he was chairman of The National Alliance (TNA) and before that he was chairman of Party of National Unity (PNU).

For as long as any Coastal politician could remember, he had stood firm with parties from Central Kenya in a region where such parties were extremely unpopular. Matano and I struggled to sell Jubilee and we managed to get the president a hundred thousand votes, the highest number Jubilee and its predecessors has ever got. After the 2017 elections, I struggled from office to office to try and get Matano appointed to any parastatal board, but in vain. Matano was Jubilee One in the Coast.

Betrayal hung in the air like a cloud heavy with rain. Matano and his colleagues in the new party spoke of a need to unite the coast and to negotiate the spoils of victory in coming electoral battles of 2022. In short, they stated that Coastal people should not have to beg for positions in future. It should be a right negotiated as a quid pro quo for coastal support. Matano is a hundred per cent right. Every region is organising to negotiate in preparation for 2022. It’s a fact.

National party

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The idea of a coastal party is not new. We had the Shirikisho Party of Kenya led by Chirau Ali Mwakwere. Mwakwere went on to become a senior cabinet secretary and helped promote many of his people. Then there was Kadu Asili, Chama Cha Uzalendo led by Maur Bwanamaka and recently the Republican Congress of Kenya whole sole raison de entre was to negotiate a cabinet position for Najib Balala and disappeared once this objective was achieved.

Coastal parties have neither achieved coastal unity nor survived any objectives other than promoting the founders.

The second line of thinking is proposed by Hassan Joho and Amason Kingi who believe they can achieve a national platform while operating though an existing national party like ODM. Yes, Joho is the National Deputy Party Leader of ODM, but will this carry him to the position of Deputy Prime Minister in the new proposed scheme of things? Joho’s influence is his willingness and capacity to finance ODM. Money talks.  However, ODM bigwigs critical of Joho say that there is a quid pro quo – Joho’s money has translated into unqualified support from the diehard Luo/Luhya votes which have guaranteed Joho two terms.

The Joho - Raila relationship has been symbiotic. As Raila increasingly plays the Senior elder statesman, he enjoys having Joho as the attacking general saying things he prefers to let others say. The question remains whether this will translate into a DPM position or will Joho’s support be meaningless once Raila has Central Kenya’s support and funding. Will Raila repay years of loyalty and support? Time will tell.

Our claim

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Coastal unity has always revolved around the Mijikenda majority. Mijikenda unity itself has been elusive. Even the late Karisa Maitha could not unite the Mijikenda.

Perhaps he died too soon for us to know whether he could have united the Mijikenda. The Mijikenda are still divided between the Giriama which is the largest tribe and the other smaller Mijikenda tribes – mainly the Choni and the Digo Muslims.

Giriama politicians have a sense of entitlement as the largest tribes and this irks the others This is particularly so with the non-Mijikenda tribes. Coastal political commentators (specifically Mijikenda writers) openly show this bias. This resentment is what’s causing coastal unity to be so elusive. Big brother will never become the leader if he crosses the street alone and does not hold the hands of the smaller brothers (tribes).

They will never be accepted as leaders no matter how big unless this attitude changes.  Coastal unity depends on Giriama leaders uniting the other coastal tribes rather than to be seen as focusing only on advancing their rights, issues and jobs. Neither of my friends, Gideon Mungaro nor Kingi have shown the willingness to pick up this mantle and become Coastal leaders rather than Mijikenda leaders and more specifically, Giriama leaders.

Clearly as we head towards 2022, Coast needs to get its negotiating platform ready. The options are either through a coast based party or to support our regional kingpins Joho and Kingi through the existing major parties and stake our claim at the national table – otherwise put away our plates and prepare to lick the crumbs as they fall off the high table.

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As Coastal people, we have something to learn from the Somali community. Despite their deep clan differences, the Somalis unite at the negotiating table.

Today they have four cabinet positions and Majority Leader in parliament. Which way will Pwani go? I hope for unity. Gentlemen, we need to talk before it’s too late.

Mr Shahbal is Chairman of Gulf Group of Companies

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