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The essential Abdulswamad Shariff

Public Investments Committee (PIC) Chairperson Abdulswamad Nasir during a meeting with Treasury PS Julius Muia at Parliament, Nairobi on February 2, 2022. [David Njaaga, Standard]

Abdulswamad Shariff Nassir typically takes two minutes to walk a distance he would cover in 20 seconds when in Parliament.

The Mvita Member of Parliament is not a slow walker. He finds cameras irresistible. And it works for the dapper politician who, in well-cut suits, is something of a sartorial as well as legislative champion at the National Assembly.

Photographers know as much and click away in his direction whenever he walks out of a committee session.

In between strides, he halts to strike poses that many would need hours of instruction to pull off. The best photos – perfectly timed and with flawless lighting – will end up on his Instagram page with 201,000 followers.

However, his numbers pale in comparison to outgoing Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho’s 1.2 million.

But Abdulswamad is not after Joho’s Instagram numbers, he is eyeing the governor’s seat. And as he has probably found out, capturing the title 001 may not be as easy as striking the perfect pose.

Before he can earn a shot at the Mombasa governorship on August 9, Abdulswamad will have to overcome the nomination hurdle.

The race for the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) ticket is already crowded, but the Mvita MP is considered a frontrunner.

Joining him at the front is businessman Suleiman Shahbal. Mombasa deputy governor William Kingi and Kisauni MP Ali Mbogo complete the ODM line-up.

ODM leader Raila Odinga shares a word with  Mvita MP Abdulswamad Sharrif Nassir during an Azimio la Umoja rally at Bamba Sokoni grounds in Kilifi County on February 19, 2022. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

 

In a perfect world, Shahbal would have been the least of Abdulswamad’s worries.

Shahbal may be the billionaire in the race, but Nassir has a more recognisable name. His father, Shariff Nassir, the Kanu-era politician was famous for his fiery tongue.

Abdulswamad can also talk good. He gets riled up whenever a witness takes members of the Public Investments Committee (PIC) - which he chairs - in circles.

But fiery is hardly the impression he gives off that committee. His colleagues, journalists and Parliament staff always flock to him. This makes pulling him aside for an interview a herculean task.

 But we pulled it off last week.

“I'm proud of my father, I'm super proud of my father... but I have built myself politically,” Abdulswamad smiles.

Competitive primaries

ODM had planned to conduct primaries on Monday but postponed the exercise. Already, there is contention over plans by the party to issue a direct ticket in the Mombasa race, with Abdulswamad being the favourite. 

The Mvita MP has been in ODM longer than Shahbal and always reminds anyone who cares to listen. Longevity, he believes, earns him a stronger claim to the ticket.

“I've been in this party from time immemorial. I've struggled with ODM when no one wanted to be associated with us," Abdulswamad says.

Loyalty is not listed as a method ODM will pursue in selecting nominees for different elective seats.

Currently, Raila Odinga's party seems to favour direct ticketing, arrived at from opinion polls and, if need be, consensus.

Homa Bay Women Representative Gladys Wanga is a recent beneficiary of a direct ticket, which she earned after other candidates stepped down in her favour.

The prospects of that happening in Mombasa are unlikely. Shahbal, who has contested Mombasa's governor in the past, has rejected opinion polls. It is doubtful that he would let his dream go without a fight. And neither would Abdulswamad.

"I wouldn't play second fiddle to my own shadow," the Mvita MP says. He is not opposed to consensus. And he is not afraid of facing off against Shahbal in a vote by ODM members.

"At the end of the day, this is an issue of what the people want."

Scandals probed

The last four years have thrust Abdulswamad into the limelight. His committee, PIC, has investigated some of the country's most shocking scandals.

Public Investments Committee (PIC) Chairman Abdulswamad Nassir when Kenya Railways Corporation Managing Director Phillip Mainga appeared before the committee at Parliament buildings, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

 

 At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Abdulswamad and his colleagues probed the Sh7 billion scandal at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa), which uncovered the flagrant disregard of procurement laws.

For weeks on end, witness after witness caved under the relentless questioning of Abdulswamad and his team to reveal disturbing details of the irregularities at the medical supplies agency.

PIC is currently investigating the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project, which cost taxpayers Sh18 billion. The scandal has Abdulswamad spending more time than he would wish in Nairobi, as his committee tries to find answers to questions raised by the Auditor General.

It is this resume that convinces the Mvita lawmaker that he is "what the people want", what the people have always wanted.

"The first time that I got elected as MP I got very decent figures. The second time I got elected, the votes I got exceeded anyone's expectations, including my own," he says.

"I've been on the forefront during my time as an MP, pushing the interests of all Kenyans and those from Coast. I have been there when some residents were to be evicted from their homes, defending them," he says.

"I plan to do more as governor," Abdulswamad goes on, pointing out his interest in safeguarding the Mombasa Port as a source of livelihood for residents.

"What is the stake of Mombasa? And when I'm talking about stakes is it not just about telling me that the port had employed this amount of people for you but the stakes in terms of what is the port of Mombasa bringing to the table? How much income reverts to people of Mombasa?" Abdulswamad poses.

The ideal situation, he says, will see the county government earn revenue from the port and not just the Kenya Ports Authority. He says he will push for the same if elected the county's second governor.

The Mvita MP adds that he has tried to do so before by pushing amendments to the Kenya Merchants Shipping Act that would have seen Mombasa get the maximum gain from the port.

And so he believes he is the best to succeed Joho, from whom, he says, he has learned many lessons. The positive ones, he highlights, are the county government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and Joho's administration in improving healthcare.

"I don't only learn from people's successes, I learn from their errors as well. My intention is to learn from the errors that happened during his time. Needless to say, 'what went wrong in terms of recycling garbage and in implementing a number of issues?' I have been with the people and they have told me their problems, which I plan to solve."

He defines his leadership approach as that of constant "learning and not mockery", a result of the values his parents taught him.

Joho, who Abdulswamad hopes to replace, holds huge sway in Mombasa and, arguably, the Coast at large. So much so that Joho's aspiring successors have urged him to keep off his succession, perhaps afraid that whoever he endorses gets a head start.

Both Abdulswamad and Shahbal have enjoyed close relations with Joho, but the Mvita MP is not losing sleep over who the outgoing governor will endorse.

"I don't expect Joho's endorsement, but I expect his vote," he says, sneaking in what he sees as a nod of approval from Raila. "When your party leader appreciates the things you do on a day-to-day basis, it's way more than enough."