Barely a year after a falling out, former Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho (Mombasa) and Senate Speaker Amason Kingi appear to have buried the hatchet for the sake of uniting Coast leaders.
The political grapevine was rife with talk of a unity of purpose after the two held a meeting with cabinet secretaries Salim Mvurya and Aisha Jumwa, six governors, senators, MPs, county assembly speakers, and former governors in Nairobi.
Although Kingi, a former Kilifi governor, said the meeting was to craft a framework of structured engagement with President William Ruto, questions abound whether Joho, a fierce critic of Kenya Kwanza regime, was warming up to the government.
Tellingly, for the first time, Joho publicly recognised Ruto as the president and underscored the need for the Coast “to work with the president and elected government until 2027.”
“We have tasked CS Mvurya, Asha and Speaker Kingi to reach out to the president so that we can quickly resolve the most important issues, for now, facing the region,” said Joho.
He said plans to offer concessions to private firms to run port services as one of their priorities.
In the run-up to the last election, Joho and Kingi unsuccessfully tried to bring the region together before they went their separate ways.
But the decision by Joho to work with President Ruto also comes at a time when there was an ugly fallout between Kenya Ports Authority and two cargo handling companies associated with the Joho family.
Autoports Freight Terminal Limited and Compact Freight System Limited are demanding that three KPA officials be jailed for six months for contempt of court for directing cargo destined for South Sudan to rivals.
The firms’ lawyers say the port managers disobeyed a court order issued by Justice Alfred Mabeya on January 25 this year that restrained state agencies from interfering with the cargo arrangement.
Meanwhile, Portside Freight Terminal, another firm associated with the Joho family, has also moved to court to stop the review of the 20-year land lease it obtained from KPA to construct a fertilizer handling at the port.
Political analysts at the Coast say the meeting appears to be both a political strategy and a push for stakes at the Port of Mombasa following the enactment of the Privatisation Act.
Maimuna Mwidau, a political observer, says the Coast could be taking a cue from their Western and Nyanza counterparts, but added that Joho’s presence and body language took centre stage and spoke volumes.
“Joho could be out to get an entry point to Coast and national politics. The political agenda may give Joho a platform to make a political comeback. Whether this will work or not is another story,” says Mwidau.
Like their Western and Nyanza counterparts, she says Coast leaders want to have a common development agenda to be presented to the Kenya Kwanza government after realising that their division did not help them.
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Julius Ogogoh, a human rights activist, and Coast political commentator, is of the view that Coast leaders need to put aside their differences because the issue of leasing out the port services is an existential threat to their political careers.
“All politicians have an interest in the port. Most of them have employed their relatives or cronies there and they know that the concession would lead to job losses. They want their interests protected,” he said.
Ogogoh said opposition leaders at the Coast may have also learnt from past mistakes, especially during the Jubilee’s first term when their defiance against President Uhuru Kenyatta proved unproductive.
“Coast started to witness real development after the 2018 handshake between Uhuru and Raila Odinga. Joho’s and Kingi’s defiance against Uhuru between 2013 and 2017 denied the region development,” said Ogogoh.
Other analysts say that Coast leaders opposed to the leasing of port services have no option but to support the idea after Raila threw his weight behind saying it was “global best practice”.
Pwani University don Hassan Mwakimako said Coast politicians were out to protect their stakes at the port.
“The leaders are out to protect or demand a stake of Mombasa, Lamu, Shimoni, and any other new ports. The claim that they met to push for unity of the Coast is a smokescreen,” argued Prof Mwakimako.
But leaders interviewed said the Nairobi meeting was called by Kingi at the request of Joho, a head of planned tour by President Ruto of the Coast.
The leaders have planned for a follow-up meeting to be held in Lamu County in mid-November.
While addressing the Mashujaa Day celebrations at the Mama Ngina Waterfront Park on Friday, Mombasa Governor Abdulswamand Nassir said Coast leaders should be fully engaged before the concession of ports.
“Nobody can plan for us when we are alive; we are not dead. Don’t plan for us without us The concession should not take place when the people of Mombasa are not aware of the benefits,” he said.
He added: “If the concession takes 40 to 50 years, then it will take five governors before Mombasa people realise their benefits. We are firm because we need to safeguard the future of these children and grandchildren.”
Nassir posted on his social media platforms that the leaders rose above ethnicity, regional, or political affiliation to focus on the issues that matter the most to the ordinary mwananchi at the Coast.
“I am humbled and proud to be part of this effort aimed at delivering equity for our children and future generations. We resolved to engage the national government meaningfully on the planned privatization of the Port to secure a fair share for the County of Mombasa,” he said.
Taita Taveta Woman Representative Lydia Haika said like other regions in the country, Coast also has a right to come together to chart its future.
“Coast leaders are talking to each other on matters to do with development. We are now working together irrespective of party affiliation to effectively deal with widespread drug abuse and underdevelopment,” she said.
Wundanyi MP Danson Mwashako said the talks will be expanded to include views from other stakeholders in order to foster unity of purpose to uplift the living standards of the locals.