Use new-found political unity to propel coastal region to greater heights

Newly-voted EALA MPs, from left, ODM's Suleiman Shahbal, Jubilee's Kanini Kega and UDA's Hassan Omar at Parliament Buildings, Nairobi on November 17, 2022. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

A few years ago, I visited a Shiekh in Oman who was once the political secretary general of the Gulf Cooperative Council, their equivalent of the African Union.

He invited me to his home village (what we in Kenya call our "ushago" or "shags") and I was amazed to see the palace that he had built there. I had to ask him, why do you have a palace here in the desert while you have a modest home in Muscat, the capital?

He smiled and replied "if it is because of who I am here, that the people in Muscat will even look at me. If I was a nobody here the people in Muscat would not even know me." There is a truth in that and as you fly over rural Kenya, you will see many large extravagant homes that look so out of place in the village. Same logic.

Last week I was elected by Parliament and the Senate to represent Kenya at the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA). I do not see this as an honour to me but to the people of Mombasa. Surely if the people of Mombasa had not recognised me and honoured me, the people of Kenya would not even know whom I am. I do not take this lightly and I intend to make sure that I am worthy of this honour. It is because of Mombasa that I was elected - not because I am so and so.

What was even more amazing for me is that all the Coastal Members of Parliament (CPG) met and unanimously elected to support me without me even asking for their support. All party, constituency, county, tribal, religious and other differences were put aside to support one of their own.

When I found out about this unity of purpose I was overwhelmed. What have I done to deserve this love? Parliamentarians from both sides of the political divide campaigned for me. CPG even negotiated with other regional groups demanding a quid pro quo before we supported one of their own. This is truly remarkable and worthy of celebration and today I salute them.

I am hopeful and praying that this unity will be sustainable. In the past, the CPG has been a deeply divided house and rarely did it speak with one voice. This is the first time. Now we need to converge and find common causes and work together to make them come true. There are various economic and political opportunities that we must pursue together for the sake of the Coast.

There are various economic opportunities that exist for all of us. First are the Special Economic Zones (SEZ'S) that must be fast-tracked. President William Ruto has spoken of the need to fast-track these, and we must continue to push this agenda. Presidential edicts are not always implemented on the ground, and we must be the watchdogs to ensure they happen. I've lived long enough to see various presidents give orders and senior government officials saying, "Yes Sir" and then nothing happens. If these materialise in time, they will change our economies.

Second, we have several ports that need to be developed. Mombasa and Lamu are already happening, but we could also have Shimoni and Takaungu. These are opportunities that we must drive through Public Private Initiatives (PPI).Government does not have the funds to develop the whole country and we cannot afford to wait for the national government to drive our economic agenda.

The same applies for our fisheries and fruit processing plants. Many such initiatives should not be done purely at the county level. For example, Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi and Tana River all need fruit processing plants for mangoes, cashew nuts, coconuts and there is little point in building the same plants in each county. We need a consolidated approach.

Previous governors set up the ambitious Jumuia ya Pwani but little came out of it. Before we dismiss it as a failure, we need to reassess what they did right and where they went wrong and work towards its revival as a more effective organisation.

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