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Low key rallies spark misgivings over Raila Odinga grip on Coast region

Kenya: Is former Prime Minister Raila Odinga losing his grip on the Coast region? That was the question in the minds of some of his supporters and opponents following his low-key reception in the region last week.

The Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) leader spent part of last month in that area, popularising his push for a national referendum, dubbed Okoa Kenya (Save Kenya).

Odinga is a popular political figure at the Coast. He has won the most votes in the region in the last two General Elections — in 2007 and last year.

Usually, his political rallies at the Coast are colourful affairs that draw huge crowds. But not the previous weekend.

The recent rallies were generally poorly-attended, and were summed up on a low note on Monday, when a man canned the former Prime Minister in Kwale.

Raila began the public rallies last Saturday week in Tana River County, then moved to Kilifi County the day after, winding up in Kwale County on Monday.

All MPs from Kilifi and Tana River snubbed the rallies that appeared to be a litmus test of CORD’s popularity in one of its strongholds.

In Tana River, Governor Hussein Dado (Wiper), Senator Ali Bule (Federal Party) and the MPs from the county did not attend the rally held in Hola on Saturday, September 27. The MPs are Garsen’s Ibrahim Sane (URP), Hassan Dukicha of Galole (UDF), Ali Wario of Bura (TNA) and Tana River Women’s Representative Halima Ware (Wiper).

Copies of Okoa Kenya booklets for the collection of signatures in favour of the referendum were burnt in Tana River immediately after the rally, while Raila’s convoy was jeered as it arrived in Kilifi Town.

On Monday, in Kwale County, what was another poorly-attended rally turned into a major news item after Lengo Karisa Mudzomba breached Raila’s security and hit him twice. The cane also struck Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya. Mudzomba later told the media that he hit the two after he got tired of CORD’s referendum talk.

These were the first major rallies since ODM stripped Kilifi North MP Gideon Mung’aro of his posistion as Minority Whip in Parliament. The move led to a fallout between Raila and a group of ODM MPs from the region over what they termed as ‘dictatorial’ tendencies in the party.

In the wake of this, some political observers are asking whether the low numbers were due to the unpopularity of Raila’s referendum message, or whether the region is in fact slowly turning against him as a political champion.

Passing message

“The poor attendance at the recent CORD rallies sent bad signals. It showed that there is growing dissatisfaction among Coast residents. Raila’s allies, such as Mombasa Senator Hassan Omar, have been arrogant and dismissive of the CORD rebel team and other elected leaders, and they have to tone down this attitude,” Pwani University lecturer Hassan Mwakimako says.

Mwakimako says there is a feeling among Coast residents that the CORD leader has taken the region’s elected leaders for granted.

A good number of Cord MPs from the region, most of them drawn from ODM, have opposed their party’s referendum campaign.

Mung’aro has since teamed up with more than ten legislators from the region to campaign against the referendum. He has been holding rallies to castigate what the group terms as CORD’s ‘disrespect’ for the Coast region’s political leaders.

The Coalition’s loyalists, however, insist that Raila’s tour was a success, despite low turnouts at the rallies.

Changamwe MP Omar Mwinyi, who is among the leaders pushing for the referendum, says the CORD leader’s visit was aimed at passing the referendum message and was not a popularity contest.

He claims some leaders allied to the Jubilee coalition bribed residents not to attend the functions, but that CORD and ODM in particular are still very popular in the region.

“People were paid not to attend the rallies, but these taps of goodies will soon run dry,” says Mwinyi.

The MP says CORD will rely on grassroots leaders such as Members of the County Assembly (MCAs) to reach the electorate and dismisses ODM MPs opposed to the referendum as “out of touch with Coast people”.

In Kilifi County, for example, Governor Amason Kingi, who is a key Raila ally, boasts of having the support of 52 out of the 53 MCAs in his political fold, while Mung’aro has the backing of Watamu MCA Ibrahim Matumbo.

Mung’aro has denied claims that he used money to sabotage Raila’s visit to Kilifi: “We are simple people who do not have the cash to bribe anyone.”

Mung’aro has Kilifi South MP Mustafa Idd (ODM), Malindi MP Dan Kazungu (ODM), Kilifi County Women MP Aisha Jumwa (ODM), Ganze MP Peter Shehe (Federal Party of Kenya), Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir (ODM), Lunga Lunga MP Khatib Mwashetani (Ford-Kenya), Msambweni MP Suleiman Dori (ODM) and Kwale County Women Representative Zainab Chidzuga (ODM) on his side.

He interprets Raila’s poor show at the Coast as a message to the CORD coalition leadership that the region’s residents will not support them blindly.

“I have always told you that it will not be business as usual. Coast residents are now asking themselves whether they will continue to remain just voters or be true partners in any coalition, be it CORD, Jubilee or Amani,” Mung’aro said.

He says his group is educating the people in the region on their political rights, and expects the number of registered voters to increase to more than 2.5 million from the current 1.9 million.

Former Shirikisho Party of Kenya secretary general and prominent Mombasa lawyer Abubakar Yusuf says the low attendance at CORD rallies was a clear protest against the manner in which Mung’aro was removed from his position as ODM Minority Whip.

“In removing Mung’aro, Raila was seen not to be taking Coast leaders seriously as political partners, and this is now haunting the Opposition coalition,” Yusuf says.

He says Coast residents appear to have bought the message from the rebels that the Okoa Kenya campaign is merely a ploy by Raila to boost his political career, rather than championing for resources to be distributed to the grassroots.

And Maimuna Mwidau, a women’s rights activist and political analyst, says the low turnout at Raila’s rallies was an indication that Mung’aro’s team is gaining ground at the Coast, particularly Kilifi, Kwale and Mombasa counties.

“The small crowds can be explained by the fact that Mung’aro is enjoying growing support at the Coast. There is light at the end of the tunnel for the CORD rebels. It is not a surprise that Raila skipped Mombasa in his Okoa Kenya rallies at the Coast,” she said.


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