On March 9, Msambweni MP Suleiman Dori died in hospital after a long illness, setting the stage for a by-election.
The seat was declared vacant by the National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries (IEBC) set in motion plans to conduct a by-election. But Covid-19 erupted in Kenya in mid-March.
IEBC had set the by-election for June 25, but in April the exercise was postponed indefinitely as a result of the novel coronavirus. Kwale was among the first counties to record cases of the virus. Last Thursday, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said all by-elections remained suspended until Covid-19 is contained.
This means Msambweni constituents will go for months without representation in the National Assembly. Those who had lined up to contest the seat have been forced to put their plans on ice owing to uncertainty over developments in the country.
Some of the aspirants had started lobbying for party tickets even before the MP was interred at his Gazi home in Msambweni.
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ODM chairman John Mbadi revealed during Dori’s burial that indeed some people had started lobbying for the party ticket hours after his death.
What promised to be a hotly contested race has, however, been dampened by Covid-19 and uncertainty over the by-election date.
Aspirants have resorted to virtual campaigns, meeting a few people and distributing masks, sanitisers and foodstuffs in a bid to win support.
IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati said the commission resolved to postpone the by-election following the presidential directive issued on March 15 and 25, aimed at containing the spread of the virus.
“The President, among other pronouncements, spelled out a raft of measures that included... suspension of social gatherings, maintaining social distance and a nationwide 7pm to 5am curfew,” he noted.
Besides Msambweni, the other areas where by-elections were postponed are Dabaso Ward in Kilifi County, Kisumu North Ward in Kisumu County, Kahawa Wendani Ward in Kiambu County and Wundanyi/Mbale Ward in Taita Taveta. The Dabaso ward by-election was scheduled for April 29.
Aspirants have, however, vowed to soldier on with the vote hunt albeit low key owing to the Covid-19 preventive measures.
Kwale County executive for Finance Bakari Sebe, who enjoys support of Governor Salim Mvurya and his deputy Fatuma Achani, will face off with Msambweni National Union of Teachers (Knut) executive secretary Bashir Kilalo in the Jubilee nomination for Msambweni. The ODM ticket has attracted former Bongwe/Gombato MCA Omar Boga, the late Dori’s nephew Feisal Bader, Kwale County ODM branch vice chair Nicholas Zani, Ali Mwakulonda and Sharlet Mariam Akinyi.
Most aspirants have pledged to promote cohesion and integrity, education, women and youth empowerment, tourism, fishing, farming and agribusiness, talents and culture.
Msambweni Constituency comprises Gombato Bongwe, Ukunda, Kinondo and Ramisi wards. The constituency had 68,621 registered voters during the 2017 General Election. Mr Boga yesterday said he had resorted to reaching out to constituents on social media after the ban on gatherings.
“We are campaigning on Whatsap and Facebook and those with resources have been distributing food and non-food items to the residents. The challenge is that many people are hungry because of the restrictions put in place to contain coronavirus,” he said.
He has pledged to boost farming, agribusiness and push for establishment of export processing zones in Msambweni to take exploit the Shimoni port and the Dongo Kundu special economic zone in Mombasa.
Mr Sebe, who is running a social media campaign under the banner of ‘Team Sebe’, has promised to foster cohesion and integration, boost education and technical training through issuing bursaries and work closely with Kwale County government to help constituents.
“Under my leadership bursary awards will be streamlined to ensure every deserving constituent in Msambweni will be awarded irrespective of colour, tribe, political inclination or religious background,” he said.
Sebe further pledged to ensure women and youth benefit from 30 per cent government tenders, including those in Kwale County government, boost farming to supply upcoming fresh produce whole market at Kombani, processing of fruits in Shimba Hills and push for construction of factories such as glass manufacturing locally. The area is endowed with raw materials.
“I am also a strong supporter of the Blue Economy through the Jumuiya ya Kaunti za Pwani. I want to also promote talent through sports as a means of creating wealth for our youth,” Sebe said.
Mr Kilalo lamented that it was difficult to conduct campaigns due to the rule on social distancing and ban on gatherings. He says they have been forced to seek support online.
Kilalo has pledged to promote education and training, youth empowerment, tourism, fishing and farming.
“We are campaigning the hard way and the whole process has been slow, as focus is on the Covid-19 and most people are hungry. We meet a few friends, sometimes distribute a few masks and sanitisers, but push most of our messages through the social media platforms,” he said.
Kwale ODM chair Hassan Mwanyoha said campaigns were going on despite being low key. He added that they were looking forward to free and fair nominations.
“Aspirants are lobbying for the party ticket and are using various options to try to reach out to voters despite the challenges posed by coronavirus,” he said.