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Is it dawn or dusk for effort to rally Coast behind one party?

By Benard Sanga | January 16th 2021 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Coast Governors from left Amason Kingi (Kilifi), Hassan Joho (Mombasa), Salim Mvurya (Kwale) and John Mruttu (Taita). [Maarufu Mohamed, Standard]

Three political factions have emerged at the Coast, threatening plans to unite the region under a new political outfit ahead of the next General Election.

It is now emerging that the same hurdles that have derailed efforts to unite the region since independence are standing in the way of current efforts.

The first faction is coalescing around Governor Hassan Joho of Mombasa; the second around Kwale's Salim Mvurya, and a third faction is behind Amason Kingi of Kilifi.

Political analysts are now drawing parallels between the current divisions and events that happened in the 1960s when the coastal leadership was also split into three groups.

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The first group was led by Shariff Nassir who formed the Mwambao United Front to push for the secession of the Coast.

The second group, largely in Mombasa, was led by Salim Balala who later served as an assistant minister for finance in President Jomo Kenyatta’s regime.

Salim, the stepbrother of Tourism Minister Najib Balala, was a diehard supporter of Kanu and its ideology of establishing a unitary State.

Ronald Ngala headed the third group under the Kenya African Democratic Union, which, although pro-Kenyan, preferred a federal or majimbo system of governance.

Ngala's faction was the biggest because it enjoyed support from the populous Mijikenda, particularly the Giriama community.

All the three factions eventually folded and joined Kanu because, it is argued, they were both at the mercy of political leaders from upcountry.

It is also claimed that the groupings were unsuccessful because their interests overrode those of the locals.

Another school of thought is that the leaders failed because of the coastal people's diversity in terms of race, religion, tribe and occupation.

Little has changed in present-day Coast. The number of upcountry votes has been on the rise in Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi, Lamu and Taita Taveta, which has left leaders under the mercy of upcountry parties. Forming a Coast-centric party has also been seen as a ploy used by leaders to corral voters and later 'trade' them to upcountry leaders in exchange for senior posts in government.

Switched support

In 2006, ministers Chirau Ali Mwakwere and Morris Dzoro rallied the region behind Shirikisho Party before switching their support to President Mwai Kibaki's Party of National Unity.

Some analysts, however, say the growing role of upcountry voters both in commerce and politics has been a big factor leading to a new brand of ethno-nationalism in the Coast.

This, they argue, especially among the nine Mijikenda sub-tribes, has made upcountry voters in the region skeptical of a Coast-based party.

According to Pwani University's Hassan Mwakimako, for the new single-party efforts to succeed, the fears of upcountry voters must be addressed. These residents have in the past expressed skepticism about the initiative due to the pre-election violence that roiled the region in 1997, 2005 and 2012.

These voters view Coast-based parties as established on the ideology of exclusion against people from outside the region.

"Representatives of all voters must be on the table to decide the founding ideology of the party if it is to succeed. Otherwise it will be the same story,” said Prof Mwakimako.

Mr Dzoro says unity can only be achieved if Joho, Kingi and Mvurya can bury their differences and work together. "In 2006, Mwakere and I started similar efforts to unite the coast under Shirikisho but it did not work."

Their dreams, he reveals, did not materialise because of "suspicions, competing selfish interests and supremacy wars fueled by outside forces out to divide the region."

"We are at a political crossroads because the leaders cannot agree, and locals or ordinary folks appear to be clueless," said Dzoro.

The ideological differences between Joho, Kingi and Mvurya are already evident.

Joho has pledged his loyalty to Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga and insists that the region’s interest are best taken care of inside the Orange party.

Mvurya has been picked by rebel ODM and Jubilee MPs to lead the region into a new political outfit that will eventually team up or negotiate with Deputy President William Ruto ahead of the 2022 General Election.

On Tuesday, Ruto said he was impressed with the political developments in Mombasa after a meeting with Nyali MP Mohamed Ali and former Senator Hassan Omar.

Kingi, on the other hand, has set June as the month he will lead the region out of ODM and Jubilee. He, however, insists he is not allied to Ruto or Mvurya's camp.

The Kilifi governor recently criticised Team Mvurya, accusing its members of chest-thumping and allegedly using derogatory words against fellow Coast leaders.

“Politics of sycophancy has ruined the region’s political future because elected leaders have not been honest with each other. People should not attack each other to serve or please their political master," Kingi said.

Mwakimako says Kingi and Mvurya are both attempting to assert their power but warns that their approach is bound to fail, just like in the past. "The biggest problem in the so-called Coast unity is the up-down approach. For it to work, it has to be bottom-up."

Salim Ahmed, a PhD political student at Boston University, says Kingi still believes in the political pact he made with Joho in 2017, which stipulated that one of them will step down for the other.

"Kingi wants to be a middleman but the problem is he is moving at a snail's pace as Joho and Mvurya sides harden their stance. He should bring them to the table now, not in June," Mr Ahmed said, adding that the current battles in the region are similar to those witnessed before and after independence between Nassir, Ngala and Salim.

President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) is introduced to Msambweni ODM by-election candidate, Omar Boga (c) by Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

Support unitary State

"The similarity stems from the fact that Joho has rejected secession calls and supports a unitary state. He supports ODM and has rejected Coast parties,” said Ahmed.

He says Kingi has tried to borrow Ngala's ideas because he also comes from the Giriama community, which leads in numbers in the region.

But Kilifi North MP Owen Baya says both Joho and Kingi are not genuine in their clamour for coastal unity. The two, he claims, want to create confusion before herding voters back to ODM. "They should first resign from ODM otherwise we can only conclude that they are out to spoil the Coast party dream."

Mr Baya was once an ally of the two governors before he decamped to Ruto's camp.

Kilifi Senator Stewart Madzayo, who supports both Joho and Kingi, says there is still time for the governors to "talk and agree and even expand the table for other leaders like Mvurya."

"We are all brothers and sisters. We can drop hardline stances and engage for the benefit of our people. I am in ODM and I support calls for the region to remain in ODM,” said Mr Madzayo.

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