Top Coast politicians give Senate seats a wide berth


Stewart Madzayo (left), Chirau Ali Mwakwere and Hassan Omar are among top contenders for the Mombasa Senate seat [Courtesy]

The race for the six Senate seats in the Coast region has been described as ‘lacklustre and boring’ following a decision by seasoned politicians to give the post a wide berth.

Former Foreign Affairs minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere, who contested the Kwale Senate seat in 2013, has since declared he will go for the governor post in the August 9 election.

Mwakwere, 77, lost to the late Boy Juma in the 2013 senatorial race. In 2017, he vied for the Kwale Governor seat but lost to the incumbent Salim Mvurya.

In Kilifi, Nairobi lawyer George Kithi has dropped out of the race for county’s Senate seat. He said he is focusing on the Kilifi Governor seat.

Perhaps, due to lack of stiff competition, all the current senators have declared they will defend their seats in the August 9 election. The seats, it appears, are being used to woo minority communities.

The incumbents are Mohamed Faki (Mombasa), Issa Boy Juma (Kwale), Stewart Madzayo (Kilifi), Juma Wario (Tana River), Anwar Loitiptip (Lamu) and Jones Mwaruma (Taita Taveta).

Several factors appear to make some seats unattractive or less prestigious at the Coast, compared to other parts of the country.

Madzayo said the scenario was not unique to Coast, adding that the Senate seat has become unattractive across the country because it does not have a development or social programmes fund. 

“It is the only elective seat in the county where the occupiers serve voters using their salary,” said Madzayo, who has declared that he will defend his seat in the general election.

He said the Senate’s oversight role has been hurt by the lack of facilitation to traverse expansive counties. Madzayo said senators have been forced to rely on Auditor General reports.

“We are unable to play the oversight role. I’m unable to move around seven constituencies in Kilifi to inspect county government projects.”

Madzayo said the senators’ push to establish a special fund similar to the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) was thwarted by the Supreme Court through an advisory sought by governors. 

Kithi yesterday said voters in the six counties may not be too keen on the role of the Senate because the region does not have any system of commerce that needs legislation.

“In agriculture-rich counties, the race is intense because agriculture is a devolved function. Agriculture is a system of commerce that needs laws that directly affect the residents,” he said. Kithi added: “Coast voters need basics like food and water. They are unbothered about the laws set in Nairobi. For now, voters at the Coast are more concerned about who will be governor.”

The performance of senators as currently spelt out in the constitution, he said, is more of “to be heard and not take action to improve residents’ lives.”

Kithi continued: “The contest for the MCA is more intense because occupiers are the first contact persons for voters whenever they have a problem. MCAs also have development funds.”

Former Mombasa Senator Hassan Omar said most professionals at the Coast are not interested in the post because the “citizens feel entitled to free things” from politicians.

“Hopefuls feel restrained because they do not have colossal amounts of money to dish out to voters. Coast residents need more public education about the role of a senator,” he said.

Omar has declared his interest to succeed Governor Hassan Joho in the oncoming election.

He said the politics of tokenism has made it difficult for professionals to join the race. “In Mombasa, the battle is between forces of self-preservation and tycoons out for power to advance their business, against selfless leaders ready to serve the people,” he said.

Omar however said the role of the senators cannot be demeaned, adding that “the MCAs are popular because they are within the people’s reach.” 

Policy expert Maimuna Mwidau said the Senate seat is losing prestige because the electorate is yet to understand and appreciate its mandate.

“The Senate is a house for serious policymakers. If you listened to debates in the Senate like the one on the resource allocation formula, you can appreciate the capacity of some senators. “I cannot remember any serious Bill proposed by senators from the Coast.”

Pwani University don Prof Hamilu Shauri said the Senate had left a lot to be desired in its performance. “They have done nothing about the massive looting happening in almost all counties. Voters are losing interest in the House,” he said.

Prof Shauri said aspirants are not keen to spend huge amounts of money to campaign for a Senate seat when they can channel the same resources to seek a governor post.