Why Coast is key battle ground for Raila, Ruto

Orange Democratic supporters match a long Mvita street in Mombasa. [Omondi Onyango,Standard]

Deputy President William Ruto’s lieutenants remained bullish yesterday about his prospects in the battle to wrestle the Coast from ODM leader Raila Odinga ahead of the August 9 General Election.

For the last four years, the DP has made several forays in Coast to woo the over 1.8 million voters who have overwhelmingly voted for Raila in the last three General Elections.

The DP’s quest appears to have been emboldened after some ODM MPs and 2017 election Jubilee Party losers at the Coast switched allegiance to back his 2022 presidential bid.

Meanwhile, Kanu Chairman Gideon Moi and Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka have also separately continued to make trips to the Coast, completing the three sides battling for the soul of the Coast.

The jury is still out on whether these movements by the political leaders have had an impact on the voters at the Coast. The DP’s camp however claims the region has turned ‘yellow’ or less ‘blue’.

Yesterday, Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa said the ODM MPs who have shifted allegiance to UDA have followers, and “it will be naïve for anyone to claim that ODM has not lost ground.”

“We have supporters who will walk with Ruto. I am confident that I will beat the men in the race for Kilifi Governor and I will contest on UDA,” said Jumwa.

Yesterday, Ruto concluded his two-day tour of the Coast where he visited Taita Taveta, Kwale, and Kilifi Counties. His tour came barely two weeks after Raila also visited the region.

Kilifi North MP Owen Baya claims the Coast people are supporting UDA because once it wins power, it will prioritise the revival of the cashew nut industry and address the squatter problem.

Other Coast MPs backing the DP’s bid are Jumwa, Baya, Mohamed Ali (Nyali), Khatib Mwashetani (Lunga Lunga), Benjamin Tayari (Kinango) and Feisal Bader (Msambweni).

Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya is also in the DP’s camp and has declared that he will support Deputy Fatuma Achani, who is contesting on a UDA ticket to succeed him.

Mwashetani, who dismissed reports that he had defected to ODM, said that Ruto was best placed to tackle historical land injustices that had dogged the region for decades.

Political analysts now say that Coast has turned out to be a vote hunting ground for presidential candidates because it does not have a presidential contender nor a serious political party.

Governors Hassan Joho (Mombasa) and William Kingi who had earlier declared they would vie for the top seat on August 9 have since dropped their bids and backed Raila.  

Meanwhile, talks to unite Kadu Asili, the Umoja Summit Party of Kenya, Shirikisho Party of Kenya, the Republican Congress of Kenya, and the Communist Party of Kenya collapsed.

Last month, Kadu-Asili joined the One Kenya Alliance (OKA), while PAA, led by Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi said it will join Azimio la Umoja.

Divisions along social and religious lines have also been cited as reasons why presidential contenders see Coast as a swing vote.

“Non-native voters have always voted for parties led by people from their ethnic group. This is the group that also forces local leaders to join those parties,” said Lawyer Abubakar Yusuf.

He added: “It is a fact that ODM is still a dominant party in Coast. Ruto is here to consolidate the gains in parts of the region like Lamu West where Jubilee did well in 2013 and 2017.”

In Lamu, Ruto has the backing of Senator Anwar Loitiptip, Lamu East MP Sharrif Athumani and former Governor Issa Timamy who is Musalia Mudavadi’s lead ANC’s Deputy Party Leader.

Yusuf said political parties see Coast as a swing vote bloc due to the high number of upcountry votes, divisions and the absence of a presidential candidate.

University don Hassan Mwakimako said the Coast has traditionally been a swing vote block, particularly, because there were no clear presidential candidates on the cards yet.

“Even without the upcountry, the indigenous tribes have deep-seated differences either along with religion or class that make it easy for presidential candidates from another region to penetrate,” he said.