The Mpeketoni bloc in the Lamu West constituency wielded great influence in the 2013 and 2017 governor races.
This year, the focus again remains on the area. Political demographics point to the growing number of voters in Lamu West, particularly Mpeketoni, which was created in 1968 to settle the landless Kikuyu community.
Mpeketoni is a corrupted combination of Kiswahili and English words, where ‘mpe’ translates to ‘give’ and ‘katoni’ is an adaptation of the English word ‘carton’.
Victory in Mpeketoni will play a major role in whether the candidates win the governor race.
In the last election, the power of the Mpeketoni vote was witnessed after Jubilee Party led by President Uhuru Kenyatta won the governor, senator, Woman Rep and a majority of the MCA seats.
Deputy President William Ruto and his Kenya Kwanza Alliance brigade have intensified campaigns in Lamu, especially in Mpeketoni.
ODM leader Raila Odinga and Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho have also made several forays into the county as they seek to ride on President Kenyatta’s popularity to win some seats.
Data from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) indicates Lamu County has a total of 69,776 registered voters spread across two constituencies - Lamu West constituency 51,542 and Lamu East constituency 18,234.
But in Lamu West, areas dominated by the Kikuyu community have more voters.
Hindi ward has 7,376 voters, Mkunumbi 7,994, Hongwe 4,406 and Baharini 9,589.
Other wards in the West, Witu, Shella and Mkomani wards are cosmopolitan in nature with other communities including the Kikuyu, Kamba, Giriama, Pokomo, Maasai, Bajuni and Orma.
In comparison, the Lamu East constituency has three wards; Faza, Basuba and Kiunga. The area is also inhabited by the Swahili-Bajuni community but their votes are lower compared to the West.
Political leaders said Mpeketoni’s vote would determine the outcome of the August 9 governor contest. This week, IEBC cleared four candidates to run for the Lamu governor seat.
Incumbent Fahim Twaha is running on the Jubilee ticket, former governor Isa Timamy on Amani National Congress (ANC) and former deputy governor Erick Mugo on Narc-Kenya.
Ms Umra Omar, a new entrant in the race and the first female candidate to contest for the seat, will vie on the Safina ticket. Of the four, only Mr Mugo hails from the vote-rich Mpeketoni area.
But Ms Omar has selected former Lamu West MP Julius Ndegwa, a native of Mpeketoni, as her running mate in what is seen as a move to endear herself to the vote-rich Kikuyu community.
Ms Omar said although she chose Mr Ndegwa to win over votes from Lamu West, they are also ideological soulmates “unlike other cosmetic tribal alliances out to hoodwink voters.”
“Ours is a coalition of grassroots leaders from different communities in Lamu with a common agenda. It is not a tribal alliance without any ideology to bring our people together,” Ms Omar said yesterday.
Mr Timamy, who won 2013 with Mr Mugo as his running mate, has settled on Mr Raphael Munywa, a Kikuyu from Lamu West, as his deputy, in what he said was a move to unite all communities.
“The Mpeketoni vote bloc is key because of the large Kikuyu community,” Mr Timamy said yesterday.
In 2017, Mr Twaha chose Mr Aboud Bwana from Lamu West but still beat Mr Timamy who had a running mate from Mpeketoni. Mr Timamy says Kenya Kwanza Alliance was also popular in Lamu.
This time around, Mr Twaha has settled on Mr Hajj Mahmoud as his running mate in what political analysts say is a repeat of a political strategy he used in 2017 to divide Mr Timamy’s base in Lamu East.
“In 2017, Mr Twaha chose Mr Bwana to divide Mr Timamy’s votes in the East. He has employed the same strategy,” said John Mbuthia Hongwe, an MCA candidate for United Democratic Alliance (UDA).
Mr Twaha’s political base is in Lamu West where he served as the MP for many years.
In the run-up to the 2017 elections, Mr Timamy was arrested and arraigned over alleged incitement the state claimed was behind land-related violence pitting the settlers and natives.
“This alienated him from the so-called upcountry voters and that is why he lost. But he has a strong development record which will be a springboard to his re-election,” Mr Mbuthia said.
He added that with a governor candidate and two running mates from the Kikuyu community, the Mpeketoni bloc is expected to disintegrate to Mr Timamy’s advantage.
Lamu Woman Rep Captain Ruweida Mohamed, who is eying the Lamu East MP seat, said the Mpeketoni vote bloc will be key to the governor, senate and women rep race.
She said Mpeketoni’s influence also stems from its thriving economy with banks, agricultural schemes, security installations and modern worship and education centres.
“Other than the tribal arithmetic, there are other factors like the issue of land, jobs at Lamu Port, and other economic activities like fishing which will also influence the polls,” Ms Mohamed said.
Other than the tribe, voters in Lamu have also been on the edge over land-related insecurity, especially in fertile lands between Mpeketoni and Witu called ‘Witemere’ areas (cut for yourself).
In these areas, thousands of settlers have land but do not have title deeds. In 2013, President Kenyatta directed the Ministry of Lands to issue title deeds to the settlers.
But according to Ms Omar most people in both Lamu West and East constituencies do not have title deeds because the current leadership failed to follow up on the promise by the President.
“In 2017, Mr Twaha pledged to issue 20,000 title deeds before the next election but only 6,000 have been issued. It is because leaders are controlled by land cartels,” Ms Omar said.
Mr Twaha has however hailed his reign saying his administration gave scholarships to all KCPE candidates who scored 300 marks and above during his four years in power.
He said his administration has improved the welfare of fishermen by giving them modern boats and constructing cold storage facilities.
“We have delivered and the record speaks for itself,” Mr Twaha said, adding that he pushed for the employment of Lamu people at the new port of Lamu.