All eyes on Nassir as Sonko, Omar target Mombasa

Mombasa Governor hopefuls Abdulswamad Shariff Nassir (ODM), Mike Sonko (Wiper) and Hassan Omar (UDA).

A sitting governor and an impeached county boss must be on the mind of Mvita MP Abdulswamad Shariff Nassir as he braces for the battle to lead the coastal city of Mombasa.

Nassir had received the blessings of incumbent Hassan Joho to succeed him before Wiper’s Mike Sonko, who was kicked out of the capital Nairobi, muddied the waters by throwing his hat in the ring.

But with three petitions filed against Sonko’s candidature, Nassir’s allies say he will be keenly following events as they unfold in court.

Political analysts say the outcome of the case will have a major bearing on the outcome of the Mombasa governor race, including the threat to deny ODM’s Nassir votes owing to party sibling rivalry in the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya Alliance at the Coast.

Nassir is also faced with another dilemma; how to shed the ‘project tag’ without criticising or being seen to rebel against his ally, Joho.

The MP’s closeness to Joho is fraught with risks. Analysts say it is still not clear how Joho’s development record will affect his ticket as campaigns roll out in the county.

Former Senator Hassan Omar, who is vying on a United Democratic Alliance ticket, has joined Sonko in attacking Joho’s 10-year reign, terming it a disaster.

But Nassir’s running mate, Francis Thoya, has said the outcome of the race will not be a yardstick to gauge Joho’s record, adding that campaigns will be issue-based and not on personalities.

“Mr Nassir is his own man. People will look at his track record and not his ties with Joho,” said Mr Thoya.

He said Nassir has not shied away from discussing issues that affected voters under Joho regime like overtaxing, which he intends to reduce if elected to spur trade and businesses.

According to Thoya, Nassir will also push for the return of port services to Mombasa.

All eyes are on Nassir and the ODM party, which has dominated the county’s politics for the last 15 years. In the 2013 polls, Joho won with 132,583 votes against his main challenger Suleiman Shahbal’s 94,905.

In 2017, Joho successfully defended his seat and got 220,576 votes while Shahbal (Jubilee) managed 69,555 votes. Mr Omar contested on a Wiper ticket and garnered 43,787 votes.

ODM also won the Changamwe, Jomvu and Likoni parliamentary seats. Wiper won in Kisauni while Mohamed Ali, who ran as an Independent candidate, won in Nyali.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has cleared nine candidates to battle it out for Mombasa’s top seat. They include Nassir (ODM), Omar (UDA), Sonko (Wiper), William Kingi (PAA) and Daniel Munga Kitsao (Independent).

Others are Hezron Awiti Bollo (Vibrant Democratic Party), Said Abdalla (Usawa Kwa Wote), Shafii Makazi (UPIA), and Antony Chitavi (UDP).

On April 19, ODM leader Raila Odinga handed Nassir the party ticket, and he has since toured Mombasa five times to campaign for him.

Deputy President William Ruto has intensified campaigns for Omar in Mombasa, while Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka has vowed to use Sonko to end ODM’s grip on Mombasa politics.

Nassir’s campaign team has said their other agenda include the provision of water, privatisation of solid waste management, increasing bursary allocation, and job creation.

“We have concrete plans. We will not build more hospitals, we will equip the existing ones. We will not collect solid waste, we will privatise the service but make sure that service providers do not charge exorbitantly,” said Thoya. 

Omar has, however, vowed to reverse most of Joho’s policies, including housing projects like the ongoing Sh6 billion Buxton housing project linked to Shahbal.

Omar and Sonko also claim that Nassir cannot criticise Joho’s ‘poor’ record because he is the outgoing governor’s ‘project’, a claim Nassir has dismissed as ‘cheap propaganda’.

Like Omar, Sonko has billed the Mombasa contest to be between him and the Joho family, which they claim has held residents captive and run down the county.

Nassir has intensified his campaigns in all the six sub-counties while Sonko is focused on Kisauni. Omar and his running mate Selina Maitha appear to have launched a two-pronged strategy in their quest for the county’s 580,644 votes, targeting Kisauni, Mvita, Likoni and Jomvu.

“I’ll bring real change in Mombasa. I ask voters to evaluate leaders on the basis of merit and away from religious, ethnic, racial and other forms of prejudice,” said Omar on Monday.

Omar traces his ancestry to the Digo sub-tribe that lives in Likoni, south of Mombasa Island. On Sunday, Omar was installed as an elder in a ceremony that was attended by Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya and other UDA leaders from the Coast.

Ms Maitha’s campaigns are mainly in the Giriama-dominated areas of Kisauni, where she was blessed by elders on Sunday.

According to Thoya, Mombasa is a cosmopolitan county and candidates would be ‘utterly naive’ to think that tribal politics will not be a factor in August.

Thoya said Sonko’s track record is tainted and that it is “unacceptable for him to divide Mombasa residents who have lived in harmony for decades along tribal and religious lines.” 

“It is true that ethnicity will be a major factor in August 9 polls in Mombasa. But a candidate cannot think that one or two tribes will make him a governor,” he said, adding that votes from the majority Giriama tribe in Mombasa have been fragmented.

All the governor hopefuls have settled for running mates from the Mijikenda tribe. Thoya’s father is a Giriama and his mother is a Luo. Ms Maitha is a Giriama, while Sonko has settled on Kisauni MP Ali Mbogo who is also a Giriama.

In an interview, Mombasa lawyer and political analyst Abubakar Yusuf said although the Mijikenda are considered the biggest single vote bloc, they do put all their votes in one basket.

“There is also a general feeling among voters that the incumbent governor’s (Joho) reign has not delivered and it is dangerous for Nassir to associate himself with him,” said Mr Yusuf.

Sonko has, however, denied claims of playing the tribal, racial and religious card in the campaigns. His entry into the race has sparked debate on the role of the so-called upcountry votes.

“My administration will work and accommodate everyone. I will walk across all borders. I will stand and fight for everyone,” Sonko said on Monday through his social media account.

He has intensified his campaigns in the populous Kisauni where he has launched projects funded by the area National Government Constituency Development Fund.

According to the 2017 IEBC register, Kisauni had 126,151 registered voters.

Sonko has also rolled out activities of the Sonko Rescue Team (SRT) that has started clean ups in Kisauni and Nyali constituencies. The SRT vehicles have also been deployed to transport bodies that have overstayed in Coast General Hospital mortuary for burial in other parts of the country.