Battle for seat reaches climax as 12 join race to replace Nassir

ODM leader Raila Odinga congratulates Mvita MP Abdulswamad Sharrif Nassir after businessman Suleiman Shahbal stepped down for him. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Since 1974, save from 2002 to 2017, the Mvita MP seat has been occupied by a member of former Coast Kanu supremo, the late Sharrif Nassir's family.

And now, the Nassir family is seeking to climb a rung higher in the August 9 General Election as Abdulswamad Nassir, the incumbent, eyes Mombasa governorship.

The move has cracked open the race for Mvita seat, described as the seat of power at the Coast. Already, 12 candidates have been cleared to battle for the over 107,000 votes in the constituency.

Mr Nassir, who has served for two terms, has endorsed ODM aspirant Mohamed Machele to succeed him.

But Coast political analyst Mbwana Abdalla Mohamed opines that the battle for Mvita has always been intense because it is the economic and cultural capital of the Coast.

Mvita, which covers Mombasa Island, is also the national government’s regional headquarters, and is home to Mombasa Port and a tourist hub with historical structures like Fort Jesus.

Besides the Nassir family, other big names that have represented Mvita in the past include the current Tourism Cabinet Secretary, Najib Balala, who won in the 2002 and 2007 elections on a ODM ticket.

In 2012, Mr Balala contested for the Mombasa Senate seat on the Republican Congress Party, which became a principal party in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee coalition. It is the year that the Nassir family recaptured the seat through the young Mr Nassir.

Mr Abdalla says the history of Mvita is intertwined with that of Mombasa and that is why its campaigns have been high-octane.

He says Mvita politics are also spiced up by supremacy battles between leaders from the neighbouring Kisauni constituency.

“Mvita or Kisiwa cha Mvita, meaning 'Island of wars', is known for its battles since the days of female ruler Mwana Mkisi, whose reign was vanquished by Shehe Mvita," says Mr Abdalla.

Oral history reveals that Mvita defeated Mkisi, a pagan queen who was said to be the mother of the 12 Swahili tribes and pushed her subjects from the Island to Nyali and Kisauni.

“Mkisi’s 12 tribes still regard themselves as the original inhabitants of the city thus political wars to ward off influence from Kisauni,” says Mr Said Yahya, a historian at Old Town.

He says the area was first represented by Anand Pandya, who served up to 1969 on the then Mijikenda kingpin Ronald Ngala’s political party, Kadu.

“People talk about Kisauni because of the gangs and the late Karisa Maitha, but the biggest scramble has always been for Mvita between Afro-Asian and Mijikenda politicians," says Mr Yahya.

He says the Kadu man was later defeated by Mzee Mohamed Jahazi to win the Mvita seat, then called Mombasa Central. Mr Jahazi served as assistant minister for Health.

Lawyer Abubabakar Yusuf agrees with Mr Yahya, saying that Mvita reflects the politics of the region before independence, when Arabs viewed it as their political base.

He says Mvita remained the Coastal economic hub even when political power shifted to Kisauni constituency in the 2002, 2013 and 2017 General Elections.

In 2002, former Local Government Minister Karisa Maitha won the Kisauni MP seat while Governor Hassan Joho won in 2007 and 2013. But the two had a long drawn-out political supremacy battle with the then Mvita MP, Najib Balala.

Other than Mombasa's internal wars, analysts say other factors expected to influence the Mvita election include the candidates’ financial muscle, the strength of a political party and the Nassir family influence.

Candidates who have been cleared by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Comission (IEBC) to battle it out for the seat include Omar Shallo of United Democratic Alliance (UDA), Harun Rishi of Kadu Asili and Sadat Salim (Independent candidate).

Others are Said Twaha of Pamoja Africa Alliance (PAA), Kanu’s Samatar Issa, Feisal Shariff (Independent candidate), Narkab Amana of UPIA and Mohamed Machele (ODM).

Wiper has fielded Mohamed Juma, United Democratic Movement (UDM) has Murshid Mohamed, Jubilee party has Khadija Muhsin, while ANC is fielding Hassan Sumba.

Mr Rishi says if he is elected in the August 9 polls, he will prioritise the improvement of education standards by increasing bursary allocation.

“I will also battle the acute water shortage by putting up small water desalination plants in each ward. We must stop digging boreholes in every home as it affects the island,” he said.

Mr Salim said the biggest challenges facing residents in Mvita include insecurity, drug abuse, joblessness and lack of clean water for domestic use.

“The level of insecurity in Mvita is shocking. I will address it by training the youth to be self-reliant. I will also make the issuance of bursary very transparent,” he said.

Mr Salim further noted that most public hospitals also lack essential drugs and that he intends to build at least two primary schools to address the issue of congestion in public schools.

Mr Shallo, who contested on the Jubilee party ticket in 2017, said he will establish social structures to alleviate poverty and elevate the standards of living of people living in Mvita.

“The resources are there to create the pathway to end endemic poverty in the constituency; what is missing is the goodwill,” said Mr Shallo while addressing Tudor residents at the weekend.

But the Mvita candidates are also battling what they term as voter apathy in the constituency, noting that most voters appear to have lost faith in the country’s electoral system.

“It appears that most voters, especially women, have believed the propaganda that their votes do not count in an election and that those who decide the result are those who count,” said Mr Harun.

Mr Shallo reminded Mvita residents that voting was an act of faith and that voters should come out on August 9 to exercise their sacred right to determine the leadership.