Possible secret agenda of recent Coast leaders' meeting in city

CSs Salim Mvurya, Aisha Jumwa and former Mombasa Governor Ali Joho during Coast leaders in Nairobi on October 19, 2023, after a meeting to discuss development issues. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

In a surprise twist, virtually all top coastal leaders met in Nairobi recently ostensibly to chart the way forward in engagements with President William Ruto. Curiously, the meeting drew in retired Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho but none of the other former leaders in the region except for those like John Mruttu who hold government appointments.

Other former governors like Fahim Twaha, Granton Samboja and Hussein Dadho were missing. It is noteworthy that despite his absence, former Cabinet minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere recently sprung out of the woodwork to be crowned Digo spokesman.

The two events are unrelated but point in the same direction. There are moves to mobilise Coast leaders towards a common agenda.

This is somewhat unusual since the days of former powerful Cabinet minister Karisa Maitha. Back then, Maitha rallied the region around Mwai Kibaki to defeat a dominant Kanu. Whereas Maitha was the leader, organic issues driven by years of Kanu misrule galvanised the region.

Coming soon after voters across the region demonstrated maturity to choose individuals and not blanket ‘six-piece’ votes for parties, the timing is strange. On the surface, everything is fine in the region.

After 10 years of devolution, there are mechanisms to address most key issues. Even protracted issues like land, food security and unemployment are managed institutionally. Regional governors eschewed the confrontational stance of Azimio in its rejection of the presidential results to cooperate with the Ruto government.

It is noteworthy that farmers from the region benefited from subsidised fertiliser for the first time ever.

Unlike in the immediate past term, the government regularly disburses funds to the devolved entities. This has energised county governments.

Yet with no major contingency, a well-organised session involving the Coast Parliamentary Group, all county governors and speakers of county assemblies took place. It is 10 long years since such a broad-based meeting of Coast leaders took place.

In 2014, newly elected Coast leaders rallied to launch the first ever regional economic grouping of counties. The Jumuiya ya Kaunti za Pwani (JKP) was launched in 2015 with fanfare with local academics and professionals donating time and expertise to develop its blueprint.

The exercise attracted the attention of donors, the national government and the political class. The concept was quickly copied in other parts of the country. The idea was to leverage local advantages to propel economic growth and integration.

However, soon after the ink dried on the memorandum of establishment, fissures and cracks emerged in the leadership. The parliamentary leaders gave JKP a wide berth, leaving it to governors to chart the way.

Absent from the recent leaders’ meeting was a concise agenda on what the newfound unity intends to pursue. It appears the forum intends to be a common voice for the leadership.

There is no talk of linkage with the people or the activities of JKP. In short, the newfound unity is a political talk shop. It will pursue the interests of politicians.

Experience has shown politicians come together to enhance their chances. That is why political parties and alliances in Kenya have a shelf life of five years. Even the mighty ODM has had to realign every five years.

Unfortunately, the political alliances have a dismal record when it comes to actualisation of citizens’ priorities.

As the sages of yore said, Mbiu ya mgambo ikilia kuna jambo. The rallying call for the leaders meeting must be a major issue affecting the region. I posit the meeting was called to rally the leadership around the government policy on the management of ports.

The meeting was neither conceived nor convened by the Coast leadership. It was organised by the government to lobby Coast leaders. I challenge the media to investigate and reveal the conveners.

The presence of Coastal Cabinet secretaries Salim Mvurya and Aisha Jumwa tell it all. The campaign to rally the Coast around the concessioning and/or privatisation of the port started with the leaders’ meeting.

Pwani beware. The train left the station. What should interest voters is what has been offered to local leaders in lieu of support for the deal.

Dr Kingi is senior lecturer, Technical University of Mombasa