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Supremacy battles that shaped Coast politics

KENYA @ 50
By BY PATRICK BEJA | October 30th 2013


President Kenyatta and Sheikh Balala (centre)













In the battle for control of Kenya at independence, a few men stood up to be counted at the Coast in support of founding President Jomo Kenyatta against a strong wave by the opposition Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU).

The politics of the time was reminiscent of the strong Cord wave against Jubilee witnessed early this year in the region.

But Sheikh Salim Mohamed Balala, older brother of Mining Cabinet Secretary, Najib Mohamed Balala, and a few colleagues in Kanu then went against the grain and challenged pro-devolution Kadu that was headed by Ronald Gideon Ngala. They became key Coast Kenyatta allies who shaped the region’s politics to this day.

Now old, retired and incapacitated at his upmarket Nyali estate home, Balala Sr combined forces with Mohamed Jahazi  and the late Msanifu Kombo to wage political battle against Ngala, Robert Matano and Shariff Nassir (all deceased) in a Kadu-dominated region to win the hearts of Kenyatta and Kanu stalwarts of the time.

Special nomination

Owing to their active role in Kanu at the Coast,  Balala and Jahazi earned  special nomination by Parliament that benefited only 12 people in 1963.

Their comrade, Mr Kombo, became the powerful mayor of Mombasa. These appointments effectively kept the ruling party alive at the Coast. Jahazi says it was nice to have Balala Sr on board Kanu at a time when many Kenyan Arabs were either in Kadu or the secessionist Mwambao movement, as the Coast Peoples Party was called.

“It was a hot political battle against Kadu, which dominated the Coast region. Coastals supported the Coast People’s Party, which clamoured for the region to be part of Zanzibar, and it was a rare feat for a Kenyan Arab to fiercely back Kanu, which stood for unitary political ideology and was dominated by Africans,” Jahazi says of Sheikh Salim Balala.

Mr Jahazi adds that with their bold stand in Kanu, they were able to define Coast politics as party kingpins and the victory of their party at independence propelled them to prominence despite the odds against them in the region.

It all happened several years before the late Nassir and youthful politicians shot into political supremacy, particularly in the Moi regime, and who became familiar with a younger generation of Kenyans.

After being floored by Nassir as Mombasa Central (Mvita) MP in 1974, Jahazi has led a quiet life although he has made appearances in many  political fora.

During the reign of his ally, retired President Mwai Kibaki, Mr Jahazi served as a board member of the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) where he was an influential figure.

In 1969, Balala Sr earned a second nomination to Parliament while Mr Jahazi dislodged business tycoon Anand Pandya from the Mombasa Central (now Mvita) parliamentary seat. Balala is regarded as the pioneer  politician in the Balala family and brave leader who charmed his way into the Kenyatta government  in 1969, when he served as assistant minister for Finance. Jahazi was also named assistant minister for Health in 1969.

These two positions had been left vacant by the defection of some assistant ministers to the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s Kenya Peoples Union KPU. Jaramogi had fallen out with Kenyatta, and the president’s populariry and ability to hold Coast in his favour was undergoing a tough test.

The senior Balala’s son, Salaah Balala, says his father always believed in a unitary agenda even at a time when he campaigned in a politically hostile region.

“He used his oratory skills to mobilise Kanu supporters and strengthen the party in a hostile atmosphere. He backed a political side whose ideology he subscribed to and stuck to his principles,” Salaah says of the now ailing politician.

His other prominent sons are former nominated councilor, leading golfer and businessman Tawfiq Balala and leading Mombasa lawyer Mohamed Balala.

As he rose to prominence, Sheikh Salim Balala founded the Africa Tea and Coffee Company Limited, which Salaah runs as managing director to date.

Balala Sr played a leading role in the setting up of the Middle East Bank and Kenya Arab Orient Insurance, which fell under Al-Futtaim Limited as the principal firm.

Fiery preacher

According to Salaah, former fiery preacher of the unregistered Islamic Party of Kenya, Sheikh Khalid Salim Balala, and former famous Malindi kadhi Sheikh Sheikh Said bin Salim Balala are members of the Balalas’ extended family.

“Our father became the pillar of  the family when our grandfather died. He played a role in bringing up our uncle Najib Balala who happens to have followed in his footsteps as a politician,” Salaah explains.

He, however, says although Najib occasionally consulted his older brother on various issues, he charted his own political path as he was independent-minded.

In the March 4 General Election, Najib Balala was among a few prominent Coast politicians who joined the Jubilee coalition of  Uhuru Kenyatta and fought the strong Cord wave and were swept under foot.

However, he and former Kaloleni MP Kazungu Kambi got a reprieve owing to their loyalty to President Kenyatta and landed  the coveted positions of Cabinet  Secretary.

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