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Joho conspicuously absent as Ruto woos his Coast backyard, harvests allies

By Benard Sanga and Patrick Beja | September 6th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho (right) and politician Suleiman Shahbal (centre)arrive at Wildwaters on August 16. [File, Standard]

A 'Sultan' on the down-low politically, an entreating deputy president and a grumbling region fertile for adoption. This is the situation unfolding in Coast.

In the last three weeks, Deputy President William Ruto has pitched camp in the Coast three times, after a long lull, ostensibly to meet delegations, listen to grievances and launch mid-level projects.

Having established a foothold in the region, through the purchase of a 1,000-acre parcel of land in Taita Taveta, Ruto appears keen to politically capture the Coast, previously considered a stronghold of Raila Odinga's ODM.

While during the visits Ruto and his allies have sharpened attacks on President Uhuru Kenyatta, fighting off the constitutional reform agenda, ODM deputy party leader and the region's political supremo, Hassan Joho, has gone on a long lull that has befuddled allies and foes in equal measure.

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When the revenue sharing formula was birthing new rebels across the country, and asserting loyalists in equal measure, the Mombasa governor, alongside his colleagues Amason Kingi (Kilifi) and Salim Mvurya (Kwale), maintained studious silence.

Political acolytes of the three say they no longer have to shout their voices hoarse as they now consult directly with the President and Cabinet Secretaries.

Joho's Chief of Staff Joab Tumbo says Mombasa's views on the debate about the revenue sharing formula were being advanced by Senator Mohamed Faki.

"That is a matter being handled by the Senate. ODM party has also taken a position so has the Council of Governors. The governor believes those are the right organs to deal with the issue," he says.

On the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), Tumbo says Joho commissioned a scientific study on the railway line's effects on the economy and handed it to the President, the Senate and National assembly.

He says people need to sober up and realise that Joho can no longer shout at President Kenyatta.

“Coast lacks a political shepherd. Joho and Kingi are in a dilemma whether to go against their party boss and oppose the third formula,” says Maimuna Mwidau, a political analyst.

Ruto has seen the opportunity and is not wasting the chances. In his most recent visit, he met youth, opinion leaders and clerics to listen to the region’s grievances.

Nyali MP Mohamed Ali who played host said the DP met close to 15 MPs, including nine from Coast, and several MCAs from the region's six counties.

He says the agenda of the meeting was to address the Coast’s grievances on the contentious revenue sharing formula, which will see the region's counties lose Sh7 billion to Sh8 billion if passed.

Ali says Ruto also came to assess the adverse effects of the SGR freight service and listen to delegates’ demands that over 80 per cent of the workforce of the port should come from the Coast.

In July, 10 Coast MPs threatened to ditch ODM after senators from Luo Nyanza voted for the formula fronted by the Senate Finance and Budget Committee. The MPs alleged that the Raila Odinga-led party failed to fight for the region.

Save for Lamu, all the other five counties would lose billions of shillings if the formula sails through.

During the tour, Ruto, who has been isolated and neutered in the running of State affairs, uncharacteristically criticised the running of the SGR and State’s alleged persecution of his allies in the region.

He also rooted for a win-win formula that would make sure no county loses in the shareable revenue, and promised to push for the recruitment of more Coast youth at the port.

“The DP anchored the push by Coast leaders, led by Lunga Lunga MP Khatib Mwashetani, to form a Coast-centric political party,” says former Kisauni MP Annaniah Mwamboza.

The former assistant minister and a longtime Ruto ally says the DP is looking for political partners and not mere followers.

Former Mombasa Senator Hassan Omar, who once bitterly opposed Ruto, has also joined the DP's fray.

He now says Raila, his mentor, has been disastrous, hence the need to turn to Ruto who once accused him of linking him to crimes against humanity after the 2007 polls.

“We categorically asked the DP not to support the BBI and referendum because we feel it will erode the gains brought about by the 2010 Constitution, which we feel is a good document. It’s not a constitutional moment as Uhuru and Raila want us to believe but a moment that Uhuru should show leadership,” Omar says.

According to him, Ruto’s latest Coast visit was successful as it came at a time "researchers have placed him ahead of the pack in the political arena".

Political analysts say Ruto needs to cast his net wide and he believes he has a realistic chance of chipping away Raila's and ODM's wide support in Coast and Western to make up for any shortfalls in other parts of the country.

“He is exploiting the dissent on key national projects and policy decisions to penetrate the Coast. He has turned to Coast to fill his political basket,” says Yahya Muhumin , a doctorate political science student.

In his recent tours, the DP appears to have revived the old networks of ODM MPs who supported him after the 2017 polls but recoiled last year, following threats of expulsion from the party. Ruto has also found new allies in Ali, Omar, and former Taita Taveta Governor John Mruttu.

One of Ruto’s allies, Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa, is facing prosecution in what her supporters are terming as political persecution because of her alignment with the DP. Last week, she was charged with embezzlement of Sh20 million from the National Government Constituency Development Fund.

Ruto is said to have visited the region to give his friends a shoulder to lean on and assure them of his support in the light of the purge. He criticised the investigating agencies, accusing them of being used to settle political scores.


William Ruto President Uhuru Kenyatta Hassan Joho
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