Why Msambweni by-election is acid test for the Big Three

IEBC staff put final touches on ballot boxes ahead of the Msambweni by-election on December 15, 2020. [Omondi Onyango,Standard]

Today’s by-election in Msambweni, Kwale County, will likely put to test the political might of President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga on one side against that of Deputy President William Ruto on the other.

Raila has held the constituency in his grip since 2007, and is backing Omar Boga of ODM. The constituency of more than 69,000 voters is set to elect an MP following the death of Suleiman Dori eight months ago.

Uhuru’s Jubilee party did not field a candidate in respect to the spirit of the Handshake, which has been perceived as a silent backing of the ODM candidate.

But for DP Ruto, whose allies are backing Feisal Bader, an independent contestant, it is about removing Raila’s grip on the Coast as he (Ruto) prepares for the high stakes 2022 General Election.

Last Thursday while campaigning for Boga, Raila said the by-election was a yardstick to gauge his popularity and that of the Building Bridge Initiative (BBI) in the Coast region.

“If we fail here as ODM, it means BBI will have a problem,” Raila said.

Police officers during a briefing at Diani Secondary School in Msambweni, Kwale County, ahead of the by-election on December 15, 2020. [Omondi Onyango,Standard]

Ruto allies said the DP wants to win the seat as a test to the reception of his ‘Hustler’ politics in the country and a spring board to the 2022 elections in which he has expressed interest to vie for the top seat.

During the two-month long campaigns in the constituency, Boga has successfully projected himself as the ‘Handshake’ choice who enjoys the backing of Raila and Uhuru.

“I am a government candidate because the president and his government have endorsed me under the Handshake arrangement,” Boga told The Standard.

Last week, Boga left the campaigns in Msambweni organised by Raila to meet President Kenyatta in Mombasa for the launch of the Liwatoni floating footbridge.

The pictures of the meeting have been widely circulated on social media in what is seen as a continued strategy to depict him as the Uhuru-Raila favourite in the race.

Locally, the by-election tests the political clout of ODM deputy party leader and Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho and Kwale’s Salim Mvurya, who vigorously campaigned for the Raila and Ruto candidates, respectively.

The two governors’ sides have been loudest owing to the competition between Raila and Ruto in the race that has eight candidates.

The others are former Msambweni MP Marere wa Mwachai of The National Vision Party, Khamis Mwakaonje (United Green Movement), Sheikh Mahmoud Abdurahman of Wiper and Ali Mwakulonda of Party of Economic Democracy.

Charles Bilali and Mansour Kumaka are running as independent candidates. Another independent candidate, Sharlet Akinyi, resigned midway and endorsed ODM’s Boga.

Joho has been instrumental in positioning Boga, the former Bongwe-Gombato MCA as the Handshake candidate, as he fought the wave caused by Ruto’s Hustler nation narrative.

“If you are man enough, don’t play Msambweni politics at Karen and on Twitter while posting pictures. Come to the ground so we meet man to man,” Joho said in a remark directed to Ruto.

Boga has also been backed by Kwale Senator Issa Boy, Women Representative Zuleikha Hassan, Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi, Likoni MP Mishi Mboko and ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna, among others.

Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho campaigns for Msambweni by-election ODM candidate Omar Boga (right) in Kwale county. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

Mvurya, however, put up a spirited fight against the narrative that Boga was a government candidate, saying his Jubilee Party did not have a candidate.

“President Kenyatta has no candidate. I am sure if an election was called today, I will be elected with majority votes. I urge you to elect Bader as you guard against those who seek to undermine my legacy,” he said.

Ruto allies backing Bader are Lunga Lunga MP Khatib Mwashetani, Aisha Jumwa (Malindi), Benjamin Tayari (Kinango), Kimani Ichung’wa (Kikuyu) and former senators Hassan Omar, Johnstone Muthama and Boni Kwalwale.

Others are Oscar Sudi, Caleb Kositany, Didmus Baraza and Nimrod Mbai.

Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka campaigned for his party candidate Sheikh Mahmoud last week, urging voters to ignore the “noisy contenders” for the Mombasa businessman.

Msambweni constituency comprises of Ramisi ward with 18,569 voters, Kinondo (19,014), Bongwe-Gombato (17,538) and Ukunda (21,500).

The main issues in the campaign include jobs, tourism, mining, fishing, agriculture and land ownership rights.

The Diani municipality that falls under Bongwe-Gombato and Ukunda wards is home to some of the best beach hotels at the Coast while Kinondo and Ramisi host Base Titanium mining plant and Kwale Sugar Company.

The constituency shares part of Shimba Hills zone, which is Kwale County’s food basket.

Containment measures

The voters are expected to flock the 61 polling centres and 129 polling stations as early as 6am while wearing face masks and are required to observe social distance, sanitise and wash their hands in line with the Covid-19 containment measures.

While presiding over the distribution of voting materials yesterday, returning officer Yusuf Abubakar said a special clerk will ensure no voter violates the safety measures at the polling stations.

“We have already fumigated all the polling centres and are ready for the by-election,” he said, assuring voters of a free and fair poll.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has deployed 450 personnel to carry out the exercise. The poll materials were dispatched from Dr Babla Diani Secondary School in Ukunda town.

On security, Abubkar said adequate security personnel have been deployed to the polling centres and that they were closely working with the police to secure the poll.

Msambweni Police Commander Jeremiah Bitok also assured voters of adequate security even as Bader’s followers expressed fears of possible chaos and vote fraud.