How past missteps haunt Coast’s unity attempt
By Benard Sanga and Patrick Beja | May 16th 2021
With unity talks on the brink of collapse, the Coast Region is perhaps coming full circle, with its leadership repeating the errors that have for decades hindered the desired political unity.
It has emerged that traditional turf wars, mistrust or selfishness among Coast leaders and the influence of upcountry votes have impeded the region’s quest to unite ahead of next year’s elections.
Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi, who has been spearheading the unity talks and the clamour for a Coast political party or coalition, appears to have thrown in the towel, accusing MPs of frustrating his efforts.
“I have tried to bring Coast MPs for talks but some have been uneasy with the idea,” said Kingi, adding that the unity talks have been misconstrued to be his personal political agenda.
The signs of the collapse of the talks emerged in early April after Kingi and his Mombasa counterpart Hassan Joho held parallel meetings with Coast leaders.
On April 9, talks between Kingi and officials of fringe parties in the region also hit a snag over the differences on whether they should dissolve and merge into a single party or form a coalition.
After a two-day meeting at Mnarani Hotel in Kilifi, the officials of Kadu Asili, Shirikisho Party of Kenya and Umoja Summit Party of Kenya (USPK) rejected Kingi’s push for them to dissolve.
Former Cabinet Minister Morris Dzoro, who is the Shirikisho Party leader, Kadu Asili Chairman Joshua Kombora and his USPK counterpart Matano Chengo have vowed never to dissolve the parties.
But Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya appears to have revived the talks. However, in a recent interview, he delinked his meetings with the leadership of the fringe parties to Kingi’s plans.
Although Joho, Kingi and Mvurya have held several meetings, they all appear to be reading from different scripts. Joho has vowed to unite Coast under ODM, Kingi through a new party while Mvurya hopes to rally the region behind Deputy President William Ruto.
Coast MPs, on the other hand, accuse Kingi of failing to articulate the agenda of his proposed political pact.
“Inasmuch as we embrace the idea of Coast unity, we cannot be subjected to uncalled for intimidation by agents of mistrust and individualism,” said Ganze MP Teddy Mwambire.
Mwambire, who is also the Secretary of the Coast Parliamentary Group, said Kingi should go back to the drawing board and “clear the grey areas”.
Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir said Kingi failed to tell the Coast what the new political party stands for, claiming that “he wanted to use it for his personal gains”.
The idea of the Coast party has over the years sparked apprehension among upcountry voters in the region, largely due to the region’s history on majimbo or federalism ideologies.
These ideologies were blamed for 1997, 2005 and 2012 xenophobic killings of non-locals by criminal gangs like the Kaya Bombo, Mlungu Nipe and the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC).
In 2017 polls, eight of the 30 MCAs elected in Mombasa trace their ancestry to counties outside Coast. This was an increase from five in 2013.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) records also show that five of the 12 nominated MCAs in Mombasa have an upcountry lineage. In 2013 they were two.
Statistics show that the number of aspirants from the upcountry vote bloc, who contested for various seats in Mombasa, grew in the 2017 elections compared to 2013.
“It could be a good or bad thing. It is also breeding clannism that has exposed us to manipulation like in the last elections,” said Evans Mayaka.
Mayaka, who unsuccessfully vied for the Shanzu Ward seat in 2017, said there has been a sharp rise of upcountry voters in most parts of Mombasa, leading to an increase in the number of aspirants.
Prof Hassan Mwakimako of Pwani University says because of the increasing number of active upcountry voters, Coast leaders are forced to remain loyal to parties from outside the region.
For instance, he said, in Lamu West Constituency, aspirants from political parties with roots in central Kenya have a headstart because of the Mpeketoni vote bloc.
Dominated by the Kikuyu community, Mpeketoni boasts of over 17,000 voters that influence the elections in Lamu West and Lamu County in general.
Mwakimako said in Mombasa, leaders align themselves with either ODM or Wiper because of the high number of Luo, Luhya, Kamba and Kisii voters.
“The upcountry vote is not unified but in urban areas like Mombasa and where there is a significant population, it is a sway vote because they add the tally for politicians allied to them,” he said.
The sentiments were echoed by Prof Halim Shauri who said upcountry voters usually vote with their compatriots in their areas of origin, hence Coast has a hard time dropping upcountry parties.
Shauri said the upcountry voters are “faithful” to their ethnic leaders, but politicians from the region should go an extra mile, including alignment to political parties, to win them.
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