Suleiman Shahbal defection to ODM jolts Joho's succession matrix

Politician Suleiman Shahbal addresses the press at PrideInn in Mombasa. [Omondi Onyango,Standard]

For a long time, Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir had portrayed himself as Mombasa governor Hassan Joho's heir apparent, especially due to his loyalty to ODM leader Raila Odinga. And many people viewed him as such.

Because of this, many believed Nassir would easily win the ODM ticket even as the country gears up for next year's General Election.

However, this was before businessman Suleiman Shahbal defected to the Orange party in June, a decision that appears to have jolted Joho's succession matrix.

Shahbal ran against Joho in 2013 and 2017 and lost. As one of ODM's deputy party leaders, Joho easily won the party's ticket in both elections. The other deputy party leader is Kakamega governor Wycliffe Oparanya. 

Shahbal, a banker, has reportedly won over some of Joho's aides, including political advisor Major (Rtd) Abdirahman Idris, even as he remains a thorn in Nassir's flesh. Idris once served as Raila's political strategist.

A decision by the county government to award him a huge tender to build modern houses at Buxton estate raised eyebrows even as it caused his rivals a lot of discomfort. This was after the two set aside their political differences.

And, Shahbal's easy access to Raila, Joho and even President Uhuru Kenyatta, is making things even worse for Nassir and others eyeing the county's top seat, including those hoping to vie for the seat on Jubilee ticket. 

It is believed that Nassir is being fronted by some wealthy business people who are opposed to Shahbal and are said to be ready to spend just to block the businessman from ascending the seat.

However, the legislator has denied being a project of local businesspeople or any other politician.

Some local politicians are reportedly afraid that, by the virtue of being wealthy, Shahbal is likely to be independent as a governor, thus hard to manipulate.

Political analyst Maimuna Mwidau argued that although Nassir is young and aggressive and has an impressive record in Parliament, Shahbal has the advantage of being wealthy. His closeness to President Kenyatta and his handshake partner Raila also gives him an edge over his rivals.

"Shahbal has connections, including with President Kenyatta, Raila and their allies which gives him a huge political muscle that cannot be ignored," Ms Mwidau said.

She added: “He has twice contested the governorship seat and has gained a lot of experience even though the ground might have shifted. He has been in Wiper, Jubilee and now ODM and has established a serious political network while in these outfits which cannot be ignored by his competitors.”

On the other hand, she noted that Nassir is young and has made a lot of contributions in his position as a legislator in and outside Parliament.

“Nassir also has huge potential. But the question is whether he is ready and ripe for the position of governor. Does he have the resources and networks to bankroll his campaign? This remains his secret,” she argued.

Halim Shauri, a lecturer at Pwani University, noted that the fact that Shahbal has contested twice against Joho means he has a bloc of loyal voters.

Prof Shauri argued that Nassir has not been comfortable with Shahbal's closeness to Joho and that is why their competition has generated a lot of heat.

“But this is good and healthy for the politics of Mombasa County because no political seat should be given on a silver platter,” he said.

He said the fact that Shahbal is wealthy and has a good network in and outside the county makes him an asset to Raila and the ODM party in general.

“Shahbal is a serious business mogul and has a strong network in and outside the country. This may make him remain close to Raila and other party bigwigs since it is normal for people to love money,” he argued.

Prof Hassan Mwakimako noted that since Shahbal already has his bloc voters and can bankroll his own campaign, he is only seeking the endorsement of Raila and Joho and win the Luo vote that had been elusive in the past.

“Initially, Shahbal spent a lot of money financing his campaigns in the county. But with prompt endorsement and winning the Luo bloc vote, he can be sure to spend less in the coming elections. He has since learnt that spending more may not guarantee him votes and has come up with a new strategy. He has also leant that fighting Joho does not help and now he has aligned,” Prof Mwakimako argued.

Shahbal announced his decision to shift from Jubilee Party to ODM when he met representatives of the Luo community in Mombasa.

Mwakimako, however, observed that Nassir has been aggressive and has won political support from several quarters which has catapulted him into a front runner's position, thus Shahbal must work harder to win beat him.

Nassir has Likoni MP Ms Mishi Mboko, Mr Badi Twalib (Jomvu), Mombasa Women Representative Ms Asha Hussein and Mombasa senator Mohamed Faki in his camp.

He has campaigned on the platform of being a servant leader having put a strong defence for the residents and business community in Parliament and in the county.

The legislator has since argued that although he did not have much money, he has the goodwill of the people.  He has reportedly used his late father’s political network as Mvita MP and Kanu supremo to propelled his campaign.

Shahbal has challenged Nassir on how he has used billions of shilling from the Mvita National Government Constituency Development Fund (NG-CDF) but his foot soldiers have always defended him.

“Abdulswamad is among MPs whose CDF has not raised any audit queries. He is clean and as white as cotton,” Ms Mboko argued.

Mr Twalib said Nassir has been beyond reproach and has performed well as both MP and chairman of the Parliamentary Investment Committee (PIC) and hence the most suitable to succeed Joho.

Other aspirants for the seat are former Mombasa senator Hassan Omar of United Democratic Alliance (UDA), Kisauni MP Ali Mbogo (Wiper) and former Nyali MP Awiti Bollo of Vibrant Democratic Party.