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Public spat at Azimio’s Tononoka rally sparks fears of poll violence

 

Rival groups clash after a disagreement during the Azimio la Umoja rally at Tononoka grounds in Mombasa County on February 20, 2022. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

Debate is still raging in Coast over last Sunday’s clash between supporters of Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir and businessman Suleiman Shahbal during the Azimio La Umoja rally at the Tononoka grounds in Mombasa.

A doctored video clip that seems to show Nassir, Shahbal, Governor Hassan Joho and Suna East MP Junet Mohamed engaged in an argument has sparked fear among voters and some leaders.

In the clip, which was shared widely online, Nassir who was the host MP is seen in a heated exchange with Joho and Junet.

It was not clear why but it started minutes after Nassir cut short his speech after a water bottle was thrown at him.

There were tell-tale signs of violence a day before the meeting and ODM leader, Raila Odinga, who was the key speaker and chief guest, summoned Nassir and Shahbal and told them to control their supporters.

But it was also clear that the stage was set for a confrontation after Nassir’s seat was removed from the front-row.

From the video clip it is clear that Junet tried to introduce Nassir as the rally’s Master of Ceremony since he is the area legislator, and Shahbal stood to oppose the move.

The confrontation on the dais appears to have incited the crowd.

Yesterday, Nassir who spoke to Sunday Standard on telephone from Nairobi where he was attending ODM meeting, insisted that emotions would never affect him.

‘’One needs to control emotions so as not to lose sight of the bigger picture. It is the honourable people of Mombasa who matter and there is no need to give hooliganism and intimidation space,’’ he said.

Nassir said that he was focused on his resolve to succeed Governor Joho. He said that he has no time to practise politics of hatred, division and propaganda.

In the run up to the rally, Shahbal had ramped up attacks on Nassir, questioning the MP’s academic credentials.

Nassir however dismissed the claim that he does not have a university degree. “I will be stupid to offer myself to the electorate if I do not have the qualification. Let them wait,” said Nassir in response to Shahbal’s challenge that he produces a degree certificate.

Shahbal claimed Nassir “wanted to reap from where he had not sown” saying the MP tried to impose himself as an MC in a function he had not mobilised supporters for.

“Nassir wanted to be the emcee given the fact that he is the area MP but majority of the ODM supporters rejected it. This worked him up,” said Shahbal’s campaign director Major (Rtd) Idris Abdirahman.

“Shahbal has created a stable mobilisation infrastructure that does not include brokers or aspirants and that is why we were able to bring in more ODM supporters.’’

He added: “It was impossible for the crowd to allow Nassir to be the MC given what happened to Shahbal at Wild Waters where the microphone was switched off while he was speaking.” 

Shahbal has on several occasions declared that he will be a different politician from what he was in the 2013 and 2017 elections when he practised “gentleman politics.”

“But I am still not a politician but a manager with a clear agenda and strategy to win the seat and turn around the economy of Mombasa,” he said, adding that he abhors chaos.

Nassir has accused Shahbal of re-introducing “outdated political hooliganism” in Mombasa, and said: “I’ll not be dragged through his mud because I was raised well.”

“You know when you get emotional, try to control yourself. Do not lose sight of the bigger picture. The bigger picture here is to give the honourable people of Mombasa what they deserve,” he said.

“Politics of chest-thumping, hooliganism and intimidation is not what we want in our lovely city and in Mombasa County. My late father thought me better.”

Mombasa lawyer and political commentator, Abubakar Yusuf, said that unlike in the 2013 and 2017 elections, Shahbal has shed off “gentlemen politics” tag and appears to be assertive by being a typical radical politician.

“For years, Mombasa politics have been about who is the most radical and even political parties tend to favour radical leaders who they see as fighters but it will work against him,” he said.

Yusuf said that Mombasa voters are well-informed. ‘’The governor’s seat needs a manager and not an activist. Nassir should continue with the same brand of politics if it works,’’ Yusuf said.

Both Nassir’s and Shahbal’s camps agree there was tension among their supporters ahead of the rally at Tononoka and they tried to implore their supporters not to fight. Sources close to Joho said Raila asked both Nassir and Shahbal not to engage in a supremacy contest during the rally.