A four-way battle of titans has begun in Mombasa County as gubernatorial candidates take their campaigns to the public ahead of the August 8 elections.
Incumbent Hassan Joho of ODM faces Senator Hassan Omar (Wiper Democratic Movement), businessman Suleiman Shahbal (Jubilee Party) and Nyali MP Hezron Awiti Bollo of the Vibrant Democratic Party (VDP).
The latest entrant in the race is Daniel Kitsao of Kadu Asili who has also been cleared by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
Party strength, integrity, popularity, mobilisation skills, ethnic interests and service delivery for candidates who hold public office like Governor Joho, Senator Omar and MP Awiti could tilt the results.
While some candidates can lay claim to fanatical grassroots support and proven mobilisation skills, some are believed to be aloof, elitist and cannot connect with the majority of voters.
Joho enters the race a bitter man due to what his supporters believe is State-sponsored persecution. This, even Joho’s harshest critics believe, has accorded him mileage and diverted attention from questions about service delivery.
Early this year, Senator Omar accused President Kenyatta of popularising Joho through his public spats with the vocal governor.
Joho is one of ODM’s two deputy party leaders and a wealthy businessman. Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya is the other ODM deputy party leader.
Joho himself claims that besides the State, some businessmen have joined in the effort to frustrate him but Senator Omar believes the governor has failed.
The governor has also had a rough stretch fighting off claims that his primary school and university degree certificates are fake. However, the IEBC has given him the green light to defend his seat.
Candidates are also expected to splurge millions of shillings to woo the over 400,000 voters but the senator believes money will not buy the vote.
The contest will be an acid test for Joho who garnered 132,583 votes in the 2013 elections against his closest rival Shahbal who then ran on a Wiper ticket and scored 94,905 votes. Shahbal claims the poll was rigged but provided no proof and Joho’s victory was upheld by the Supreme Court.
Shahbal then bolted from Wiper to TNA and has now ended in Jubilee. Before Wiper, he had moved from ODM to the defunct UDF in a span of three months.
Analysts note that Senator Omar is not a pushover in this election following his impressive performance in the senatorial category at 130,605 votes against his then main rival Najib Balala who got 65,804 votes in the 2013 polls. The senator won on the Wiper ticket after defecting from ODM, the dominant party in Coast.
The 1,975 difference between Omar’s senatorial votes and Joho’s gubernatorial ones points to a tight race between the two youthful politicians.
Analyst Yusuf Abubakar says the governorship race for Mombasa will be more competitive than the previous elections as the incumbent will be challenged to explain his record on service delivery.
According to Mr Abubakar, a lawyer, the governor has to explain his employment strategy as there were no facts and figures on how he has handled the problem.
“There are those who feel that governor Joho has been vocal but there is little to show in terms of development, particularly the unresolved problems of unemployment, tendering, garbage collection and drainage,” says Abubakar.
On Mr Omar, Abubakar says the man has impressive record on overseeing the implementation of devolution but faces the challenge of marketing his performance.
“In my view, Senator Omar has done well in his oversight role but he has to tell the people what he has done or it will go unnoticed,” says Abubakar.
In recent years, Omar has been a fierce critic of Joho’s administration, claiming it had turned the county assembly into a mere rubber stamp by interfering with its oversight role. He has also demanded answers over a Sh300 million irregular garbage collection contract, a query that that was later solved when Joho faced the Senate.
Pushing for squatters
Mr Awiti, a Belgian-trained logistics manager, has been in the freight and forwarding industry for over 25 years. He is the Chief Executive Officer of Habo Group of Companies, which he founded in 1995 in Mombasa. He is also the Chairman of Kenya International Freighter Warehousing Association.
The politician has been pushing for settlement of squatters but there have been no concrete results on the sticky land issue in Nyali constituency.
Awiti will, however, have to deal with the issue of toxic spillage from a factory that was reported to have affected an estimated 5,000 residents of Owino Uhuru and Bangladeshi slums in Mombasa.
“My only involvement with the factory is that I am the owner of the land on which it is built. I did not license the business. I cannot talk more about the case because the matter is in court,” says Awiti, referring to claims that he subjected residents of Owino Uhuru slums in Jomvu sub-county to lead poisoning.
Local residents and rights groups have sued for compensation. Some former factory employees and their offspring suffered irreparable health damage due to this exposure.
The Senate Health Committee investigated this matter three years ago but its report has never been published.
On the other hand, Shahbal is a prominent banker having founded the Gulf African Bank in 2008 but he has to prove to Mombasa voters how this banking track record will translate into votes.