Rethinking the future of Coast politics after August 8 polls

Politically, the Coast region is at a crosswords. The region that was once heralded as the bastion of opposition politics is now facing serious challenges from rival parties, in particular Jubilee Party. The outcome of the August 8 General Election shows the region is opposition fatigued.

If Raila Odinga does not become President this year, even after the appeal he is lodging at the Supreme Court, what becomes of ODM?

For starters, the ODM/Cord wave that swept the Coast in 2013 has subsided. Of course, the Coast remains an opposition zone and ODM is still by far the preferred party. However, the strength of this opposition has been scratched, and significantly reduced.

Consider this: In 2013, all the six governors at the Coast were elected on the ODM/Cord tickets. ODM alone had four governors — Mombasa’s Hassan Joho, Kilifi’s Amason Kingi, Kwale’s Salim Mvurya and Taita Taveta’s John Mruttu.

The other two Cord governors were Lamu’s Issa Timamy (UDF) and Tana River’s Hussein Dado (Wiper). The Coast was fully corded.

In 2015, however, the ODM/Cord wave was being tested. A section of ODM legislators, led by immediate former Kilifi North MP Gideon Mung’aro, rebelled against the party leadership. The revolt worsened late last year, when senior politicians such as Kwale Governor Mvurya and Tana River’s Dado ditched ODM to join Jubilee.

The reelection of Mvurya in Kwale, Lamu Governor-elect Fahim Twaha on the Jubilee ticket, and the defeat of former Governor Mruttu of ODM has further dented the impact of opposition politics at the Coast.

Kilifi is the only county that managed to retain the orange colour. In Mombasa, the Kwale, Taita Taveta, Lamu and Tana River counties, the wave has been reversed.

From six Governors in 2013, the opposition numbers have dropped to four — Joho, and Dhadho Godhana in Tana River — all elected on the ODM ticket — and Granton Samboja in Taita Taveta, elected on the Wiper ticket.

The big question after this election is about the future of ODM without its leader Raila Odinga. Let me emphasise that irrespective of the recent reverses, Raila remains the icon of Coast politics. If he chooses to run in 2022, the people of the Coast region will certainly still vote for him.

But Raila’s exit shall cause a problem of further recognition and support for ODM. His departure will also pose serious challenges to Coast politicians such as Joho and Kingi, who have consistently preached the Raila and ODM gospel like Holy Scriptures. Joho’s priority ambition as Governor of Mombasa has been to consolidate the Coast region and assume the role of kingpin. His chief competitor in the battle for this position has been Mung’aro, who lost the Kilifi governor race to Kingi.

In the past one year, Joho’s attempts to claim the Coast kingship have been hampered, in part, by a recalcitrant administration and his adversarial, almost inimical, working relationship with the Jubilee government.

Still, if Joho plays his political cards well, and especially after Mung’aro’s political diminishing star, he may eventually claim this role. For a start, Joho must begin by reaching out to different communities in the Coast and build a solid vote bloc.

He can do this, first, by ensuring that his position in ODM remains intact, even if Raila exits. The other option, which Joho has rejected, is to find an alternative party, preferably a viable homegrown party, to actualise his regional and national politics.

Already, Joho has a plan — he wants to run for President in 2022. However, if Raila decides to run, Joho wouldn’t. The other hurdle to the Joho presidency depends on the path ODM takes after Raila. But party mandarins, some of whom may want to vie for the presidency in 2022 on the ODM ticket, may hamper Joho’s presidential ambitions.

I have known Joho and Kingi to be madly in love with ODM. However, the party has its owners and founders. Politics is never static. Unless all factors remain constant until 2022, Joho may find himself a victim of circumstance that may see him jettisoned as the party presidential candidate.

Moreover, Kingi and Joho have been the staunchest opponents of JP’s programmes and policies. They have criticised both President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto for ignoring the Coast, and of claiming ownership of projects the JP government did not initiate in their counties. President-elect Uhuru is on record during one of his campaigns in Kilifi County that his government would prosecute is governors suspected to have embezzled county funds, and Kingi would be one of them.

Now that Jubilee has recaptured the presidency, Joho and Kingi are likely to have a tough time to convince the government that they are ready and willing to work collaboratively. If this were to happen, the duo shall be forced to soften their recalcitrance towards Jubilee.

As ODM and NASA parties ponder their defeat in the recent polls at the Coast, Jubilee has the last laugh. Once considered an underdog in Coast politics, the party has emerged as ODM/NASA’s chief competitor and challenger. In particular, ODM supremacy in the Coast is indeed under threat.

The future of Coast politics after the August 8 polls remains uncertain. Prior to the elections, there were voices from local professionals, urging the founding or joining of a homegrown political party to articulate coastal interests and if need be, to join in a coalition with the government of the day. Local party leaders, who decided to go separate ways, rejected these calls.

Although it is too early after last week’s election to predict the future direction of Coast politics, some prevailing factors may explain the way ahead. One of these factors is the impact of ODM as the party of choice after Raila. The second is the impact of Jubilee’s rapidly expanding influence.

The third factor — the most important in my opinion — is the possibility of a viable homegrown party emerging from the Coast. If this were to happen, it would mark the re-birth of Coast politics.

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