Jubilee top brigade is pulling out all the stops to wrest control of Mombasa County from the Opposition’s grip as it seeks a foothold in Coast politics.
Governor Hassan Ali Joho has been forced to fight for his political space against the increased onslaught from Jubilee Party.
In the 2013 election, Jubilee did not secure a single seat in Mombasa at all levels, including at the county assembly which was swept by ODM.
Wiper Democratic Movement was the only other party to secure seats through two MPs – Badi Twalib of Jomvu and Hezron Awiti Bolo of Nyali – and Senator Hassan Omar.
But the recent defections of Joho’s deputy Hazel Katana and Suleiman Shahbal has given Jubilee hope. Katana decamped from ODM to Jubilee on whose ticket she wants to run for the senatorial seat. Shahbal also defected from Wiper Democratic Movement and intends to challenge Joho for the governor’s seat.
It such defections that made Deputy President William Ruto declare that Mombasa and the Coast region was no longer an Opposition zone.
He pointed to the defections from Opposition, including that of Kilifi North MP Gideon Mung’aro, his Kilifi South counterpart Mustafa Idi, Lunga Lunga MP Khatib Mwashetani, Kwale County Woman Representative Zainab Chidzuga and Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya, as a testimony that Jubilee was making inroads to the region.
“Our development record at the Coast has transformed the region into a Jubilee zone. We are going to win the governorship and many other seats in Mombasa County and change the lives of residents for the better,” Ruto said, claims dismissed by Governor Joho as wishful thinking.
Mombasa County ODM chairman Mohamed Hatimy notes that the direction Mombasa politics takes usually influences the other five counties of Kilifi, Kwale, Tana River, Taita Taveta and Lamu and hence is crucial for political parties.
“Once a political party controls Mombasa, it has a significant influence in the other counties and this is why there has been intense political activity. But I want to tell Jubilee that ODM is still in control of Mombasa and Coast. It is going to win the region again,” Hatimy vows.
According to Hatimy, Mombasa is Kenya’s second capital and its control means huge political clout for any political party and hence the scramble for it.
“This is the second capital after Nairobi with a lot of opportunities and any political party would like to be firmly in charge,” Hatimy adds, accusing Jubilee of undermining the ongoing campaign to make Mombasa an attractive tourism and investment destination by allegedly linking it to Colombia in the ongoing war against drug trade.
Maimuna Mwaidau, a political analyst, says parties would be happier to get Mombasa County even if they lose the rest of the counties in the region.
“Joho has used his clout as Mombasa governor to influence the rest of the counties at the Coast and hence is an asset to ODM,” Ms Mwidau says.
She also argues that political parties have been fighting for Mombasa due to the swing vote as the Mijikenda and Swahilis have not coalesced into a voting bloc like it is the case in Luo Nyanza, Central Kenya and to an extent the Rift Valley.
“The critical reason why Jubilee wants to control Mombasa County is that it is the second powerhouse in the country. Jubilee can use Mombasa to fix the persistent complaints in Coast that the region has been marginalised and historical justices ignored over the years,” says Prof Halimu Shauri of Pwani University.
He argues that being the capital of the entire Coast region, control of Mombasa has always been considered control of the other counties.
“Mombasa is the big catch for political parties. Now that Governor Joho has increased his political value by challenging President Uhuru Kenyatta and the Jubilee establishment, the fight for Mombasa has become more complex this time round,” he says.
He argues that with the Jubilee candidate Shahbal picking former Kisauni MP Ananiah Mwaboza, a Mijikenda, as his running mate, other gubernatorial aspirants may be forced to take cue.
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“The Mijikenda are a dominant vote in Mombasa County. Apart from Shahbal, the other gubernatorial candidates may draw running mates from the community to bolster their chances of winning. It is likely some of the candidates will go south and pick a running mate from the Digo who have many votes in Mombasa and who are part of the Mijikenda,” he argues, adding that the candidates will largely woo the upcountry communities using the political parties they belong to.
Prof Gabriel Katana of Pwani University observes that Mombasa is a centre of political focus because it is the gateway to East and Central Africa as it hosts the port of Mombasa.
“Mombasa has a lot of economic activities as a gateway and that is the main reason it attracts political interest,” he notes.
In 2013, Mombasa witnessed the biggest and flashiest campaigns that gobbled up billions of shillings raised by Governor Joho and Mr Shahbal who ran big secretariats and reportedly funded several candidates for other seats.
Governor Joho, believed to enjoy the support of prominent businessmen in the town, is said to have funded all the ODM parliamentary, county assembly and women representative aspirants in Coast. All the 30 wards in the county went to ODM and now Shahbal has vowed to change the political narrative in the county.
“On August 9, we will have taken over Mombasa and we will begin the journey to create thousands of jobs for youth. We will not overburden small-scale traders with taxes,” said Shahbal.
He is expected to use his financial muscle to shore up his campaign bid while Mwaboza will attempt to convince his Mijikenda community to vote for Jubilee.