8 March 2014

Kenya: Why Joho Won't Be the Next Coast Supremo

Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho's teaming up with Budalang'i MP Ababu Namwamba to gun for new-generation leadership in ODM immediately under the level of party leader Raila Odinga is being read in some quarters as the rise of the latest political supremo of the Coast region.

The Coast region has had only three such supremos over the past half-century, now all deceased, beginning with Ronald Ngala in the 1950s and '60s, followed by Shariff Nassir in the 1980s and '90s and finally Karisa 'Hurricane' Maitha in the early 2000s.

Joho comes from serious money, a large but closely-knit Swahili-Arab family that concentrates most of its energies in several lucrative business sectors. However, like Najib Balala (now Cabinet Secretary for Mines and no longer an active politician), another Coastal of Arab heritage, before him, Joho is unlikely to become the political kingpin of the Coast even if he and Namwamba are ultimately elected deputy leader and secretary general of ODM respectively.

Already, the region, which voted so overwhelmingly for ODM and Raila at the March 4, 2013 general election that it delivered more victors than Luo Nyanza, is so politically restive and arrived at the Safaricom Kasarani Stadium so agitated in pursuit of an agenda other than the one being pushed by the party leader and his inner circle, that it is clear there are political dynamics afoot which Joho cannot possibly command.

All three previous Coast political supremos cultivated high profiles of being key political figures in their chosen political parties but also somehow contrived to confine themselves to their home areas.

On the national stage, Ngala's claim to fame was the Kenya African Democratic Union (Kadu), Kanu's great but ultimately initially ineffectual rival, but he confined himself largely to Kilifi.

Nassir was Daniel arap Moi's Coast point man but confined himself largely to Mvita. Maitha was Coast linchpin of Mwai Kibaki's Democratic Party just in time for its triumph at the spearhead of the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) at the 2002 presidential polls but confined himself to Kilifi.

All three past supremos pushed a Coast agenda and posture of appearing to resist the power of the big tribes and upcountry 'land-grabbers'. This is a vote-getting theme at the Coast that has been adroitly exploited by others, and none so successfully yet than Raila himself over the last two presidential poll cycles, when he persuaded the region to break with a long electoral tradition of endorsing incumbent administrations.

Indeed, so intense was Raila's focus at the Coast on the age-old resentment of upcountry 'land-grabbers' that it became the subject of a distinctly nervous secret diplomatic cable sent from Nairobi to the State Department by then US Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger. Coded US Embassy Cable - 07NAIROBI4269, and entitled KENYA ELECTIONS: ODM RALLY ON THE COAST: FANNING ETHNIC RESENTMENT, Ranneberger's cable was leaked by Wikileaks. It read in part:

"Summary: PolCouns observed an Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) rally in the coastal town of Khilifi [sic] during which some prominent ODM leaders used explicitly anti-Kikuyu language, receiving roars of approval from the crowd. Other prominent ODM leaders chose to appeal to reason rather than passion, stressing that ODM's 'majimbo' (decentralisation) agenda does not involve 'chasing upcountry people out of the Coast'. Their remarks received only polite applause. In some areas of the country, such as the Coastal strip and parts of Rift Valley Province, there is intense resentment of resident Kikuyus for supposedly gaining extensive properties through nefarious means, while many of the indigenous population are landless. These passions can more easily be exploited than controlled".

These are themes that the wealthy Joho rarely and only very circumspectly articulates, being supremely self-conscious of his Swahili-Arab heritage and the resentments it can sometimes stoke at the Coast.

At a time when a majority of Coast leaders are pushing for a political party for the region and the creation of Kenya's sixth regional vote bloc, Joho's preeminence in ODM might well not necessarily translate into political command of the region.

Given the Dabaso Declaration made on January 4, 2014, in Kilifi North constituency, during a thanksgiving bash for local MP Gideon Mung'aro, which gave the go-ahead for the creation of a political party to cater for the interests of Kenya's sixth regional vote bloc, Joho could soon cut a fairly low profile at the Coast.

Mung'aro was one of the most conspicuous absentees at the botched ODM convention along with Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero and the party's Minority Leader in Parliament, Washington Jakoyo Midiwo.

Some of those behind the Dabaso Declaration are distinctly inclined towards returning Coast to its old electoral tradition of voting for incumbent administrations, which would mean downplaying the anti-Kikuyu and other upcountry factors card.

However, to the extent that Raila chooses to play the anti-Kikuyu card on the Coast one last, epic time in a presidential election contest and Joho happens to be in place as his secretary general and the latter could yet again help deliver the region to ODM. But this is far from saying that he will play the role of latest Coast supremo.

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