Battle looms in 2017 race to oust Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho
Recent political realignments are likely to make the Mombasa gubernatorial race a three-way battle in which money and ethnic mathematics will be key factors.
Businessman Suleiman Shahbal, who came second to incumbent Hassan Joho in 2013 on a Wiper ticket has moved to Jubilee meaning the ruling coalition will have a strong candidate in the race unlike in the last elections.
Senator Hassan Omar and Nyali MP Hezron Awiti are jostling to fill the vacancy he left in Wiper. The two won their seats on the party’s ticket in 2013 after being edged out of ODM.
Mr Omar has long held his ambition for governor but Mr Awiti is a late entrant in the race.
When Mr Awiti announced his intention, some people were skeptical but his efforts to consolidate support especially among the Mijikenda and upcountry residents have attracted attention.
He has rejected talk that Cord parties conduct joint nominations.
Mr Joho has dismissed the potential rivals as “non-starters”, claiming their only interest is to distract him from fulfilling his mandate for the people of Mombasa.
“At the moment, the governor is working hard to deliver on the promises he made to the people whom he expects will re-elect him,” his director of communication, Richard Chacha, said.
But pundits say he underestimates his rivals at his own peril.
Mr Awiti has been working hard to solidify his grassroots base in Changamwe, Kisauni, Jomvu and Likoni constituencies.
His driving force for the seat, according to his personal assistant Mazera Ndurya, is to empower youths and women through entrepreneurship skills, fight the narcotic drugs menace and ensure every child accesses education.
“He has elaborate plans to set up trade and exhibition centres where the empowered youths and women will get opportunities to exploit their talents and ready market for their innovations,” he said in a phone interview.
But first he will have to contend with Mr Omar who says he wants to end the capture of progressive political space by “conservative” owners of capital.
WEALTH AND POLITICS
Speaking during the launch of his Renaissance Centre in Mombasa, Mr Omar criticised leadership that lacked foresight but was keen to survive on ethnic engineering and ill-gotten wealth to capture power.
“Money no matter how ill-gotten, is the alpha definition of politics. Ethnic engineering is an acceptable vice in political organisation and capture of power,” he said, adding that he has put in place machinery that will ensure he wins the seat.
“We are working with more than 50 aspirants for various MCA seats besides other interested parties,” he told Saturday Nation.
Mombasa politics, just like elsewhere in the country, is seldom based on competing visions or ideologies but how deep a candidates pocket is.
Mr Joho, Mr Awiti and Mr Shabhal are all wealthy individuals and can marshal the support of their peers in the county.
This is the reason some of the 2013 aspirants for the seat are still weighing their options.
Republican Congress’ Ibrahim Khamis ‘Babangida’, for instance, told the Saturday Nation he was in talks with Mr Shahbal to forge a common front under Jubilee.
The rivalry within Wiper’s Mombasa camp has caught the attention of the party with Chairman David Musila and his Executive Director Jared Siso promising free and fair nominations.
“We are aware of the competition in Mombasa and just like in Kitui we will ensure fairness prevails and the nomination process is up to the mark of free and fair,” Mr Musila said.
Asked whether infighting between Mr Omar and Mr Awiti may cost the party, the chairman acknowledged that in a democracy everybody has an equal right.
Dr Siso said competition was not only healthy but also showed how strong are the party’s pillars.
“A party where there is no internal competition and infighting for elective positions is as good as dead because tenets of democracy are clear and should be respected,” he said.
With such a diverse population, Mombasa presents one of the most challenging political scenarios that require delicate alliance building for one to make headway in the top seat.
The various communities are identifying parliamentary and county assembly seats they want before supporting any candidate for governor.
In the Awiti camp, for example, the Gema and Akamba have laid their stakes on Nyali and Changamwe parliamentary seats respectively, according to Mr Ndurya.
But local communities headed by Mijikenda, who command the biggest single voting bloc, are skeptical over this arrangement arguing it was not right for ‘outsiders’ to seek elective positions in the county.
“Why is it that people from upcountry want to take our elective positions while they have their shares in their rural homes?” asked Fuad Abdalla from Likoni.