Sunday, January 19, 2014

KENYA COAST LEADERS: STOP DREAMING ABOUT "OUR PARTY"

Every so often, for as long as I can remember, a section of Kenya Coast leaders wakes up to announce plans for a Coast-based political party they believe might articulate more vigorously - and perhaps more exclusively - the aspirations and hopes of Coastarians.

I was one of such leader. There was a time when I believed in a Coast-managed political party. That is why, when I hear, as I am hearing now, that some Coast legislators want to form their own party away from the main organisations, I understand though I no longer hold that view. What I don't understand is why as Coast leaders we refuse to learn from past failures.

If there is a region which has had more political parties than any other since independence, it is the Coast. As proof just look at this long list of political organisations that have existed since the end of single party rule at the end of 1991 (not in any particular order):-

1. The Islamic Party of Kenya
2. Chama cha Majimbo na Mwangaza
3. Shirikisho Party of Kenya
4. Republican Congress
5. Uzalendo Party of Kenya
6. National Labour Party of Kenya
7. Kenya National Congress
8. Federal Party of Kenya
7. Kadu-Asili
(Political Pressure Groups)
1.Coast Leaders' Forum
2.Coast Peoples' Forum, and several others.

So, the issue is not whether Coast should have a political party. We already have several. The issue is why all these parties have failed to resonate with the people, and have either collapsed or are limping to their death.

Unlike the other regions in the country, Coast is not a homogeneous entity. It harbours many tribes that speak diverse languages and adhere to disparate cultures and norms. The Mijikenda may be the biggest unit but within it are nine distinct tribes whose languages and cultures have some variations, minuscule as they may be. Then we have theTaita and Taveta, Pokomo, Orma, Bajuni, Waswahili, the Arabs and several others.

To bring all these people together one needs more than a flimsy declaration or a hasty political decision. We have had similar declarations before but they have yielded nothing that can be said to be close to a regional party.

Before independence, the Coast had several satellite parties such as the Mombasa African Democratic Party (MADU), Kwale African Democratic Party (Kwadu), Kilifi African Peoples Union (KAPU) and similar others in Pokomoland and Taita/Taveta. They flourished and made immense contributions to our independence struggle.

When Ronald Ngala, Daniel Arap Moi and others formed the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) in 1963, it became easy to bring all those entities on board because there was a common thread of understanding of what unity was all about.

With the disbandment of KADU in 1964 came a scramble for positions in KANU's government that caused divisions within the Coastal leadership ranks. Those divisions have not been mended. The formation of the Coast Parliamentary Group in the 1980s intended to bring elected leaders closer failed to work because of petty jealousies and power struggles. Even today the CPG is a divided house. If elected leaders cannot sit down for a meaningful discussion, how can we expect people in all corners of the region to coalesce around one organisation?

That is why I now believe it was wishful thinking on my part to think forming Shirikisho with others in 1997 would unite Coastarians. It was also wishful thinking when I came up with the idea of the Coast Leaders' Forum in 2005. With this history behind me, I have every reason to predict that the efforts now in the works will bear no fruit and are therefore a waste of time.

Forming and maintaining a political party is not a walk in the park. They require huge amounts of money (which Coastarians do not have) and a great deal of sacrifice (which Coastarians lack). A short-cut will be to get a tycoon to bank-roll such an organisation. Whether that tycoon is an Italian investor who wants protection, an Arab businessman with a secret agenda, or a major political party angling for votes, the fact is that something will have to give. We have seen leaders and parties being pocketed by interested parties before. When that happens the party loses goodwill and it collapses.

There is another underlying malaise which must be sorted out for coastal unity to emerge. And this is a subject we Coastarians do not wish to discuss. It has to do with ethnic and even racial bias. Why, for example, do we think it is only a Mijikenda (and not a Taita or a Pokomo) who can lead the Coast? When we talk of anointing a Coastal leader we think of a Mijikenda. There has never been a "mgogo" from any other community other than Mijikenda. Don't the others have leaders who can lead?

No wonder Sharif Nassir - with all his influence during the Moi era - never  made it as a Coastal leader the way Ngala and Karisa Maitha did; and that is why Najib Balala and his Republican Party will go nowhere as long as he is the leader, all because of their Arab background. When Balala was made a Mijikenda elder a few years ago he was denounced and the ceremony cursed yet the same honour had been given earlier to a foreigner.

This tells me that we Coastarians must clean our own house first before talking about Coastal unity. The tendency of ethnic and racial bias, of jealousy, of intolerance and of selfishness must end. Once we establish that equilibrium, Coastal unity will thrive.

In the meantime, our elected leaders must concentrate on delivering promises they made to the electorate.

A year is almost gone. I am yet to hear from our leaders a collective effort in Parliament on issues that most concern our people. The silence from Coast leaders on the floor of Parliament is deafening.

We can have the biggest political party in the country, but if our people go to sleep hungry, if they cannot send their children to school, if they cannot access affordable health care, if they cannot get jobs, then it's all useless. Each one of us has a contribution to make. As an elected leader, I made mine. Now, it's your turn.

Instead of making noises in barazas, you must do what you were elected to do; stand up in Parliament and argue the peoples' case.


And that is my say.