By Kenyatta Otieno
Controversy seems to be the second name of the youthful Mombasa Governor. He has been accused of acquiring a dubious academic certificate, dealing in drugs, grabbing public land, and smuggling contraband products through his Container Freight Services (CFS) outlets. Like a man waiting for a date with his destiny, Ali Hassan Joho has prevailed over whatever hurdle has been hurled onto his path. But he has admitted that, at the height of the mucky drug dealing allegations, he almost quit politics.
An astute businessman, Joho is endowed with good looks, and the ladies can’t help “falling over themselves” for him on social media. He joined LDP and lost the Kisauni parliamentary seat to Ananiah Mwaboza in a 2004 by-election, then went on to win the seat in 2007 General Election on an ODM ticket.
As a member of “Team Fresh”, which comprised of youthful ODM leaders, Joho teamed up with former ODM Secretary General Ababu Namwamba in arm-wrestling match with party old guards going into 2013 elections. The tussle culminated in botched party elections and a settlement that gave Joho the Deputy Party Leader’s post.
When he was perched at the pinnacle of ODM, the real Joho began to load as he went for Mombasa gubernatorial seat, which he won in 2013. He quickly distanced himself from Ababu’s camp, which has flirting with the URP side of Jubilee government. His first run-in with the government as Governor was against Mombasa County Commissioner, Nelson Marwa. He described the recently-promoted Marwa (to Coast Regional Coordinator) as a “small man” sent by another small man, presumably President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is his (Marwa’s) appointing authority.
Late last year when Uhuru spent about one month in Mombasa, Joho was not involved in his itinerary. The governor did not hide his displeasure at a public rally – where he chided the President to his face for “disrespecting county leadership, and for which the governor was told off by Jubilee leaders showing a “lack of respect” for the Presidency.
The Young Turk had bitten the political bullet.
His CFS was soon after closed by KPA and KRA for allowing contraband goods into the country. Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery stepped in and summoned Joho and Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi to surrender their guns. The matter was put to rest when Joho moved to court and had the independent-minded Justice George Odunga suspend Nkaissery’s orders, and reinstate Joho’s firearm license, as well as revoking the arrest warrant against him. Later, the court also ordered government to allow his CFS to reopen.
For some time now, there have been a murmurs that there is no one worthy of taking over from Raila Odinga in ODM. These murmurs have often been met with talk, especially from Luo-Nyanza, that leadership is never passed on voluntarily; it is grabbed. And, as some were waiting for Raila to pour anointing oil on them as his preferred successors, Joho pulled a fast one.
No rule book
The Jubilee government organised a party to celebrate the folding of twelve parties in its coalition at Kasarani on September 10 to form the Jubilee Party. The build-up to this event saw the focus shift to the governing alliance and their two principals at the expense of Cord. This was after ODM had organized a lacklustre dinner to celebrate ten years of existence at a city hotel. Joho grabbed the chance and organised a massive rally at the Tononoka grounds to counter Jubilee’s party.
Political experts felt that it was unwise to play reactionary but Joho went ahead with his plans. He even sent word around that 47 branded busses would ferry ODM supporters from every county to Mombasa. That is Joho for you; a man who never plays by the book, and exactly was what ODM needed now that Raila’s graph is on the descent.
Politics works for those who can work things out of the norm and soon stars were aligning towards the eastern sky to the Coast. Joho then took the opportunity to make an arousing speech that, arguably, brought back hope to ODM supporters. He told Raila that he will campaign for him in 2017, the same way his party leader campaigned for a wheelchair-ridden Kibaki in 2002.
As if that was not enough, the following weekend, Joho was at the Masinde Muliro grounds in Mathare, Nairobi. This time Raila was absent but it was no secret who was at the head of the pecking order. Even Governor Evans Kidero, as host, was a rung lower. Joho’s message was clear: it was not only in Mombasa that he had clout; he could move the cards to favour him anywhere, he was saying, and had just done so. He would later attend another rally in Wajir, together with ODM Director of Elections Junet Mohammed.
For a while, Jubilee has sat pretty as DP William Ruto joked about the “magician with one bullet”, a veiled reference to Raila, but things seem to be changing. The youthful energy, courage, eloquence and deep pockets Joho is bringing into the game cannot be underrated. He is bringing to ODM what Nelson Mandela brought to ANC in the late fifties going into the sixties. Mandela felt that the old guards in Albert Luthuli and Oliver Tambo were going easy on apartheid, and formed the armed wing of ANC, uMkhonto we Sizwe. He was arrested but ANC had recharged for another push against apartheid.
Joho is courageously jumping a whole generation behind Raila led by James Orengo and the likes of Wyclife Oparanya and Evans Kidero. He is even calling out William Ruto to a duel in 2022. He is spoiling for a fight. He has everything Raila needs at a time when nobody in ODM seems to move until “Baba” does. The challenge is in keeping the momentum, and coming elections campaigns will prove just how accurate his political guns are.
The simplistic rhetoric that “Kenya has its owners” can pass as another cliché. But the truth is, Kenya has never experienced change. The system that held Jomo Kenyatta in power morphed into the Fuata Nyayo machinery under Daniel Moi. When Kenyans thought they had engineered change in 2002 under Mwai Kibaki, we soon learned that no such things had happened. This same system is the same one that engineered Uhuru Kenyatta’s take-over from Kibaki. Alas, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Even as Joho flexes his muscles, he will need to learn from Raila Odinga’s successes and failures, and learn very well. He has singled out Ruto as a challenge because if Ruto goes to State House in 2022, then the earliest Joho’s dream can materialise is 2032. As much as this is true, Ruto’s ascent to power is still subject to approval by “the system”. Joho must identify the powers behind the Kenyan state and state his case. There is an African proverb that says, “Water will follow a channel”. Joho must find this channel.
I am waiting to see how Joho will be received in Luo Nyanza. He is the warrior type of leader that Luos admire. So far the only Luo MPs steady on his corner are Junet Mohammed, Millie Mabona and Gladys Wanga. This is a clear indicator that jumping the gun has not been received well by his Luo counterparts. This could be the reason at the Mombasa rally, Raila unveiled Joho and Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya as the team leaders for the 2017 ODM campaigns. Oparanya’s inclusion diluted Joho’s top dog status – fuelled by his “I can take a bullet for you” proclamations.
It is common knowledge that Luo leaders view ODM as their party. The unfolding events now reveal that the leadership of the party after Raila might just end up elsewhere, and some people are jittery. No Luo wants to be seen to be usurping Raila’s power just yet which has made the pretenders to the Luo kingpin post to keep their cards close to their chests. Now Joho has pulled the carpet off their feet. They must now prepare to fight against each other in Luo Nyanza as they jostle for the party’s leadership – a two-pronged battle that very few Luo leaders can pull individually. Joho has just opened a battlefield that will be a marvel to watch after 2017.
The only Luo who can give Joho a run for Luo votes is Dr Evans Kidero. Going by what has already played out, what Joho lacks in formal education Kidero lacks in political manoeuvres. I can bet Joho will leave Kidero in shreds if the latter dares to stand on his way to 2022 presidential ballot paper. Joho is slowly consolidating the Mombasa votes by raising his stature beyond the county.
He is shrewdly stacking the governor’s seat high up and out of reach to other contenders while Kidero’s re-election is still not guaranteed. Joho must now plot how to go into Raila’s strongholds of Luo and Luhya lands before going for the Kidero-friendly region of Kisii. A starting point for him would be to plan on how to rehabilitate Ababu Namwamba.
As the saying goes, only time will tell when the rough diamond will have been cut into a fine piece of political artsmanship.