As the General Election fast approaches and the countdown to 8/8 begin in earnest, a significant block of voters and how they will vote in the presidential election is the subject of feverish speculation and even palpable trepidation. The Muslim vote is both highly coveted and is still up for grabs. The two principal presidential candidates President Uhuru Kenyatta and his challenger Raila Odinga and their surrogates are pulling the strings with a view to getting the lion share of this vote.
It is estimated that Muslim voters hover around the 2.5 million mark, with 450,000 in North Eastern, 200,000 in Upper Eastern, one million in the Coast, 300,000 in Nairobi and 500,000 others distributed throughout the rest of the country. The question is, whom between the two biggest presidential candidates will get the lion’s share of this vote, and what factors will influence or come into play on how Muslims casts their votes? Are the Muslim voters homogenous or are different regions influenced by different local and national consideration and factors? Are the candidates equally posed or is the Muslim vote tilted in favour of one candidate?
It is important to consider how the Muslim voter casts his/her vote during elections. Two important characteristics of the Muslim voter must be kept in mind. First, tribal consideration, the oxygen of the average Kenyan voter is not an important factor. Secondly, this is the only group that has some religious consideration in casting their voters to two Christian candidates, who have different views and policies towards the Muslim community.
The contest for Muslim votes will be one between the promises made to them by Raila Odinga and the unfulfilled promises or realities of how the community has been treated by Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto in the past five years.
Local, regional and national factors will weigh heavily in influencing voting patterns. An important fact here is the need to appreciate that the voting patterns of the Muslim vote in urban centres like Nairobi and Mombasa vis-a-vis those of the far-flung areas like Mandera, Moyale and Lamu are different. Different considerations come into play in different localities. For instance, Northern Kenya voters will be heavily influenced by wild promises and money. Those at the coast and urban centres, on the other hand, will be more calculating and are ideologically predisposed. The former will predominantly tilt to Jubilee while the later will vote for the Nasa camp.
Grievances on how the Jubilee government treated them are an important factor for Muslims in both northern Kenya and the coast. These regions are both ravaged by Muslim radicalisation of the youth and the high-handed response by the Jubilee Government has not helped matters. Whereas, like all Kenyans, Kenyan Muslims are victims and have actually been disproportionately affected by Al-Shabaab attacks, the Jubilee Government principally sees all Muslims as a Fifth Column in the country. The constant antics and attacks by Commissioner Marwa are a true testimony of how the Central government views Muslims.
In this regard, the extrajudicial killings of Muslim youth by security forces are very important consideration for the Muslim voter. The number of Muslim youths killed by security forces varies widely according to a number of sources. However, organisations like Muslims for Human Rights (Muhuri) and Human Rights Watch Africa put the numbers at between 600 and 1000 in the last eight years.
Initially, a specialised department within the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) predominantly carried the killings. Lately, however, in a major change of policy, the Jubilee government has authorised, at the highest level, the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) under General Charles Mwai to supplement the role of the DCI in extrajudicial killings. A number of accounts have emerged in the past six months showing the role of the MDI in extrajudicial killings in Nairobi, Lamu and North Eastern. According to multiple intelligence sources who confided in the Nairobi Law Monthly and who requested anonymity (see story on page…), MDI now plays a bigger role in extrajudicial killings than even the DCI.
The Joho Factor
Many Muslim voters who have lost loved ones, will be influenced by the extrajudicial killings in Northern and Coast regions of the country when casting their votes. This is also a very important factor in Nairobi, where many Muslim voters are expected to vote against the Jubilee presidential candidate on this account alone.
The Joho factor is another critical factor. He is the first politician since the coastal preacher Sheikh Balala in the early 1990s to have galvanised the Muslim community as a political force. Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho is now seen by the Muslim communities to be their undisputed leader. The astute silence maintained by leader of Majority in government Hon Adan Duale (Garissa Township MP) and Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala on the many challenges facing the Muslim community stands in stark contrast to the vocal crusade by Joho. It is the bravery that he has displayed against the government that has catapulted the governor to the national scene.
Tourism CS Najib Balala and the Jubilee gubernatorial candidate Suleiman Shahbal, despite much prodding and support from the government, have proved to be very ineffective against the political tsunami that is Governor Joho. By locking Mombasa and the entire Coast for Nasa, Joho has shown that Balala and Shahbal are paper tigers that have no support beyond their respective families, close associates and social friends.
Nasa is further helped within the Muslim community in that it has effective and popular leaders. Thus whereas Nasa has Governor Joho and Suna East MP Junet Mohamed to spearhead its effort to win the Muslim voters, the Jubilee salesmen are not very credible with the Muslim populace. Balala and Shahbal have no political power bases. And whereas Duale is a formidable politician to reckon with in national politics, he has avoided playing any meaningful role as a Muslim politician.
According to the Director of elections for Cord, Junet Sheikh Nuh, Governor Joho will lead the campaign teams for Nasa across the whole of the Northern regions of the country. Nuh told the Nairobi Law Monthly, “Joho… has fought for the rights of the Muslims and has condemned extrajudicial killings. He is our wining card with the Muslim voter all over the country”. The Joho factor in the coming elections will greatly help Nasa get the Muslim votes in many regions of the country, and especially in Mombasa and Nairobi. Jubilee doesn’t have a Muslim politician of Joho’s stature to counter him.
KDF ‘Muslim purge’
Another factor that will influence the Muslim vote is the military purge of top Muslims officers in the army that was implemented during the tenure of General (Rtd) Julius Waweru Karangi as Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces. Between 2013 and 2016, the Kenya defence forces retired ninety per cent of all Muslim officers above the rank of Colonel. This “Muslim purge” by General Karangi has led to resentment in the community and left a bitter taste in their mouths. General Karangi was not really motivated by the Muslim faith of the officers he retired. According to a number of the officers, it was more the dislike and mistrust of the Somali officers in the force that led to the purge.
According to a number of imams in Garissa, Mandera and Moyale, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Muslim populations have grievances against the jubilee government and are ready to try their luck with Nasa this time. A local sheik in Mandera said, “our leaders, like Mandera Senator Billow Kerrow and Tarbaj MP Mohamed Elmi, are falling over themselves to welcome Uhuru and Ruto to Mandera and Wajir, when this government has made our children disappear without trace. These leaders may be elected by their clans, but I can assure you majority of the people will vote for Raila as president.” That sentiment is prevalent in the entire Northern Kenya where the voters will elect Jubilee candidates for local seats but give Raila the presidential votes, according to political observers of the region.
An impoverished Coast
Muslims at the Coast have generally been impoverished by the policies of the Jubilee Government, but one stands out like a sore thumb: the creation of an inland dry port in Naivasha, and the new railway line, which has the net effect of rendering Mombasa port a small time clearing agent. Governor Joho has lamented and lobbied without much success, but in the next few years, Mombasa’s decline and the Naivasha’s prosperity will be a good case study of how deliberate policies of government kill and nurture different cities. Muslims in Mombasa see this policy as having been designed to target them.
Lastly, the Muslim votes in Nairobi provide a very interesting perspective. Nairobi has a solid 2,304,386 votes. Whereas Nairobi is seen as a fifty-fifty county in terms of the presidential elections, the August elections may surprise many. This time around it is very likely that the Muslim vote could slant against Jubilee and see voters voting across party lines to elect varied candidates in the main parties.
Nairobi has a strong an appreciable Muslim population especially in Kamkunji, Lang’ata, Westlands and several other constituencies in Eastlands. Kamkunji will be a straight fight between the incumbent Yusuf Hassan and veteran Ibrahim Ahmed, aka “Jonny”, who is contesting on Wiper Party ticket. But when it comes the presidential and gubernatorial seats, the Somali votes will heavily tilt in favour of Nasa. Two factors will influence this pattern: Jubilee’s attempt to close down the Eastleigh business hub, and the mass arrest of Somalis and their incarceration at Kasarani. These two events will play in the minds of many Somali voters as they troop to polling station on August 8.
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