The Mombasa governor race is one of the most keenly watched in the country, given the economic and political premium the county holds in shaping the national agenda.
The gubernatorial contest is expected to be a major showcase, whose outcome could ultimately redraw the political landscape in the region and country at large.
One of the most awaited decisions is whether the courts will clear former Nairobi governor Mike Sonko of Wiper Democratic Movement to run for the seat.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) on Tuesday told court that Wiper presented Kisauni MP Ali Mbogo as the alternative candidate for the governorship and Mr Sonko as his running mate.
The matter will be heard next week.
Should he get the green light from the courts, Mr Sonko will be up against strong opposition from Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir (Orange Democratic Movement) , former senator Hassan Omar Hassan Sarai (United Democratic Alliance) and Dr William Kingi of Pamoja African Alliance (PAA).
Mr Daniel Munga Kitsao (Independent), Mr Hezron Awiti (Vibrant Democratic Party), Mr Said Abdalla (Usawa Kwa Wote), Mr Shafii Makazi (Upia) and Mr Antony Chitavi (United Democratic Forum) are also in the race.
Already, vigorous campaigns for the gubernatorial seat have started.
Mr Nassir, who got the nod to fly the Orange flag, following a deal within the party that saw businessman Suleiman Shahbal drop his bid, continues to lead in opinion polls.
Mombasa is, however, in the grip of social discontent ahead of the August 9 General Election.
Youth unemployment, shortage of clean water, high cost of living, the garbage menace that has haunted Kenya’s leading tourism resort town for ages, and transfer of port services by using the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) cargo services continue to dominate the gubernatorial contest debate.
Mombasa is Kenya’s second largest city, with one of the most strategic ports in the eastern Africa region.
Criminal gangs and drugs
There is also the threat of criminal gangs and drug abuse. Local leaders have often been accused of using these problems to get votes.
ODM has been the dominant party in the region over the years.
However, the candidates’ financial muscle, upcountry vote support and party affiliations are likely to determine who succeeds the incumbent, Mr Ali Hassan Joho, who has thrown his weight behind Mr Nassir.
Most inhabitants of Mombasa are Mijikenda, the biggest ethnic voting bloc, with a significant presence of Kamba, Luo, Luhya, Kikuyu and Arab Swahili communities.
Religious and racial diversities
Candidates are also exploiting the religious and racial diversities to their favour.
The Mijikenda/Arab divide has, for years, dominated Mombasa politics, which has 641,913 voters, according to the latest IEBC figures.
Mr Nassir believes he has what it takes to win.
Among his priorities is fighting the crushing poverty that afflicts the county residents.
He sees revamping of port services, the blue economy, manufacturing and fisheries as the way out of poverty, if well managed.
Review tax regime
Mr Nassir told the Nation that his administration will also review the taxation regime in order as not to allow county licensing to be an impediment to doing business.
On the availability of water, he says that he has a permanent solution. “I did trial projects and ensured the implementation of water purification in Mvita public secondary schools.
“We started with Mama Ngina Girls and Allidina Visram high schools,” Mr Nassir told the Nation.
He added: “We did this because we were thinking ahead, and I believe it’s possible to have a desalination plant. We can’t have seawater available then we don’t get fresh water in our taps.”
Mr Omar believes he has an upper hand in steering the county to prosperity as he has previously served as a senator.
He has committed to restore Mombasa’s ‘stolen economy’.
“We in Kenya Kwanza have signed an agreement that within the first three months, an executive order is issued to return port services to Mombasa,” Mr Omar said in an interview.
He also promises to solve the water scarcity problem, improve the sports sector, boost small businesses and eradicate the criminal gangs menace and insecurity in general.
Dr Kingi, who is Mombasa deputy governor, has hit out at his own administration, led by Governor Joho, for not improving the county’s business environment.
“Mombasa businesspeople should stop being hopeless. That is the change we want to bring by advocating for reforms in the business sector.
“I’ll also deal with issues affecting tourism, especially the economic dent brought about by Covid-19,” Dr Kingi told traders in Nyali during the launch of his manifesto.
Also, the ‘politics of billboards’ has been witnessed, with gubernatorial aspirants—particularly Mr Awiti of VDP and Mr Omar of UDA—accusing Governor Joho’s administration of blocking them from erecting their campaign billboards.
“I’ve been forced to have my political meetings under trees. I have a right, especially my party being under the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition,” Mr Awiti said.
Mr Kitsao said his priority is to fight corruption, which, he said, is to blame for the county’s ‘slow development’.
“I also support the return of port operations to Mombasa. The moving of port activities to Nairobi and Naivasha depressed the Coast economy,” Mr Kitsao said.
Mombasa has miles of pristine beachfront suitable for fishing— an activity that remains the main livelihood for locals—and entertainment for tourists, meaning the incoming administration should prioritise investments in the sector.
The national government has initiated some projects to spur economic growth, which the next county administration should take advantage of.
The projects include the second container terminal at Mombasa Port, Phase One of Lamu Port, the new Kipevu Oil terminal, the Kenya National Shipping Lines and a number of road projects.
The Mombasa Transport Master Plan Road Project, which includes the 11-kilometre Dongo Kundu Phase One, the Mombasa-Jomvu highway, and the Likoni pedestrian bridge, have been completed.
The second oil terminal is expected to cut the cost of petroleum products by lowering demurrage costs, which greatly increase the price of the commodity.