Unknown to many people, the take-down by President Uhuru on Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho did not end with the governor. It roped in everyone around the governor, many whose lives have been ripped off in ways they never imagined.
Often when politicians duel, the fight is even more ruthless within the inner core. Eventually, the losers and winners of a political duel are many.
It isn’t easy to fall out with an African strongman and keep your peace, especially if that he is the petty, vengeful type, with an overblown sense of worth and sycophantic coteries egging him on. So is the Uhuru-Joho tale.
Uhuru men believe the rise of Joho is half the making of the people around him, all who are now marked men, and many are now revealing chilling happenstances in their private lives that numb even the bravest.
One has been trailed by gun and narrates a lucky escape. Only to be poisoned.
The other, just recently, became the recipient of toxic Jubilee propaganda connecting him to terrorism. Others talk of phone calls tapped daily. Homes ransacked. Strange calls and death threats.
“In it is getting dirtier and pettier. They (Uhuru men) think it is some of us to blame for the public spat between the governor and the President. They never ask whether the issues the governor is raising are genuine enough to warrant his hard stances on them,” one of Joho aides told this writer. We assured him of anonymity.
“It is critical for people to understand why the two fell out and on what issues. On forcing poor squatters to pay for land titles, it was the contention of Governor Joho that the President was playing favourites. This regime in other instances gave poor squatters and IDPs free title deeds. No one was asked to pay. What was so different with the Mombasa squatters?” he posed.
“The second issue is the government decision to move key functions of Mombasa port to a new dry port in Naivasha. Thousands of families who depend on port business are staring at uncertain future, with massive job losses to follow,” he adds.
For Joho, the question is how to explain these clearly toxic initiates of the Jubilee regime to his constituents. It started with the closure of his own port businesses, which posed the dilemma of how to raise the broader injustice without appearing to be fighting for his own threatened business empire.
And for Joho men, it is the righteous anger, lurched on their firm belief – that President Uhuru doesn’t serve all Kenyans equally – that’s unnerving to them.
They say their man has a duty to bring Uhuru’s attention to his dubious record on fairness. They reject, and furiously so, the argument that their man disrespects the President.
“In Kenya, you are expected to defer and pay reverence to the President even when he is peeing on you. This is what we are challenging. And we are on the right side of history”.
Ali Hassan Joho is no doubt surrounded by loyal and smart (brains) people, many of them young careerists just starting on their professional paths. These idealists look at their peers doing Uhuru politics and shudder in disgust. Perhaps, it is this that marks him apart.
“Some of the people closer to Uhuru pulling these dirty strings are fellow young people. They even openly brag about it. They look at this country the way Mbiyu Koinange and Njoroge Mungai and Njenga Karuma did,” another Joho insider laments.
What cuts across all of them is the urgency of the moment. It is like they all know they are right at that critical point where history takes a turn, to the better or to the worse.
Though serving under Raila Odinga as Deputy Party Leader of ODM, the Joho circle is quite unlike Odinga. And that’s a mean comparison to make.
In the Joho circle you see a flicker of Jaramogi’s wisdom in how Joho has assembled around him young, intellectually smart men who, though always in the shadows, have succeeded in building the most unlikely candidate for the hard task of carrying the kind of politics that frightens reactionary children of status quo, of whom Uhuru Kenyatta is the most noisy.
Joho men believe they will have the final end of it. They also know something has to give, and you get the impression that though they know it won’t give easily, they are somehow figuring it out.
For Uhuru, now also aware that he has badly lost it, is back to the drawing board.
His preferred candidate, Suleiman Shabhal, is a dog-whistling weakling. Without an ethnic sandbox to box into one corner, as Uhuru’s ethnic Kikuyu form a sorry minority in Mombasa, the President has failed to get the magic wand (ethnicity) of Kenyan politics.
Other candidates, including the quixotic senator of Mombasa, Omar Hassan Sarai, are teetering towards irrelevance, for the gubernatorial seat of Mombasa is now officially a contest between Nairobi puppeteers and their puppets in Mombasa.
This fight is as old as history itself. You see it in the schism between Rabindranath Tagore and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. It’s there between Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey, or Most Reverend Steel, a protestant, and the Pope.
For me, it doesn’t matter because this is the best age to live in Kenya. This August, something will have to break.