Today’s by-election in Msambweni, Kwale County, will likely put to test the political might of President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga on one side against that of Deputy President William Ruto on the other.
Raila has held the constituency in his grip since 2007, and is backing Omar Boga of ODM. The constituency of more than 69,000 voters is set to elect an MP following the death of Suleiman Dori eight months ago.
Uhuru’s Jubilee party did not field a candidate in respect to the spirit of the Handshake, which has been perceived as a silent backing of the ODM candidate.
But for DP Ruto, whose allies are backing Feisal Bader, an independent contestant, it is about removing Raila’s grip on the Coast as he (Ruto) prepares for the high stakes 2022 General Election.
Last Thursday while campaigning for Boga, Raila said the by-election was a yardstick to gauge his popularity and that of the Building Bridge Initiative (BBI) in the Coast region.
“If we fail here as ODM, it means BBI will have a problem,” Raila said.
Ruto allies said the DP wants to win the seat as a test to the reception of his ‘Hustler’ politics in the country and a springboard to the 2022 elections in which he has expressed interest to vie for the top seat.
During the two-month-long campaigns in the constituency, Boga has successfully projected himself as the ‘Handshake’ choice who enjoys the backing of Raila and Uhuru.
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“I am a government candidate because the president and his government have endorsed me under the Handshake arrangement,” Boga told The Standard.
Last week, Boga left the campaigns in Msambweni organised by Raila to meet President Kenyatta in Mombasa for the launch of the Liwatoni floating footbridge.
The pictures of the meeting have been widely circulated on social media in what is seen as a continued strategy to depict him as the Uhuru-Raila favourite in the race.
Locally, the by-election tests the political clout of ODM deputy party leader and Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho and Kwale’s Salim Mvurya, who vigorously campaigned for the Raila and Ruto candidates, respectively.
The two governors’ sides have been loudest owing to the competition between Raila and Ruto in the race that has eight candidates.
The others are former Msambweni MP Marere wa Mwachai of The National Vision Party, Khamis Mwakaonje (United Green Movement), Sheikh Mahmoud Abdurahman of Wiper and Ali Mwakulonda of Party of Economic Democracy.
Charles Bilali and Mansour Kumaka are running as independent candidates. Another independent candidate, Sharlet Akinyi, resigned midway and endorsed ODM’s Boga.
Joho has been instrumental in positioning Boga, the former Bongwe-Gombato MCA as the Handshake candidate, as he fought the wave caused by Ruto’s Hustler nation narrative.
“If you are man enough, don’t play Msambweni politics at Karen and on Twitter while posting pictures. Come to the ground so we meet man to man,” Joho said in a remark directed to Ruto.
Boga has also been backed by Kwale Senator Issa Boy, Women Representative Zuleikha Hassan, Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi, Likoni MP Mishi Mboko and ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna, among others.