The Kwale County gubernatorial race promises to be one of the hottest in coast politics, with the real battle pitting Jubilee and ODM arch-rivals against each other.
Governor Salim Mvurya’s exit from ODM to Jubilee last year has triggered a scramble for the party’s ticket, ushering in newcomers as well.
However, since Mr Mvurya left the party, the ODM house in the county seems to have been thrown into disarray.
The situation was compounded further by the sudden death of Senator Boy Juma Boy, an ardent campaigner and diehard supporter of the party and its leader Raila Odinga.
The ODM team, led by branch chairman Hassan Mwanyoha, has been protesting and accusing Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho of interfering with politics in Kwale County.
In a memorandum handed to Mr Odinga in Mombasa in March, the branch’s five top officials accuse Mr Joho of “having a preferred candidate” and gave him a three days’ ultimatum to resolve the matter if the party is to enjoy the region’s backing.
Among those who signed the protest memo included Mr Mwanyoha, governor aspirants Gereza Dena (businessman), Dr Issa Chipera (Plan International Uganda director), Mr Mohamed Mwachai Mwarapayo (former permanent secretary), Mr Nicholas Zani (nominated MP), Zuleikha Juma and Bongwe-Gombato MCA Omar Idd Boga.
Mr Mvurya himself has repeatedly said that he ditched ODM due to the persistent internal wrangles and after feeling that he would be denied the party ticket “by ODM forces from outside Kwale County”.
But Mr Odinga and Mr Joho moved to assure the party leaders that they would not allow any interference, not only in Kwale County but everywhere in the country.
“We want to assure all our supporters and aspirants that the party primaries will be free, fair, transparent and credible. There will be no preferred candidate.
“Our party is the most democratic and there will be no sacred cows whatsoever. Voters will determine the candidates,” said Mr Joho at a meeting at Jubilee hall in Mombasa.
Political temperature for the governor’s seat have been intensifying in the county as the August 8 polls approach.
A total of five candidates have declared interest in ousting the incumbent Governor, with the race gradually shaping up to be a two-horse race between Jubilee and ODM.
Jubilee has tried to make a foothold in Kwale, bringing in multi-billion projects such as the Mkanda Dam and the launch of an infrastructure project to tarmac the Samburu-Kinango-Kwale road.
The area has been an ODM stronghold since 2013 with Governor Mvurya, Woman Representative Zainab Chidzuga, Matuga MP Hassan Mwanyoha and Msambweni MP Suleiman Dori having been elected on ODM tickets.
The same cannot, however, be said for Ward Reps. Out of the 33 elected and nominated Members of County Assembly (MCA’s), only 9 are ODM.
The National Alliance (TNA) had five MCAs while the rest of them were elected or nominated through Shirikisho Party of Kenya (SPK), Kenya National Congress (KNC), United Republican Party (URP) and Ford-Kenya.
Mr Mvurya enjoys unwavering backing from President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto.
Apart from that, he boasts of an impressive development track record with a national assessment among the 47 counties placing him number two among best performing governors last year.
The field of contestants has been enlivened up by the entry of former Tanzania High Commissioner Chirau Ali Mwakwere into the race.
Mr Mwakwere surprised many, both friends and foes, when he resigned from his job and joined ODM as one of the aspirants.
But his marriage with the Orange party did not last a month. In a surprise move, the former Cabinet Minister joined Wiper only days after he indicated a great leaning towards ODM.
He had even met its top leaders including party leader Raila Odinga and Deputy Mr Joho who is a key political figure at the Coast.
Although Mr Mwakwere denied having moved to the ODM party, he was said to have been forced to switch to Wiper due to discomfort among some officials and members of the Kwale ODM branch following his entry.
“Mr Mwakwere’s reason for quickly leaving the ODM house to Wiper was not very different from Governor Mvurya’s.
“He would not get its ticket because there are preferred candidates there,” said an insider.
Analysts claimed “Dzipapa” was frustrated and “earlier promises broken” by Orange House, a clear indication that he would not clinch the party’s ticket.
The party’s Senate aspirant, Mr Nicholas Zani, also did not seem ready to welcome “Dzipapa” in the party, accusing him of being a Jubilee sympathiser.
“Mzee Mwakwere, much as we love and respect him, has no place in ODM. In fact if anything, he is more Jubilee than Governor Mvurya,” said Mr Zani in a telephone interview.
The hopefuls will battle it out in the party primaries slated for April 11.
The party’s flagbearer will then meet Governor Mvurya (Jubilee) and Mr Mwakwere in the August 8 polls.
In the 2013 elections, Mr Dena and Mr Mwarapayo lost to Governor Mvurya who emerged victorious with 63,078 votes.
He was followed in second place by former Kinango MP Simeon Mkalla with 22,262 votes.
Mr Mwarapayo garnered 20,338 votes, Mr Dena 7,403 votes, Mr Kassim Rigga 7,199 votes and Mr Michael Nyanje got 2,929 votes.
Mr Ruwa and Dr Chipera are therefore the new entrants in the race, their vision being to transform the county.
For now, Governor Mvurya is not taking any chances with the vote and has employed a two-pronged strategy; initiating grassroots projects in using county budget and working closely with the National Government to solidify his vote.
Kwale County consists of four constituencies – Kinango, Matuga, Msambweni and Lunga Lunga.
The Duruma community from which Mr Mvurya hails, dominate Kinango constituency and are minorities in Matuga, Msambweni and Lunga Lunga, which are Digo community ancestral homes.
According to a political analyst, Prof Halimu Shauri, there are several factors that could influence who will become Kwale’s governor.
These include the ethnic factor, party affiliation, choice of running mate and development track record for each of the contestants.
The majority of the voters from Kinango are Durumas but there is also a sizeable population of Kambas who “historically” share the same interests, making it a key determinant factor for those aspirants who hail from the Duruma community.
Mr Shauri, however, maintains that ODM was still the party to beat in the August 8 elections in Kwale County.
But he quickly adds that it would all boil down to the candidates, their personality, strategy and development records “because all of them have served in senior positions in the past and Kwale voters will scrutinise them on that basis”.