Coastal leaders are furious over Trade minister Ali Chirau Mwakwere recent claim that he is the de facto leader and spokesman of the Mijikenda community.
In a paid advertisement last week, the minister expressed “deepest sorrow and condolences to the family and friends of the late Prof Maathai” on behalf of his family and Kaya elders, and signed off as the overall leader (Mwinza Mkulu) of the Mijikenda people. He was unavailable for comment on his assertion as he is out of the country.
However, former Shirikisho Party of Kenya national treasurer Mwakio Ndau dismissed the minister’s use of the title, saying even in his Matuga backyard, Mr Mwakwere was unable to garner more than 60 per cent of the votes during the recent by-election.
“How do you declare yourself Mijikenda leader and spokesman when you cannot get 100 per cent support from your own backyard?” he asked.
According to Mr Ndau, few Mijikenda have benefited from the different ministerial positions he has held since 2003.
“For the past nine years, Mr Mwakwere has held powerful ministerial dockets – Foreign Affairs, Transport and now Trade – but nobody can account for what he has done for the community,” he said.
Terming the minister a “traitor” of the coastal people’s cause, Mr Ndau claimed he was behind the destruction of Shirikisho Party as a formidable force through his association with PNU before the 2007 elections.
Voice of the people
“Shirikisho was the voice of the people of this region but Mwakwere killed it after unilaterally introducing stringent conditions for one to get its parliamentary ticket for the 2007 elections,” he said.
Former Tourism minister Morris Dzoro added that one could not be a community spokesman without a “proven performance record” and grassroots support from all nine Mijikenda sub-tribes.
“I am not against Mr Mwakwere becoming the leader and spokesman of Mijikenda people, but he should do more by engaging other leaders just as the late Karisa Maitha did to earn the title Mugogo from the people,” he said in a telephone interview.
Since independence only two Mijikenda leaders have been given the title Mwinza Mkulu (hunter of hunters): the late Ronald Gideon Ngala and Mr Maitha.
However, according to the Coast Parliamentary Group chairman and Bahari MP Benedict Gunda, Mr Mwakwere made his declaration after the Mijikenda Council of Elders picked him to be spokesman of the community. (READ: WARIGI: Which hat was Mwakwere wearing in advert?)
“But this does not mean we subscribe to it, because the council of elders is just an organisation that does not speak for the people,” he said.
The Trade minister was also accused of “chest thumping” using public funds. Lawyer John Diro has urged the government to ensure that the bill for the advertisement is paid by Mr Mwakwere.
This way, Mr Diro says, the government will fight impunity and send a stern message to public servants that the days of misusing funds for personal interests are long gone.
Lands assistant minister and Kinango MP Gonzi Rai, however, supported Mr Mwakwere’s position, saying the minister was well placed to propagate the community’s social, political and economic agenda for 2012 “because of his position and clout in the coalition government”.
But two personal assistants to Mr Maitha – Mr Nyonga wa Makemba and Mr Paul Katana – said Mr Mwakwere lacked the charisma Mr Maitha and Mr Ngala had to be leader and spokesman of the Mijikenda people.
Mr Katana, who is eyeing the Kaloleni Parliamentary seat, further asked why the minister was talking about being a leader or spokesman of the Mijikenda when the Constitution did not allow for such chieftainships.
“The structure of the next government is clear. There will be no regional leaders, only counties – period,” he said, adding that Mr Mwakwere could only be a spokesman of Kwale County and not any other.
Mr Katana further noted that before a leader is given the title Mwinza Mkulu or Mugogo, that person should be acceptable to all the nine sacred Kayas spread throughout Kilifi and Kwale counties, and not only one’s mudzi (homestead/backyard).
“If the minister thinks he has reached the status of the late Maitha or Ngala, I challenge him to call for a Mijikenda rally in any of the two counties to see how many people will attend,” he said.
However, former Ganze MP Joseph Kingi cautioned that sub-tribal differences within the community may not augur well for its participation in the new constitutional dispensation unless it starts seeing things beyond sub-tribal interests.
And to further complicate Coastal politics, in his recent visit to the region, Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka picked Immigration assistant minister and Ganze MP Francis Baya as his pointman among the Mijikenda to lead his presidential campaign.