Politics of dependence: Why the Mijikenda play second fiddle in Coast politics

Coast KingpinsThe late Ronald Ngala (L) and the late Karisa Maitha

In 2017, Mombasa County Governor aspirant Anania Mwamboza had a point when he told the Mijikenda community—the most populous in Mombasa–to stop being used to vote other communities to political power.

According to Mwaboza, while other counties voted in leaders from their communes, the Mijikenda people have a tendency to vote outsiders for elective positions, especially in Mombasa County. We are in 2019 and the scenario has not changed.

The Mijikenda, a  grouping of nine Bantu tribes that speaks similar dialect, constitute nine ethnic groups, namely, the Digo and Duruma  who inhabit Kwale County’s  South Coast and the Giryama, Chonyi, Jibana, Kauma, Kambe, Ribe and Rabai who reside in  north coast. 

The Mijikenda have had a chequered political history.  The first regional political kingpin, Ronald Ngala was a founder of Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU), Kenya’s first opposition political party.    

When Ngala died in a road accident on 12 December 1972, the community remained politically orphaned until the early 1990s when Karisa Maitha, another Mijikenda, shot up to reclaim the community’s political supremacy, albeit for a short time.  Since Maitha’s death in 2004, the Mijikenda have reverted to the likeness of sheep without a shepherd. 


Whereas other regions, like Central, Rift Valley, Nyanza and others have had leaders that could be considered as political kingpins, the Coast region has remained without one, creating leadership vacuum that has led to a political scramble for the region by outsiders. I the process of this scramble, Mijikenda political leaders and their people have found themselves play second fiddle in regional and national leadership.

 This is why even though the Mijikenda are the majority, they have failed to reclaim Mombasa. There are reasons why the Mijikenda have been politically gullible to outside scramble for elective positions in Mombasa County and beyond.   One, is the absence of a unifying leader to be identified with the people.   The second is the lack of a unifying, homegrown, political party to be identified with local aspirations and desires.  Kadu-Asili, one of the local parties formed by the Ronald Ngala family and clan members to advocate for majimbo system like KADU, has remained ineffectual, in part, because of clan squabbles within its leadership.  Serious lack of resources to finance the party has been another handicap, not to mention that the leaders’ close links to Jubilee Party leaders obscures its pro-majimbo philosophy.


Another factor that has politically crippled the Mijikenda towards regional and national power is poverty, found not only among Mijikenda leaders but also the people themselves.  In major elective positions, the community and their leaders have had to rely on the benevolence of outside leaders and parties like ODM and JP to be elected to influential positions of political power.  This political dependence has proven expensive to the community, forcing their leaders to play deputies in competitive regional elective positions in counties such as Mombasa.

Despite these drawbacks, the Mijikenda have chance to be counted in regional and national politics.  They are the majority and in Kenyan politics factional majority—or tyranny of numbers, as Ngunyi puts it—is invariably advantaged. 

Elections in Kenya are not about issues; they are about ethnic factional majority.  This is what we see in other counties and in the country as a whole.  The tyranny of numbers could be the Mijikenda’s weapon to win elections in those areas that they matter most, Mombasa County included.


Those who are saying that the Coast region is cosmopolitan or a melting point to shun ethnic politics are not telling the truth, which is that Kenya is one of Africa’s politically most ethnic countries and this is not likely to change any time soon. No matter how benevolent coastal communities have been, and in particular the impoverished Mijikenda community, their interests shall only be taken care of if they make the tough decision to cast their votes collectively and for leaders and parties they believe in.  This is what Kenyans have done, this is what coast people and the Mijikenda have failed to do.

Do you agree with him? Send your views or Opinion to mwambolero@gmail.com and we will publish it.

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