There is no way you can discuss the politics of Mombasa and Coast in general without invoking the name and personality of Governor Ali Hassan Joho, easily Kenya’s most recognisable county boss. Jubilee politicians love to hate him alongside Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi.
The two have formed an axis that defies presidential fiat and attempts by Jubilee to impose its will at the Coast, which is traditionally an opposition stronghold.
On the spot last week though was Joho, whose political tiff with President Uhuru Kenyatta has escalated to a point where the head of state threatened to teach him “a lesson.”
In an unprecedented outburst that is now the subject of popular jokes, especially at the Coast where Uhuru told Joho, “I am not your wife,” and suggested that the governor has made a habit of “following me around” whenever he comes to the Coast.
Uhuru was launching the Mtongwe ferry services and the following day, a Tuesday, Joho told The Nairobian that he considered Uhuru’s statement a threat to his life. But he was categorical that he will not stop speaking out against what he considers injustices perpetuated by the Jubilee administration.
“They should stop following me. I am not his wife. He should come here and explain what he has done for this county,” an agitated Uhuru told residents of Mtongwe and added that ,“He (Joho) should not play with us, if he plays with us, we will teach him a lesson!”
And indeed, state security machinery placed Mombasa on lockdown, with armed police surrounding Joho’s house in Nyali to prevent him from attending Uhuru’s function in Mtongwe. Armed police turned up with assault rifles at one of his beachfront properties in Mombasa.
Joho argues that Uhuru’s “threat” should also be taken seriously as “the president said he will deal with me. This means anything (can happen to me). It is a direct threat and it is not easy to handle a direct threat from an African head of state,” Joho who added. He said the ‘threat’ from the president “looks real when someone tells you he will bring you down.”
The latest spat between Joho and Uhuru began on January 5 when the governor accused Jubilee of hoodwinking Coast residents about development projects. During the presidential function, Joho derided the Uhuru administration of “riding” on World Bank and county projects and passing them as its own.
Uhuru’s entourage never forgave this slight, terming it a display of disrespect for the head of state. Shortly, Joho’s name was linked to drug trafficking on social media with discredited reports by the US embassy in 2011 being reproduced as fresh news.
Prior to his US tour, state officials led by Coast Regional Coordinator Marwa launched a failed attempt to link Joho to illegal guns and drugs which ended with Nelson Marwa being sued for defamation.
The yarn that followed was that Joho would be jailed alongside the Akasha brothers in the US, which the governor visited. But Joho shocked all and sundry when the Department of Homeland Security did not arrest him in America.
This US tour added a feather in Joho’s cap and shut his critics.
The tug of war between Joho and Jubilee administration has been brewing since 2016 when Joho’s family containers freight stations were shut down, followed by the withdrawal of his security detail.
Then there was the by-election in Malindi after Uhuru appointed ODM’s Dan Kazungu as Cabinet Secretary. Jubilee lost the elections to ODM candidate Willy Mtengo. Coast Regional Coordinator Marwa blamed the defeat on Joho and Kingi, claiming they orchestrated violence leading to Jubilee’s loss, and hence the state’s withdrawal of their guns and security.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery claimed Joho was temperamental and unfit to own a gun and threatened to arrest him after he declined to surrender the licensed guns. Joho said he was not afraid of arrest and invited Nkaissery to detain him.
But the courts overturned the cancellation of the arms licences and as Joho’s stature grew, so did his criticism of Jubilee. Then there was that small matter of not having a degree, a requirement for a governor. Joho graduated with a new bachelor’s degree in business last year from Gretsa University following a contentious one from Kampala International University.