The battle for North Eastern voters
Posted Saturday, July 7 2012 at 23:30
- The next president will need to garner at least 25 per cent of the votes in a region that has yet to be captured by any of the aspirants
For decades, north-eastern Kenya has been the poster child for political and economic neglect and human rights violations as well.
But the Constitution now gives residents opportunities for greater political participation, which has elevated the region’s significance.
In the next election, North Eastern Province will elect 21 MPs to Parliament if the additional seven constituencies are approved (there will be three more seats for women representatives from the region’s three counties of Mandera, Wajir and Garissa).
Further, the high threshold set by the Constitution for one to win the race to State House — at least 25 per cent of the votes in at least half of the country’s 47 counties — has seen presidential contenders flock to northern Kenya, a region mainly dominated by members of the Somali community.
Residents of the province believe they can provide much-sought-after swing votes. More significantly, they are emboldened by the results of the disputed 2009 census.
At 2.3 million people, a figure contested by the government, Somalis now classify themselves as Kenya’s sixth-largest community, ahead of the Kisii (2.2 million), Mijikenda (nearly two million) and Meru (1.8 million).
Principal contenders for the Somali vote include Prime Minister Raila Odinga (ODM), Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper Democratic Party), Deputy Prime Ministers Uhuru Kenyatta (TNA) and Musalia Mudavadi (UDF), and Eldoret North MP William Ruto (URP).
Mandera Central MP Abdikadir Mohammed reckons that the next election will be “defining” for the people of northern Kenya.
“The region will ... provide the swing vote because the bigger voting blocs are already claimed by key candidates,” said the MP who has been touted as a possible running mate for Mr Mudavadi.
“North Eastern will be on the winning side. They would like to be in government,” he said.
In 2007 the region’s votes were cast almost evenly for President Kibaki and Mr Odinga.
In a conversation with the Sunday Nation, Dujis MP Aden Duale, who is supporting Mr Ruto, introduced another dynamic — the financial muscle of the Somali nation, arguing that they constitute the third-largest business community in the country.
“They own about 40 per cent of the energy sector and have a strong presence in the financial sector, and our top professionals are in key positions in constitutional commissions such as the electoral commission as well as the Judiciary, diplomatic service and defence,” he said.
Politicians from the region said they consider Marsabit, Moyale, Isiolo and a section of Tana River as part of the Somali nation. They also cite Bura and Kamukunji constituencies represented by Somalis Dr Abdi Nuh and Mr Yussuf Hassan, respectively, as their political territory.
Mr Odinga is fighting to retain his portion of a region whose politics revolve around clan interests, and which gave his party six MPs in the last election.
He hopes to rely on Deputy House Speaker Farah Maalim (Lagdera), Cabinet minister Mohammed Elmi (Wajir East) and Energy assistant minister Mohamed Maalim Mohamud of Mandera.
Mr Kenyatta, whom the region supported in the 2002 presidential contest on a Kanu ticket, will bank heavily on the support of Defence minister Yusuf Haji, a respected Ogaden elder whose influence goes beyond his Garissa turf.