The sudden death of Senator Boy Juma Boy has thrown the Kwale senate race wide open and could also weaken opposition forces in the Coast region.
Because of his popularity, Mr Boy was widely expected to easily defend his seat.
This also meant he could have spent more of his time campaigning for his party, Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), and the Opposition in the region.
His popularity was such that no serious aspirant had emerged within ODM to challenge him for the party ticket.
Now the Orange party has to scramble to get a candidate, with reports that Nominated Senator Agnes Zani, her brother Nicholas Zani and the senator’s 23-year-old son, Keah Boy Juma, coming into play. Mr Zani, the ODM county chairman, is also interested in the governor’s seat.
Outside ODM, Mr Mshenga Ruga and Mr Hassan Mzinga are said to be interested to vie on a Jubilee Party ticket. Ms Kinyasi Ginora is seeking to fly the Amani National Congress flag.
The senator was regarded as the most trusted ally of ODM leader Raila Odinga at the Coast, together with Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho and Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi. Boy was expected to play a key role in the Opposition presidential campaigns this year, just like he did in 2013.
With Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya having defected to Jubilee, Boy’s death also means the Opposition goes to the polls without the support of two of the most senior politicians in the county.
Mr Ali Chirau Mwakwere, who lost the senate race to Mr Boy in 2013 and who defected to ODM last week to vie for the governor’s seat, is now expected to fill the vacuum left by the defection of Mr Mvurya and the death of Boy.
Mr Mwakwere resigned as Kenya’s high commissioner to Tanzania last week.
Kwale is an ODM stronghold although Jubilee, having enticed Mr Mvurya and a number of other MPs to cross over, increasingly thinks it can make inroads in the region. Now, Boy’s death could give it even more encouragement.
Control of Kwale and the wider Coast is key to both the Opposition and Jubilee administration in the August polls.
The die is now cast in Kwale. The county is set to witness real war between the National Super Alliance (Nasa) and Jubilee, as the government side tries to make inroads into the region.
ODM – through Nasa – on the other hand, will try to send the message that the area is still its home turf and that the tide has not changed despite vigorous efforts by President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto to turn tables.
Mr Zani told the Nation that the senator’s death had caused uncertainty in the party.
“The late Boy was definitely going to get a direct ticket from ODM to defend his seat. His sudden death caught us by surprise and completely off-guard. We had no alternative candidate and so, had to quickly go back to the drawing board,” he said on Thursday.
Sources say ODM held a series of meetings after the burial of the senator to agree on a candidate especially if a by-election is held, which is unlikely, given that it is only six months to the General Election.
South Coast Regional Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) coordinator Albert Gogo said: “It is not official whether there will be a by-election for the senate seat in Kwale County or not. A number of things have to be considered.”
“The time the Speaker will declare the seat vacant matters because IEBC will have 90 days within which to conduct a by-election after that. Assume that he does that in February, which takes us to May. To be considered also is when Parliament will be dissolved.
“All in all, we are waiting for the (IEBC) headquarters to make that decision. But whichever the case, will that decision serve the people or not?” asked Mr Gogo.
Back to the contest. It is said the ODM leaders’ meetings agreed to prevail on Mr Zani to contest the seat.
Mr Zani admitted he had been asked by elders to contest the seat and he would have to decide between it and that of governor.
“I asked them to give me three days to think about it and then give them my final answer…. Once I decide on one, I will have to stick with it. That is why I need to be careful and to consult widely before I announce my decision”.
For her part, Dr Zani said she was yet to make up her mind, but would make her position public once she does so.
“I will announce which position I will be vying for when the right time comes. I will invite you for that ceremony but for now, let me not spill the beans,” she said.
However, some other sources in the party say the late senator’s 23-year-old son, Boy Juma, could also be considered, with reports Coast political kingpin Hassan Joho prefers him to replace his father.
If this happens, it will not be the first time political power is passing from father to son in the family, as the late senator himself was a young man when he inherited the Kwale Central seat from his father in 1984.
The young Boy may be a strong candidate, especially if he inherits his father’s political networks, but there are also concerns that at 23, he is too young and inexperienced for the position.
At least three major factors are likely to play out in determining Kwale politics in the August 8 poll: the age-old Duruma/Digo factor, the entrance into the race by new players and the performance of Mr Mvurya.
Ever since the days of the defunct Kwale County Council, the chairmanship has always been a battle between the Duruma and the Digo.
The Duruma always emerged on top due to their bigger numbers, and support from the Kamba, who form a significant minority.
According to the 2006 Housing and Population census, Kwale County has a population of 649,931 with the Duruma being the majority, followed by the Digos. The rest are Kamba, other upcountry communities, Makonde and small populations of Arabs and Asians.
The Digo are majority in Matuga, Msambweni and Lunga Lunga sub-counties, while the Duruma and Kamba are found in Kinango sub-county although there are large pockets of the Duruma and Kamba in Lungalunga.
Secondly, the entrance of new players such as Mr Mwakwere, who lost the senate seat in the 2013 elections, could alter the cards.
Mr Mvurya’s performance, which at one time was rated the second best in Kenya, could give him mileage over the other candidates.
The Mvurya administration is said to have supplied more water pipes than all the four governments of President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Arap Moi, Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta.
A resident of Mwaruphesa, Mzee Timothy Mwang’ombe said Mr Mvurya’s only misstep was jumping from ODM to Jubilee, “a party which lacks a big following in Kwale”.
In a recent interview, Mr Mvurya said he joined Jubilee so that the people could reap more benefits and to enable him achieve his “very ambitious development agenda”.
According to the electoral commission, for the 2013 General Election, there were 174,443 registered voters in Kwale county spread as follows: Msambweni – 42,205, Lungalunga – 34,277, Matuga – 46,261 and Kinango – 51,700.