NDUBI: How President Kenyatta has built Governor Joho’s political stature

Succès de scandale (French for “success from scandal”) is a term for success credited to notoriety or a thing’s scandalous nature.

Largely associated with artistic work whose success is attributed, in whole or in part, to public controversy surrounding the work, it echoes the phrase, ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’.

Mombasa Governor Hassan Ali Joho’s meteoric political rise in the recent past is a near-perfect manifestation of Succès de scandale in the Kenyan political dispensation.

When his political career was blossoming as a first time Member of Parliament for Kisauni Constituency after an overwhelming win in the 2007 General election, Joho was named in a 2010 US embassy drug trafficking dossier given to the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (Now EACC) by then Ambassador Michael Ranneberger.

The 44-year-old politician has had to live with these allegations since. But instead of this weighing heavy on his shoulders, and like controversial art causes audiences to seek out the work for its titillating content, it simply heightened public curiosity about this coastal region politician, setting the stage for his national profile – Classic Succès de scandale.

But his more visible national political brand has been bolstered by his dramatic feuds with the Head of State, President Uhuru Kenyatta.

According to the Governor 001, as he is referred to, he fell out with Kenyatta in 2016 when he questioned the treatment of Waitiki Farm squatters who were required to pay for their title deeds after the government bought the land from the owner.

His troubles with the Jubilee administration, however, date further back to January 2016 when a container freight station linked to him was seized with Ksh56m worth of contraband sugar. Joho was consequently ordered to surrender his firearm and in an unprecedented move, the government withdrew his security.

A fierce critic of the Kenyatta-led government, Joho has not run short of scathing remarks directed to none other the head of state and his deputy William Ruto.

When President Kenyatta snubbed him in his 16-day Coast tour early 2016, Governor Joho said:

“We will tell you if you are unworthy and inadequate. And we have told you that you are unworthy and inadequate. Uhuru Kenyatta is elected as I am. Respect me, I respect you… Politicians who used to blindly follow the presidents reside in the past.”

The governor has continued to unleash a tirade of criticism against Jubilee to the effect that the government couldn’t be credited with initiating any development project in the region but was rather taking credit for those initiated by others.

“The Kenya Municipal Programme was started in 2010 and funded by the World Bank when Jubilee was not in power. We want to see projects initiated by this government. Today, I want to hear that billions (of Shillings) have been left here to start new projects,” Joho told a cheering crowd during the launch of a water project in Bamburi by the president, drawing angry reactions from Jubilee politicians.

His long-running bad blood with Coast Regional Coordinator Nelson Marwa has seen him take a swipe at the presidency for what he calls undermining him.

“To me, Marwa is a very small person. Not even Marwa, but the person who hired Marwa to me is a very small person.”

In all these incidents, Joho has earned himself admiration from his supporters for standing up to the presidency. Regardless of the issues at hand, Joho has cultivated the image of a fearless, independent leader and a darling of his people who now call him the Sultan.

To the Mombasa people, the president largely looks like the villain in all this. While the president would have been expected to take the high road, he played into Joho’s trap elevating him to the national discourse through tactical errors that only serve to extend Joho’s Succès de scandale run.

For instance, it was absolutely unnecessary to use the GSU police officers to bar the Mombasa governor from attending the historic reopening of the Mtongwe Ferry Services.

“Let them not play with me. I will show them… Why is he following me? I am not his wife,” Kenyatta said.

“Am I not supposed to respond to what the president says? The fact remains that the national government gave us Ksh13.6b and not Ksh40b,” Joho said, while denying claims that he had sinister motives in attending the function.

It is not surprising that in many ways Joho appears a victim in his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) puzzle that has come to haunt him in his last year as the first governor of Mombasa.

Though this is not the first time Joho’s academic credentials have been questioned, the timing of the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) revelation within the context of his rivalry with the government could easily be interpreted as Knec playing politics.

In April 2013, Uganda National Council of Higher Education (NCHE) questioned Governor Joho’s Bachelor of Business Administration degree (Human Resource Management option) awarded to him by the Kampala University. The University however maintains that the governor earned the degree legitimately.

To his constituents, Joho remains the Titan of Mombasa, a charming leader and philanthropist. In fact, while responding to the claims, Joho admits he scored a D Minus and should be regarded as an inspiration to Kenyan youth who fail to score the best grades in school thus labelled failures.

By seemingly targeting Joho, the Jubilee administration has only succeeded in raising the national profile of a man whose political career was birthed by the death of Influential coast politician Karisa Maitha in 2004, while painting the president ‘the bad guy’. It has won Joho the sympathy and admiration of the people.

If Joho survives this and goes ahead to recapture his seat on August 8, he’ll surely have a seat on the power table in the 2022 presidential race, not as Coast politician or ODM deputy leader, but as a national leader – thanks to Uhuru Kenyatta.

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