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Last update: 1 July 2022 h. 10:44
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Maitha’s death a big blow

The death last month of Tourism and wildlife minister Karisa Maitha in Germany is bound to create new power struggles especially in his home district of Mombasa.
Fred Oluoch

Friends and even the burly ministers erstwhile foes like Coast’s Bahari MP Joe Khamisi admit that he was a force to reckon with. They concur that he has left a big gap that will not be filled easily.

Maitha, who started his political career as a nominated councillor in 1979 was the National Alliance Party of Kenya [NAK] strongman in its war with the Liberal Democratic Party [LDP], over the control of coast politics.

As the only NAK MP in Mombasa district, his death is likely to drastically change the equilibrium of Mombasa politics and is a major blow to NAK, who will be forced to look for a replacement to fight LDP.

Since he made his parliamentary debut in 1997 on a Democratic Party of Kenya [DP] ticket, he had always wanted to emerge as the spokesman of the Mijikenda, a local coastal community.

Significantly, he tried to lead a crusade against Coast people of Arab descent, for dominating all sectors of the economy, to the detriment of the Mijikenda.

With the search of Maitha’s replacement beginning immediately after his burial on 11 September and reaching no sutable candidate in sight, it is surely going to be an onerous task.

So far, the next senior most politician from Coast province is Foreign Affairs minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere, who has a laidback approach and who lacks grassroots support. Then there is the outspoken and boisterous assistant minister in charge of provincial administration Danson Mungatana.

It is doubtful whether Mungatana – who is serving his first term in parliament – will take over the mantle. Again, he comes from the Pokomo tribe in Tana River district, while the Mijikenda would like to see one of their own replacing Maitha. Whereas Mombasa mayor Taib Ali Taib has declared his interest in Maitha’s Kisauni parliamentary seat, it is doubtful whether he can make any impact, given that he only won the mayoral seat by a slight margin.

But what is certain is that a major battle for supremacy between NAK and LDP is now in the offing.

Still, the death of Maitha is a personal blow to president Mwai Kibaki as they have been friends since Maitha defected from the then Kenya African National Union [KANU] in 1997. In his message of condolence to the bereaved family, Kibaki did not hide the fact when he said that death had robbed him of a personal friend and colleague.

It is against this background that Maitha remained in the cabinet despite damaging allegations of corruption being leveled against him. When the opposition and civil society leaders demanded his sacking following allegations of corruption last year, president Kibaki remained silent. With a cabinet reshuffle on 30 June, many thought Maitha would be fired, only for Kibaki to transfer him to the prestigious ministry of tourism and wildlife from the local government portfolio.

But his success in selling the ruling National Rainbow Coalition [NARC] in coast province cannot be gainsaid. With a voting power of about 700000, the province abandoned KANU for the first time since 1964 to give NARC 11 out of 21 seats in 2002 general elections compared with 18 seats it gave KANU in 1997.

In addition to identifying with the late coast political supremo Ronald Ngala, he championed the cause of the coast people, complaining that they had been marginalized since independence in 1963.

But unlike Maitha, Ngala never sought the title of the king of coast province the way Maitha had wanted the title to be bestowed on him. Ngala also never claimed to be the spokesman of coast people but earned the title through shear dedication.

A man who never hesitated to take advantage of his office to fight opponents, Maitha revoked the nomination of councillors opposed to his style of leadership when he was minister for local authorities. He subsequently defied court orders asking him to reinstate the sacked councilors.

Yet Maitha’s contribution during the time he was in the cabinet cannot be compared with that of other leaders from Coast province. He took the government head on, unlike his predecessors like Shariff Nassir and Katana Ngala, who failed to address the issues affecting the region, out of fear of annoying former president Daniel arap Moi.

For a man who died on the job, selling Kenya as a tourist destination in Germany, it will be difficult to find someone who fits perfectly in his shoes.

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