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Prominent Coast Personalities; Shariff Nassir and Mohammed Jahazi’s Mvita Rivalry.

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Cumulatively, they held the Mombasa Central (now Mvita) parliamentary seat from 1969-2002, with a lot of election petitions in between.

Shariff Nassir.
Mohamed Jahazi.

Coast politics has always revolved around ethnicity and religion, especially in Mombasa. Nassir and Jahazi were both young Muslim men when they earned their political stripes. But one was viewed as a candidate for the Arab contingent (Nassir) of the town and the other for the Africans. Ideologically, Jahazi was KANU from the beginning, a key Kenyatta ally against Ngala’s Majimbo ideology at the Coast. He was among 4 councillors who represented Africans in colonial era Mombasa. He acknowledges Francis Khamisi (father to Joe Khamisi) as his political mentor. Shariff Nassir’s political life before independence was spent in CPP (Coast People’s Party) colours and the ‘Mwambao’ ideology i.e autonomy of the 10-mile Coastal strip. With the birth of KADU, Nassir joined Ngala and his Majimbo (regionalism) message.

In the years around independence and after, Mombasa Central was viewed as the leading constituency in Mombasa and the most hotly contested. Mainly because of it housing the CBD. It would take decades before Kisauni constituency would be the one headlining Mombasa politics, in the Said Hemed-Karisa Maitha years. KADU was victorious in Mombasa Central post-independence, with its candidate business tycoon Anand Pandya. KADU’s hold of the constituency only lasted until 1969, when Mohamed Jahazi’s loyalty to Kenyatta was rewarded. He won the seat and was made Assistant Minister for Health. Politics is a game of rewards, when Kenyatta had been released from detention, his first civic reception was in Mombasa where major hotels turned down his stay for fear of white backlash. Jahazi and fellow youth-wingers put up Kenyatta at Tudor Rest House and stood guard in the night.

As years went by, the KANU-KADU boundary became a fine margin and finally non-existent, it was about who best served the interest of KANU more. This is where Nassir leapfrogged Jahazi. His flowery Kiswahili and being KANU’s ultimate ‘hype man’ made him a valuable asset indeed. Shariff Nassir rose from Councillor representing Makadara Ward to becoming Mombasa Central MP in 1974, with a host of Assistant Minister roles in his time defending the seat against his key rival, Mohamed Jahazi. He finally landed a full Ministerial position in the 90s. It is easy to assume Jahazi peaked early and naturally his star waned, he himself points to ‘underhand’ tactics by Nassir in his quest to retain the Mombasa Central seat. Like Nassir’s influence in carving out Tudor (Jahazi’s stronghold) from the new Mvita to Changamwe constituency.

The Nassir-Jahazi rivalry would remain fierce in petitions, election after election, with representation by the country’s top lawyers like Pheroze Nowrojee. In 1982 Jahazi faced real trouble, he was accused of celebrating the attempted coup in the Mombasa streets as early as 8 am. Jahazi says it was the work of his nemesis. He claims he never even left his house that day. It was hard to reconcile that he had been in such celebratory mood because Jahazi had been friends with Moi since he was VP and drove him around Mombasa at night sightseeing when it was common for other leaders to be out partying and experiencing all that Mombasa Raha had to offer. Moi did grant him an audience to explain himself at the showground in Mkomani, but Jahazi feels in as much as he managed to convince Moi the allegations were false, it was hard to regain his trust. Shariff Nassir had managed to topple him both in the ballot and to the President’s ear.

Ultimately, Mohamed Jahazi’s legacy is in the place of young people in politics. He represented his people as Councillor even before independence and is a proponent of leaders learning from seniors and in the trenches of local governments before being trusted with powerful positions. Shariff Nassir, small in stature but strode Mvita like a colossus, with the bedrock of his absolute loyalty to Moi and KANU. Some of his statements like “KANU will rule for 100 years” and “Ati Moi amechoka na Nassiri? Alikwambia akiwa chumbani kwako?” live long in memory.

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