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Mr Shariff says that structures will have to be put in place to enable the county to earn revenue from State-owned firms and facilities like the Kenya Ports Authority and Moi International Airport.
On paper, Mombasa is one of the richest of the 47 counties. The mix of its beautiful tourist beaches, hospitality and geographical position as the gateway to the East and Central African region lends credence to this feeling.

But the county’s leadership will be called upon to tackle the problems of drugs, inadequate housing, unemployment and piracy before they get out of hand.

The county’s image has also been recently hit by reports some youths in the area were being recruited to join the al Shabaab militia in Somalia.

Mombasa comprises four constituencies – Mvita, Kisauni, Likoni and Changamwe. Traditional political rivalries that often take sectarian lines make it one of the hotbeds of Kenyan politics.

It is a common destination for presidential candidates — given its cosmopolitan nature — out to show their might outside their perceived strongholds.

It is widely believed that part of the money made by local businessmen — through genuine and illicit trade — goes to oil the campaign machines of presidential candidates.

Tourism minister Najib Balala sees Mombasa turning out to be a powerful county given the availability of resources such as the port, ferries and tourist sites that could make commerce vibrant and attract investment.

Outside the box

The challenge, Mr Balala says, is that Mombasa has exhausted its traditional sources of revenue and it needs to think outside the box.

“It’s only counties like Kwale, Kilifi, Lamu and Tana River that should now take up the challenge to develop their tourism packages. Areas like Kipini in Tana Delta and Taita Taveta are the ones that should now be focusing on reorganising themselves to tap into the safari and wildlife segment of attraction while Mombasa should be looking into ways of coming up with a major international conference centre,” he says.

Salim Nassib Mbarak, who runs a freight logistics business in Mombasa, says the county’s position is strategic, with major facilities such as the port and oil refinery found in the area. Other economic activities are fishing, cement manufacturing and tourism.

So far only Kisauni MP Hassan Joho has publicly declared his interest in the seat of governor. Critics say the Kisauni MP might not be equal to the task of running the county. But his supporters cite his being a youthful politician with business interests in the county as making him qualified for the job.

“I think he is one of the youthful politicians who we should back for the post of governor because besides politics he has immense experience in business management, which will be an important quality for a governor who will be required to raise revenue for the county,” said Abduswamad Shariff, chairman of the Shariff Nasirr Foundation.

Mr Joho could not be reached for comment. But in an earlier interview the MP said: “If the people of Mombasa County want me to lead them, I am prepared for the tough job.” Mr Shariff says that structures will have to be put in place to enable the county to earn revenue from State-owned firms and facilities like the Kenya Ports Authority and Moi International Airport.

His sentiments were echoed by Mombasa Town Clerk Tubmun Otieno, who said that to meet the challenges of service delivery to the county’s residents, revenue streams must be created.
“The structures of how the county will fund various projects have to be put in place first even before we talk about the riches of the county,” he said. People expect that the new leadership will address the issue of unemployment among young people, which is seen as a ticking bomb.

Recent confrontations between some private developers and some poor residents over parcels of land point to undercurrents that may sink the ship of development in the county.

The influx of people regarded by locals as ‘alien’ investors in real estate, wholesale trade and transportation is also causing tension. Religious leaders and the State agency involved with campaign against drug abuse in the country are also worried over Mombasa’s growing reputation as a hub for drugs trade with cocaine or heroin getting easy access through the Old Port and other informal routes.

A National Campaign against Drug Abuse Authority (Nacada) survey indicates that Mombassa has the highest number of drug users in Coast Province. The survey conducted between April-June last year, shows that 30 per cent of the people living in the county abuse alcohol and others drugs.

Nacada chairman Frank Njenga said the survey showed that 6.3 of users are addicted to bhang while 3.7 per cent use heroine.
Sheikh Juma Ngao, a director with the agency, told the Sunday Nation that without stringent legislation and political the problem will continue be a thorn in flesh in the county.

He challenged residents, security agencies and other stakeholders to team up in a bid to move a notch higher in the fight against drug abuse. “I urged all chiefs, DOs, DCs, religious leaders among other stakeholders not to give up in this war or be intimidated. One day we shall win it,” he said.

Sheikh Ngao wondered how police end up netting bhang in Mombasa when the haul was ferried by public and private transport vehicles from several towns upcountry.

The renewed concern over drug abuse in the county comes in the wake of US ambassador Michael Ranneberger’s revelation that five well connected people, including politicians and businessmen, were connected to drug trafficking networks.

Some MPs have demanded that the five be named publicly and drug abuse declared a national disaster.