The March 18 2020 dinner party hosted by Suleiman Shahbal for Raila Odinga at Kilua in Mombasa has left tongues wagging with indications that the ODM leader will front the tycoon for the gubernatorial seat once Governor Hassan Joho retires in 2022. Shahbal contested the Mombasa gubernatorial seat in 2017 elections on a Jubilee party ticket, losing to Joho. He had also gunned for the seat in 2013 on TNA party ticket but lost to Joho.
Prior to the 2017 polls, Shahbal was in the news after the then Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko ordered Directorate of Criminal Investigations to launch a criminal investigation against him after a video clip showing the politician saying that Jubilee would win the 2017 polls through fair and foul means, including stealing, went viral. Interestingly, Shahbal made the remarks at a meeting hosted by William Ruto at Pwani University.
But that is now water under the bridge. After the March 9 2018 handshake between Uhuru and Raila, Joho and Shahbal also mended fences, a truce Mombasa tycoons of Arab descent who control almost 90pc of the Mombasa port’s activities welcomed.
Raila, according to sources, is now expanding his campaign financiers and that is why he has agreed to back Shahbal for the gubernatorial seat in exchange for financial support during the 2022 presidential poll.
Shahbal is the founder chairman of Gulf African Bank and Gulf Energy Company and is widely accepted as the father of islamic banking in East Africa. But his political career has been jolted by a series of political missteps though he remains a giant in business circles in Kenya and beyond. The Mombasa born and bred son of Middle-Eastern parentage left Kenya in the early 1980s for university education in the United States.
But following regime change in Kenya in 2002 after the general election, he secured an appointment to see president Mwai Kibaki in mid-2006 and after a 30-minute presentation followed by a two-hour chat with the president he got the licence.
But with Joho’s second and final term coming to an end in 2022, Shabbal is readying to occupy the seat that has eluded him twice.
Indeed, before meeting Raila for the dinner, Shahbal and Joho were photographed in a legshake which demonstrated they had mended fences.
Shahbal later disclosed that during the dinner with the African Union envoy they discussed national political issues.
“It was a pleasure to host Raila for dinner at Kilua, Mombasa county. We discussed matters of national issues, Building Bridges Initiative, the referendum and the way forward for Mombasa county. An interesting evening,” Shahbal stated as the two shared pictures of the event.
But a picture of the two shaking hands caught the attention of Kenyans, many questioning why Raila was disregarding the government’s guidelines on preventing the spread of Covid-19 or was the deal too sweet to resist?
According to sources, Raila is now reactivating his coastal network as well as expanding it to include allies of the president.
This is meant to deny Ruto not only Uhuru’s coastal network but also financial resources from the Arab tycoons.
For Shahbal, after losing the gubernatorial race to Joho in 2017, Uhuru consoled him with appointment as the chairman of the Kenya Trade Network Agency.
Here, Shahbal was the eye and ear of Mombasa business tycoons who once lived as kings and who literally controlled close to half business transactions in the coastal region but were now complaining that they had lost business when Uhuru took over power in 2013.
Since 2013, Shahbal had been pleading with the Arab tycoons to support Uhuru but many of them opposed the suggestion, arguing they lost business when Uhuru took over in 2013.
Most of the coast tycoons had in 2013 believed that Raila was headed for the presidential victory and thrown their weight behind him in what turned out to be barking the wrong tree.
Their troubles worsened when they were linked to buying of land in Lamu for port construction when Siaya senator James Orengo was the Lands minister in the grand coalition government.
The tycoons had heavily funded and bankrolled Raila’s campaigns to the tune of hundreds of millions of shillings with promises that once ODM formed the government, they would be considered and rewarded with multibillion tenders to recover the campaign money they offered to the ODM leader.
But the tycoons closed more than half of their businesses after they lost lucrative government tenders which were taken over by Uhuru men.
They also had a rude shock when their networks at the Mombasa port were cut denying them a chance to use their wallets to compromise top government officials mainly at the port of Mombasa and at the Kenya Revenue Authority where their companies were involved in serious tax evasion ranging into billions.
Insiders added that among the tycoons now fronting Shahbal for the gubernatorial seat include Ali Punjani.
Ashok Doshi, a Mombasa-based billionaire who is a sworn enemy of Governor Joho, is also said to be backing Shahbal to take over as governor in 2022.
Mohamed Jaffer is yet another tycoon who has welcomed the truce between Joho and Shahbal.
Apart from Raila, he is also known to have funded a number of politicians including cabinet minister and those aspiring for various political seats.
He is the founder of the MJ Group, Kenya’s largest provider of cargo handling services. The group’s flagship company owns a grain terminal that specialises in the discharge and handling of bulk grain cargo at the port of Mombasa, a coastal Kenyan town.
Abubakar Joho, brother to Joho, is also happy with the deal.
He has vast business at the port. However, his name has featured prominently in the Akasha brothers list of drug barons