Issues and personalities to watch: Coast

The land problem at the coast is as old as the province itself. No wonder it is the strongest determinant of how the residents vote in elections. In previous multi-party elections, politicians seeking to make capital from the problems have led the province into violence as they incited residents against each other. In 1992 and 1997, politicians allied to the then ruling party, Kanu, armed the locals to expel residents of the province who were perceived to have upcountry roots.

The violence that ensued instilled a wave of fear among the targeted people, resulting in a mass exodus. It also substantially destroyed the tourism industry that was hitherto thriving. But it also gave the ruling party the advantage it required to win the majority of the seats.

In Taveta where most of the land is owned by the Kenyatta family and Basil Criticos, the voters, the majority of whom are squatters, vote on the same side with the land owners lest they are thrown out. Between 1992 and 1997, Basil Criticos used his land to buy political loyalty from the locals who were at his mercy.

As in 2002, the vote will go to the political grouping that demonstrates a commitment to resolving the age old problem. Kanu lost the province because after all its time in power, it never attempted to address the problem. In fact, it worsened the situation when the land grabbing mania crept into government circles and politically correct individuals.

In an attempt to win the province, the government set in motion the process of resolving the crisis. Last year, the ministry of land literally camped at the province in a bid to sort out the problem. To show the seriousness with which the government is treating the problems, Kibaki himself has made several trips to the province over the problem. Last year, he spent two weeks at the province in which he personally handed over 3,000 title deeds to squatters.

Stalled development projects will also from a campaign platform. During the years of economic decline, most of the factories that promoted agriculture in the province closed down as money was looted to finance Kanu's campaign. In the process, locals who depended on the factories were left without a livelihood.

In these forthcoming elections, the side which shows a concrete plan for reviving the factories, including Ramisi sugar factory and the Cashew nut factory, will be the side to beat in the polls.

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