Suleiman Shahbal: Mombasa Deserves Better

Mombasa governor aspirant and re-known businessman Suleiman Shahbal

He first ran for Mombasa Governor in 2013 on the Wiper Ticket. He lost but has not given up. This is his second attempt. He talks to Nduta Waweru on what makes him the best choice for the people of Mombasa and what changes he will bring to the county


Why are you running for Mombasa Governor?


I grew up in Mombasa; that’s my hometown, where I belong.  And I am extremely unhappy about the situation in Mombasa in every aspect. If you look at the economic situation, it is really bad and growing worse day by day, which is a criminal chain because Mombasa has the chance to become the Dubai of East Africa. I have seen Dubai grow from a small little town to a major metropolis that it has become today. And all this is because of vision.


When the leadership has a vision of where they want a city to be, everything starts to fall in place. Mombasa today is run by people who have absolutely no vision, only purely personal interests. Yet the economic problem affects everything: the life of the people; creates social problems including prostitution and drug abuse. Children are abandoned by their parents because since parents do not have money, education becomes second priority for them, thus some children drop out and others perform poorly in school, thus exposing a whole generation to mediocrity.


Then the social problems including the drug abuse and rising social tensions between the Coastals and people from upcountry, who are really- as far as I am concerned- part of our community. A Kikuyu who lives and has lived in Mombasa for the last 25 years is a coastal person. The religious intolerance and radicalisation all stem from the failure of the city to really grow.


I have had the fortune of getting first class education. I have lived, studied and worked abroad, therefore, I have international experience and connections and necessary ideas and vision that we need to dramatically turn Mombasa around, not only for the people of Mombasa but also all Kenyans.

This is why I am running for governor.


You ran for the position in the previous election, and you lost. What’s different this time round?

For starters, I have a sense of obligation to my voters. They voted for me, and we won that election. Unfortunately, either by inexperienced or by default or whatever reason, we allowed these other people to steal the elections. So now we are determined to correct the wrongs we made.


Had I lost that election- run and got 10,000 votes- I would have said, ‘fine, the people of Mombasa have rejected me and my ideas.’ But the people of Mombasa did not reject me; they actually voted for me.  I now have the obligation to take back our victory.
So really, nothing much has changed. The ideas we had are now more refined with time, because we have seen some of the priorities of Mombasa sharply now. We have seen the capacity and incapacity the county government has.  Some of the things we thought we could do one way, now we realise in retrospect that they need to be done in a different way.


The vision remains intact: we need to rescue Mombasa. Mombasa deserves better.
How would you rate the performance of the current governor?


Appalling.  I think it is really sad to have the opportunity to make transformational change to your community and to do nothing. If the governor can show us just three projects he has done, then we will stand up and applaud him. It is a government of propaganda and show business. It is a government of totally misplaced priorities and that has no clue about what it is doing. Most of all, we have a tourist governor, in the sense that he is constantly travelling and now does not even live in Mombasa but Vipingo, clearly showing how out of touch he is.
Here are a few examples of misplaced priorities. First they went and built fishing board for sh.20m. All over the world, when you want to promote fishing, you give people a fibre glass boat with an outboard engine, a cooler and nets. These boats can take easily 10 people; in two shifts that’s 20 people. With sh20m, it would give you 40 small boats. This would have immediately created jobs for at least 800 people. So, instead of creating jobs for 800 people, you go and create one boat because you want to show off Mombasa 001 being launched. It is a joke.


They spend a fortune in bringing Chris Brown, without understanding that his value is not in performance. His value would have been to take a tour around town like Fort Jesus, the beach and other places, which he will post on his social media page for more than 5m people to see it. Instead, they fly him in and out by helicopter: zero value to the city of Mombasa, costing over sh. 100m. Where is the logic in this thing?
Third, they go and paint Coast General Hospital. Fantastic. We are very happy that it is clean and has new beds. But there is no medicine. People do not go to the hospital as if they are going to White Sands Hotel. They go because they are sick. There is no point of going to a nicely painted room or ward with a nice bed but no medicine.
The people of Mombasa have no clue what the vision of this governor is. It is only when you have a vision and you articulate it, that people then start to understand where they can contribute.  But our governor is into showbiz, a celebrity governor competing with Vera Sidika.

The drug problem in Mombasa is such a big issue. What’s your stand on this? What are your comments about the President’s and Deputy President’s war on drugs? And what about the Akashas?

I have been talking about the drug problem since 2010, and I said that this cancer that has started in Mombasa is going to spread to the rest of Kenya. Secondly, I was saying the drug business has two types of addicts: the one who takes the drugs and the one who takes the money from the drugs. It is a cancer that we absolutely must deal with.
I was proposing a mixture of five things. One, the adoption of the Malaysian law, where the penalty for drug dealing is capital. You deal drugs, we hang you.
Number two: we adopt American laws on the proceeds of drugs. You sell drugs; we will confiscate everything, from your car, your house to everything including your underwear. Make it an extremely high risk low return business.


Number three, we will deal with peddlers on the street by encouraging citizen arrest. We will also ensure that when these guys are taken to the police station, we have lawyers who will guarantee that they get charged and jailed. We will hit the distribution.


On number four, we will have a sharp focus on education. We have to start teaching kids from standard one on the risks of drugs.  And then we have rehab.


On the president’s and deputy president’s war on drugs: I have been begging them to declare drugs a national emergency for years. Now finally, we are seeing action, which has been prompted largely because of the Akashas.


And this is what we have been saying all along: that our law enforcement officers are part of the victims of the drug trade. There is too much money for them and they are addicted to the money from the drugs. So, in a way, the Akasha arrest created some impetus in dealing with these things.


I am saying clearly that too many politicians have benefited from the drug business, particularly ODM politicians.



You have a background in business and finance, so how are you going to run a county like Mombasa?
I am inspired by Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg was a businessman who sold his business, ran for mayor of New York and transformed New York from the worst to the best city in the U.S.  So anybody who tells you that you cannot utilise business ideas into transformation change does not know what he is talking about.


Ninety per cent of the city problems are management problems, and the remaining 10 per cent are financial problems. These are basically business issues, and this is where my experience comes in.


A simple example would be that the biggest problems in Mombasa are waste management and shortage of water. Mombasa produces 850 tonnes of garbage everyday, which can be used to generate 20 mega watts of power which will be used in desalination. There is an Israeli technology today that can handle desalination for US 75 cents; that is the cheapest water you can ever get. It is even cheaper compared to bringing in water from Barichwa.


This is a management and financial problem. Bringing in investments for this sort of project is very easy, and within six months, we can put together a solution to solve these things. The question is: how come they’ve never done it?  This has one simple reason. When investors come and propose these ideas, these people demand so many bribes that the projects become economically unviable. They put personal interest ahead of community interest.


How do you intend to transform the economy of Mombasa County?
Immediately after getting sworn in as a governor, I will work closely with the national government to set up a free zone in Mombasa. A free zone is a fenced duty-free area. It will have different sections with different products, where anyone can come select what they want and pay your duties or receive your export papers if the products are for export.


Currently, 70,000 cars are imported from Dubai from Kenyans. The dealers in Dubai will make at least USD 1,000 in profit but the Kenyan has to fly to, stay in a hotel, shop and enjoy entertainment in Dubai, leaving incredible amount of value to the Dubai economy because of buying one used car. Where is the logic for a Kenyan to go to Dubai to buy a car that’s coming from Japan?


With the free zone, we can create and convert Mombasa into a major marketing centre for the whole of East Africa. I tested this idea by informing a number of companies and 30 of them confirmed immediate interest. This is not rocket science. It is what Jabel Ali in Dubai is doing.
The Jabel Ali free zone has 7500 companies, employs 275,000 workers and contributes 35 per cent of Dubai GDP.  Compare that with Mombasa, which only employs about 7,500 workers. The Kenyan government has been talking of Dongo Kundu for the last 30 years. I am not prepared to wait for another 20 years to seethes happen. I will start a pilot project immediately and ensure that it will create a couple of thousand jobs and start making a difference in the economy of Mombasa. The hotels will start getting full, the youth will get jobs, and taxis will get jobs. It is what we call the multiplier effect.
This is the corner-stone of my vision for Mombasa. In short, the leadership of Mombasa needs to take responsibility for its own economic development; we cannot wait for the national government to come and do things for us. There are 46 other counties to worry about, and we have such a huge advantage we are not capitalizing on.

What drives you?


I have done my businesses and had my success and my failures. Now I want to give back to my community.  In December 2012, I had a meeting with the ruler of Dubai. I told him of my wish to run for governor of Mombasa, and he asked me in Arabic if God’s blessings and favour is not enough for me. To which I answered, that with my first class education, world wide connections and a little bit of money, it pains me to see a Kenyan graduate having to sell coffee in Starbucks in Dubai. It is not the ambition of this young person to graduate from University and end up selling coffee. Neither was it the aspiration of the parents to struggle so hard for their son and daughter sell coffee in Dubai.  I told him that I feel we have failed these people and we have an obligation to use the baraka God has given us for our people’s benefit. This is what drives me now. When he realised this was my purpose for getting into politics, he gave me his blessings.


I am convinced that once I am in office, the changes we will make Mombasa an example for the rest of Kenya as to what good governance and power of ideas can do.


What’s the most memorable moment from your childhood?


I would not say memorable, but the most transformational event in my life was the death of my father when I was 13 years old. It left a huge void, which I have spent my entire life trying to fill by trying to achieve so much. this, for some strange reason, has been my driving force. Later on, as I grew up, I found something interesting. This is the same void that drove Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon and Abraham Lincoln. I am not trying to compare myself with these guys but I find the psychological impact very interesting.


If you could change something from your past, would you?

No. If I could change the past, it means changing my failures, which I wear as badges of honour. It is proof that I had the courage that I stood up, tried and failed. That’s what called experience.

What’s your biggest fear?
The fear that when the final moment comes, I did not try 110 per cent.


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