Kenya’s own ‘Bridgegate’ scandal?

The Kenyan city of Mombasa is in the throes of its own ‘Bridgegate’ controversy after traffic officials withdrew marshals from roads at peak hours in an allegedly politically motivated move.

This time the protagonists are Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho and Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, who clashed last Friday.

News of the trouble between the two made national headlines Tuesday when security officials withdrew elite personnel seconded to Joho’s security detail, allegedly in retaliation for remarks he made about Kenyatta. Now, traffic officials are also ordering marshals off the streets, national media report.

The implication is that the orders are coming from high up, outside the authority of the local authorities in Mombasa.

Governor Joho had reportedly irked Kenyatta when he said that the Kenyan president should not take credit for World Bank development projects, insinuating that the current government has done little itself for development in the counties.

At least 105 traffic officers who were working in Mombasa County, mainly helping to ease traffic during peak hours, were removed from the roads on Monday morning, Daily Nation newspaper reports.

Naheed Musa, a director at the Traffic Inspectorate, confirmed he had received instructions to remove traffic officers from certain routes.

County Transport Executive Tawfiq Balala called a press conference to lambast the development saying, “We know the move is politically motivated in view of what is going on between the (national) government and the governor.”

A spokesman for the president has denied any political motive in the withdrawal of the bodyguards from Joho’s detail, saying it is part of a normal reorganization by commanders in the Mombasa area, but he is yet to respond to the reports of interference in traffic control operations in the city.

Mombasa’s governor is part of the opposition ODM party and he opposes Kenyatta’s bid for reelection later this year.

Allegations of political interference in traffic operations in Mombasa resemble developments of the so-called ‘Bridgegate’ scandal in the US state of New Jersey in 2013. Bridgegate, also known as the Fort Lee lane closure scandal, involved aides of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who colluded to create traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge.

The bridge is one of the busiest in the world, running between New Jersey’s city of Fort Lee and New York City. The governor’s aides organized the traffic disruptions by closing toll lanes in order to retaliate against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for declining to support Christie’s reelection bid.

Federal prosecutors later indicted two government officials – loyalists of Governor Christie – accusing them of conspiring to “use public resources to carry out a vendetta and exact retribution,” and saying that they “callously victimized the people of Fort Lee.” A jury last year convicted the two officials on all counts. They could face several years in jail and are due to be sentenced next month.