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The Campaign for Independence for Kenya's Coast Steps up

After years of neglect, many on Kenya’s coast are rallying behind the Mombasa Republican Council's secessionist agenda.
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MRC supporters protesting outside the High Court of Mombasa.

Mombasa, Kenya:

The crowd across the street from the High Court of Mombasa erupted in jeers and shook their fists in scorn as the Kenyan security lorry crawled up the avenue in front of them. Camouflage-clad security members responded with grim, unmoved expressions.

On February 14, hundreds of Mombasa Republic Council (MRC) supporters had gathered outside the court hoping the judicial decision about MRC’s legal status would deliver them some concessions, but were left severely disappointed. The judiciary postponed the rulings to legalise the MRC and prevent electoral activity in the coastal region, as they have done dozens of times previously.

After decades of coastal neglect, leaders in Nairobi are now facing an emboldened movement that appears to be gaining irrevocable traction. The recent rise of the outlawed Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), the organisation spearheading the secessionist drive, has emerged as a significant burden for the Kenyan government as it struggles to revive a struggling economy and quell ethnic tensions in the face of impending national elections.

But while Kenya’s coastal secession drive has gained significant momentum recently, the political environment has yet to reach combustible levels.

MRC fails to secure court ruling

“We have rogue leaders in power, leaders that are greedy and corrupt. If their claim that the MRC violates the law is true, why must they inhibit the judicial system themselves?” Wilson Amani, an activist who researches land ownership issues for human rights groups in the Mombasa vicinity, told Think Africa Press. “They have no agenda for the coast. They only want votes and exploitation.”

Although the majority of Kenyans and nearly all political figures denounce the Mombasa independence, the grievances that plague the coastal region cannot be disputed. Despite a wealth of natural resources and a vibrant tourism industry, the coastal region suffers from the some of the most abject poverty in Kenya, as well as inferior infrastructure and endemic land ownership issues.

“They [the MRC leaders] address pertinent issues for coastal people. That’s why they are getting support. They are talking about marginalisation,” said Mwinyi Juma, director of Likoni Community Development Organisation (LIKODEV), a network of development organizations based south of Mombasa. “The coast is very marginalised. There is the issue of unemployment. There are the land issues. These are the grievances that coastal people have been crying about for years.”

Why is coastal secession becoming such a pressing issue?

MRC leaders cite the disparity between colonial accords and deals struck in the post-independence era as evidence of the secession movement’s legitimacy. In 1890, the British monarchy acquired the coastal strip from the Sultan of Zanzibar and gave the region protectorate status. However, after Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s independence hero and first president, claimed the reigns of power in 1963, he incorporated the coastal area into Kenya.

The cultural disparities are all too visible. The coastal population is largely Swahili and Muslim, while inland Kenya is an amalgam of ethnicities with a predominant Christian affiliation.

“They [government officials] are colonising the coast region. The coast is not Kenya but they are treating it like Kenya,” said MRC Secretary General, Randu Nzai Ruwa, in a café across the channel from Mombasa island. “We can form our own government and run it very well. We can just stay as neighbour countries.”

MRC leaders deny the group has any religious foundation; rather, they represent the entirety of the coast and all the included minority communities. Group spokesman Mohammed Rashid Mraja emphasised their inclusive nature and dispelled allegations the MRC has links to militant groups, such as al-Shabaab in Somalia.

“The MRC does not have a religious stand,” said Mraja, dressed in a beige Muslim gown and an embroidered skullcap, wearing an unkempt, patchy beard and a stony expression. “We accept all religions and shun debate over whether there should be a religious foundation.”

The MRC begins to garner supporters

It is nearly impossible to gauge the precise level of support for the MRC and the secessionist agenda considering much of the coastal population live in remote regions and have minimal engagement in political activity. But MRC leaders suggest that membership levels have recently exceeded two million.

Membership requires candidates to pay a small fee, receive an identity card and volunteer to travel the coastal region, educating the local population on their plight and the path forward. Recently, however, MRC leaders have been prioritising the prevention of electoral activity along the coast as they believe engaging in the process would give it false legitimacy. The high court’s postponement indicates MRC may not get what it wants through judicial recourse so MRC leaders are advocating a voter boycott, a prospect poised to irritate national politicians seeking votes in a highly populated region.

“We are disputing the electoral body’s activities because if we accept that, we are accepting being part of Kenya,” said MRC Secretary General Ruwa. “[If that is not successful] we will not vote. We have an argument with the government.”

But some prominent coastal leaders, despite acknowledging the dire need to address the injustices suffered along the coast, denounce the secessionist drive. Kenya’s recent constitutional modifications, they say, provide the necessary instruments to confront the government on those issues.

“Instead of encouraging people to not participate, the MRC should be asking people to participate more so the people can elect officials who sympathise with their plight” said Mombasa native Hassan Omar Hassan, a former commissioner of the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights.

Will the voter boycott be successful?

Hassan predicts that voters will go to the ballot box when national elections are held. The date of parliamentary and presidential elections remains a matter of debate rooted in constitutional ambiguity, but will be held some time between this summer and March 2013.

But poor living conditions coupled with police brutality threatens to give support to a voter boycott. On December 17, a police officer was killed south of Mombasa in a crime that observers say lacked political motivation. In the wake of the incident, however, security forces stormed homes in the vicinity and, according to local resident, 36-year-old Mdune Julo, beat neighbourhood residents, arrested dozens and accused them of being MRC militants.

“As coastal residents, we are tired. We are tired of oppression, the lack of freedom and opportunity,” said Julo, who says he was dragged out of his home, beaten and detained. “Maybe it’s the only organisation to represent us. I will not vote in elections as a show of defiance.”

Police brutality is pervasive throughout Kenya. Coastal security has, however, targeted MRC meetings in crackdowns that have led to multiple deaths in recent years. The government deems the MRC an organised crime entity, providing justification for outlawing the group and raiding its meetings.

“As you know the MRC is outlawed according to the Kenyan Constitution,” said Coast Police Commissioner, Aggrey Adoli, in his Mombasa office. “So they cannot claim they are legally assembling and we are obstructing their meeting.”

MRC committed to legal avenues, for the present

The MRC has not been concretely implicated in any violence, despite the government ban. That is poised to change, however, should negotiations not begin and grievances continue to go unaddressed. MRC leaders insist on exhausting all legal avenues before taking up arms while admitting segments of the group have been pushing for a more militant approach. An uprising has a degree of popular appeal and, should it spark, MRC leaders fear they will lose control.

“We don’t fear to die. We shall fight. Justice will be done,” said 54-year-old Khalifani Bakari Manyenze outside the High Court to an eruption of applause from the crowd of 50 people encircling us. “We shall not tolerate this anymore. Anything can happen this time.”

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Comments

I am a student at the University of Nairobi and i'm writing a paper on Land as a tool for political mobilization at the Coast. This article has been quite useful especially with regards to information as regards The Mombasa Republican Council (MRC). I am of the opinion that the organisation has just claims except I am afraid that like Southern Sudan, cessation doesn't entirely bear prospects of independence as is common belief. Considering that the coast has different tribes and religions, if at all they succesfully cessede, what will stop them from in-fighting among themselves? The Arabs, who form part of the coastal population attract alot of spite and envy from other coastal tribes. I vehemently beleive that the Kenyan government should curtail any attempts of cessation ab initio if at all it is to promote unity and prevent a re-occurence of the violence that characterised the 2007 elections.

KENYATTA AGREEMENT WITH PRIME MINISTER OF ZANZIBARThe agreement was signed in London on 5th October, 1963 and Kenyatta placed on record the following undertakings by the government of Kenya.(1) That free exercise of any creed or religion will at all times be safeguarded and, in particular, His Highness’s present subjects who are the Muslim faith and their descendants will at all times be ensured of complete freedom of worship and the preservation of their own religious buildings and institutions(2) The jurisdiction of Chief Kadhis will at all times be preserved and will be extended to the determination of questions of Muslim law relating to personal status in the proceedings in which all parties profess the Muslim religionThe agreements are presented as appendix to presentation in British Parliament by Secretary of State for Colonies in October 1963. Kenya Coastal Strip: Agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom, His Highness the Sultan of Zanzibar, the Government of Kenya and the Government of Zanzibar. Cmnd. 2161.(London: H. M. Stationary Office, 1963).(3) The freehold titles to land in the coast region that are already registered will at all times be recognized, steps will be taken to ensure the continuation of the procedure for the registration of new freehold titles and rights of freeholders will at all times be preserved save for so far as it may be necessary to acquire freehold land for public purposes, in which event full and prompt compensation will be paid.This document was signed by Jomo Kenyatta and Mohammed Shamte, Prime Minister of Zanzibar. As a follow up to this agreement, on 8th October, 1963 the two Prime Ministers and the Sultan of Zanzibar His Highness Seyyid Jamshid bin Abdula signed a joint agreement with the S of S for Colonies Duncan Sandays to revoke 1890 and1895 agreements it was agreed further that:(1) The territories comprised in the Kenya protectorate shall cease to form part of His Highness dominions and shall thereupon form part of Kenya(2) The agreement of 14th June 1890 in so far as it applies to those territories and the agreement of 14th December 1895 shall cease to have effect.In 1886, the Anglo-German Treaty was signed between Britain and Germany to determine their spheres of influence in East Africa. Since none of them wanted to be in direct conflict with the sultan of Zanzibar, they decided to allocate him ten miles coastal strip running from Kipini in the north to Ruvuma River in the south. The Germans thereafter paid for the right to use the sultan’s ten mile possession on the German East African section. The British on the other hand opted to pay annual rent to the sultan equivalent to the amount of tax collected by sultan in that part adjacent to East Africa protectorate(EAP). The complexity of this treaty came into focus in 1920 when the British government wanted to change the status of EAP into a colony. The British realized that the ten miles coastal strip could not be annexed without causing international conflict because of the various treaties that the sultan had entered with various powers guaranteeing their sovereignty and control over her coastal dominions. Thus, the colonial government went for a quick fix by renaming the territory, Colony and Protectorate of Kenya. The protectorate designated the ten miles coastal strip while all the land from the ten miles became the colony. It was this quick fix that later reared its ugly face at the time of independence when the Arabs in the coastal strip rejected to be incorporated in independent Kenya. They wanted to secede to join fellow Arab administration at Zanzibar. Just like the colonialists, Kenyatta went for another quick fix by signing an agreement with the then Prime Minister of Zanzibar guaranteeing land ownership to sultans’ subjects at the expense of African inhabitants who for many centuries had remained as squatters. Consequently, land at the coast has become so expensive to an extent that ordinary people cannot afford. It is argued that a solution has to be found to contain the recurrent land conflicts experienced every election year.In fact, these land injustices have been caused by the same treaty MRC is using to advocate for succession. Only the Arabs wanted to secede from Kenya at the times of independence, fearing their land would be confiscated by the new Kenyatta govt. Kenyatta, signed the treaty as a commitment not to revoke land tittles belonging to the Arabs(Thus causing the current problems of absentee landlords and perpetuating squatters). Where 's the secession issue coming from? MRC is thus an Arab vehicle now boarded by their grand children who fear the establishment of a land commission threatens their land ownership as it will address these past injustices, which will see some of their land being redistributed to Mijikendas to address the squatter problem. It has nothing to do with the local African natives' interests of the Coast. MIJIKENDAS WAKE UP! MRC DOESN'T FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHTS BUT ARAB http://www.marsgroupkenya.org/pdfs/2010/05/Kenya_Coastal_Strip_Agreement_%28UK_Zanzibar_and_Kenya_Governments%29_8th_October_1963.pdf

Your reference to people who have lived in the coastal strip as arabs is biased because you fail to relate to coastal history and the way the many tribes who live there came to be.The people you refer to as arabs are desendents of the swahilli and the various foreign sailors who came by the sea these being arab,persian,chinese,indians among the notable ones.Among representatives of Coast who went to Lancaster and the loudest voice was a non Arab by name Abdillahi Nassir and a swahilli scholar s who brother Abdullatiff Abdallah was jailed by Kenyatta regime for his political views under presidential powers..that is our history of intimidation by a nation under big tribe syndromeThe Mji Kenda found coastal strip people there and traded with them if you brouse on topic of 'the giriama land rights ' you will come accross good research material of the good trade between Takaungu and the Giriama which the British put a stop by forcing giriamas in forced labour, the effects  never corrected by all three regimes, continue!The war fought by the coastal people against the portugese began as a invasion on african settlements by the portugese where coastals of swahilli and arab fought as one.Seeking help from a fellow muslim was only wisdom based on the portugese horrifying attack but even if the Sultan ruled these people he never conqurered them they wellcomed him.His depature does not give soveirnity to any one else so the coastal people who negotiated and remain in kenya can say they feel threatened and demand sessation because there is a real threat by big tribe migration usuing poltical muscle to take over.At stake is one thousand years of continious African nationhood of the swahilli states. The MRC represent the total coastal aspiration using the ten mile coastal strip as a marker but the wishes of all coastals in Boma give a better picture by their own agreement delegates representing coast agreed to have one jimbo(region) to some power brokers in Kenya that was the end of their neo colonizing dreams so they killed it quick and you cant find this doccumnt easilly.There were to be fourteen regions by people delegates what happenned to such fundamental issues it is this that other Knyans must understand coastals and the MRC,the Kenyan nation stands on a lie as its origins are wrong from the first regime Kenya was never meant to have a president but rather a prime minister so the regions could elect representatives who would go to parliament, some how the kenyatta regime using illegal parliamntary powers brought in a presidency and criminalised critisizing him.The institution was rejectected in Bomas but brought in through back door constitution writing backed by big tribes who all yarn for piece of action in th coast. The presidntial debate begins with tribal numbers so MRC can se they have no place there so they say no we are not part of this ..so the only way out while we know where we all come from is now..because after a few generations the big tribes will be every where, the coastals over thousand year exhistance,culture,religion will be gone .We should all ask is that good for Africa the answer is a big no, so we must allow MRC total fredom in their legal quest and arrange laws that make this possible if we want them in Kenya if they choose seperation it it is a choice that must be respected.. that is how the world is run in such situations especially after South Sudan Kenya as a signatory must respect the people of the coast as different from the big tribes if you study their history it must b preserved if Kenya loves Africa

it's false saying that the coastal people are predominantly Swahili or Muslim, this may only apply to some extent in Mombasa town-The truth is many are either christians or traditionalsts-those who are not Muslims or Christans nor Swahili.

     But do all kenyan know about the truth or it is just a matter of security and fear thus makes some of the government members think that will seez the swash of the mombasa republican and yet it was ritten and promise is a dept wereby it has to be fulfill in all ways and in any cost.     The only solution behind the truth i to step down and think deep as to why and what they realy whant as this is the international matter and not politict as the rest keep on .