Kenya: Police Crack Down on the Mombasa Republican Council

The Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), a secessionist group in Kenya’s Coast Province, has made headlines several times in recent months for their tense relations with Kenyan authorities and what some see as their potential to disrupt the country’s presidential elections, scheduled for March 2013. In the spring of this year, the Council staged several protest actions in Mombasa, drawing condemnation from President Mwai Kibaki and other senior politicians. In July, the High Court of Mombasa (the capital of the province) overturned a ban on the organization that had been in place since 2010 – see Lesley Anne Warner for more on that story, as well as an explanation of the Council’s grievances against the government, which the MRC accuses of marginalizing the Coast.

This month, the Council is back in the news as police crack down on its leaders. Authorities have accused the MRC of organizing a recent assassination attempt on Fisheries Minister Amason Kingi on October 4. On October 8, authorities arrested MRC spokesman Rashid Mraja, apparently on charges of using hate speech. On October 15, police raided the home of the MRC’s chairman:

Kenyan police arrested the leader of the separatist Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) and shot dead two supporters in a house raid on Monday, intensifying a crackdown on the movement seeking independence for the country’s coastal region.

Dozens of youths, some armed with machetes and clubs, who tried to prevent officers from detaining Omar Mwamnuadzi were also detained and a number of crude weapons seized, Coast province police chief Aggrey Adoli said.

The MRC is campaigning for the secession of the Indian Ocean coastal strip – a tourist hotspot and trade hub – and threatens to disrupt next March’s general election if its demand is not met, raising fears of violence.

The raid occurred in Kwale, near Mombasa. A photograph of Mwamnuadzi shows him badly beaten. VOA writes that “tension is high” in Mombasa.

Some politicians have come to the MRC’s defense, such as Sheikh Dor, a nominated member of parliament. Presidential candidate William Ruto, without offering any support to the movement, has promised to address the grievances that underlie it. If elected, he says, he will create a special economic development fund for the Coast.

Finally, other politicians are working to create new political vehicles for residents of the Coast. The Nairobi Star reports that “Muslim clerics” launched the Unity Party of Kenya this weekend in Mombasa. Sheikh Dor (the same as above) “said the party will liberate the Coast people from the chains of marginalisation and oppression.” The Kenya Muslim National Advisory Council warned in June against the creation of this party, fearing it would cause political division among the country’s Muslims.

Kenya’s presidential elections are still some five months away. It seems a lot may happen in the interval.

For more background on the MRC, see here and here.