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.

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Kenya: Secessionist Protests in Mombasa

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki addressed the nation yesterday, promising “a smooth transition” after the March 2013 presidential elections, in which Kibaki will not compete. Kibaki also spoke out yesterday against the secessionist group the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), saying, “The Coast region has been part of, is part of and will remain part of the Republic of Kenya.” Earlier in the day, the MRC had staged a protest in Mombasa, during which a protester died in a clash with police. The MRC (founded 1996) is currently outlawed, but members have gone to court to challenge that ruling.

The MRC has undertaken a number of protest actions recently. Top Kenyan leaders say they will not engage in dialogue with the group.

The illegal group has also threatened to evict people from other communities who live and work in the Coast unless their secession demands are met.

They have also threatened to boycott the next General Election and have increasingly intimidated coastal residents.

Recently, the group disrupted mock elections in Malindi conducted by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, injured its officials and security agents.

On Monday, Prime Minister Raila Odinga told the illegal group that it must denounce its separatist claims before the government can engage it in dialogue.

Kenyan MPs are reportedly “divided” on the issue of the MRC, with some favoring Kibaki’s stance and others urging dialogue with the group.

A Facebook page on the MRC details their position:

The MRC says the coastal strip is not in need of any protection by the Kenya Government that was inherited from Colonial Britain. It says that it has in place a structured system, complete with a constitution, so it is ready to govern. The MRC officials also add that it is funded by top businessmen and politicians in the region (Mombasa).

The MRC is adamantly pushing for the partitioning of Kenya’s territory, raising issues of marginalization, discrimination and neglect of the coast people. The MRC says it does not support the use of violence. The officials add that the members should not be considered rebels as they are only fighting for what they perceive to be their country – Mombasa. The MRC also say that theirs is an inter religious affair, because it affected all coast people, an assertion that was proven recently when the Pwani Church released a statement in support of what the MRC was doing.

The MRC states that despite the coast being a major contributor to the national economy (through the Port of Mombasa and Tourism in general), the coast people are yet to benefit from its resources and so they are under developed as a result.

For more information on the MRC and the historical background of coastal secessionism in Kenya, see Think Africa Press.

South Sudan and Kenya’s Ports

Having South Sudan as its new neighbor has given a boost to Kenya’s ports. South Sudan, Kenya, and Ethiopia recently launched a $23 billion port and oil refinery project at Lamu, which “South Sudan plans to use…as its main oil export outlet.” Meanwhile, in Mombasa, “South Sudan nearly doubled shipment volumes through Kenya’s main port last year, helping the port achieve a greater-than-expected 5 percent increase in cargo volumes despite heavy congestion and slow cargo clearance.”

Amid the celebrations, there are voices of doubt, especially regarding Lamu. Business Daily worries about the impact on regional development, writing that unless leaders prioritize the revival of manufacturing in the region, “Lamu port will just be another route for dumping products into our markets once Sudanese oil runs out.” Think Africa Press cites the potentially negative impact of the Lamu project on the local environment and on local communities. Local groups and conservationists are already mobilizing against the project.

Lamu, and Kenyan-South Sudanese ties on the whole, fit with a broader trend toward regional integration in East Africa – a trend which many of the region’s leaders support. The question is, as always, who will benefit, and who will lose out?