Critics say governors are using emotive issue for political capital, with MRC accusing them of hijacking their agenda to pile pressure on Jubilee.
Legal and political experts continue to differ on the level of autonomy – federalism or secession – for the Coast region pushed by governors Hassan Joho (Mombasa) and Amason Kingi (Kilifi).
Critics like former Kisauni MP Ananiah Mwaboza accuse Joho and Kingi of trying to “milk an outdated idea” for political capital or as a bargaining chip for future politics.
But proponents accuse the critics of providing no viable alternative and refusing to accept the economic and political marginalisation of the Coast as a rationale for secession.
There are questions about the geographical extent of the proposed entity - whether it should be limited to the so-called 10 mile strip or include the six coastal counties as proposed by the proponents.
Historically, the sultanate of Zanzibar, to which the coastal strip belonged before the Heligoland Treaty between Britain and Germany in 1890, claimed territory as far inland as parts of current Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Groups like the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) want their proposed state to reach as far inland as Sultan Hamud.
Kingi and Joho have denied any connection with the MRC. Kingi says that even without the Heligoland Treaty and the October 5, 1963 agreement through which Zanzibar formally ceded the Coast to the soon to be independent Kenya, the Coast people can still aspire to independence and self determination under international law and Kenya’s 2010 constitution.
“Even without these treaties, people have the right to self-determination as long as they feel unwanted, ignored and oppressed,” says the Kilifi governor.
On October 5, 1963, Jomo Kenyatta, then Kenya’s Prime Minister, and former Zanzibar Prime Minister Mohamed Shamte agreed to transfer the Coastal Strip to Kenya’s jurisdiction. Without this treaty, Kenya would have achieved independence as a landlocked country or perhaps as a confederacy with an autonomous Coast.
Kenyatta agreed that the new regime in independent Kenya would allow Kadhi’s courts to flourish to arbitrate Muslim personal law especially on marriage and inheritance.
On behalf of the Kenyan Government, he accepted that post-independent Kenya would promote Arabic among Muslims and allow them to administer predominantly Muslim parts of Kenya, conditions that have largely been ignored after independence.
Kenyatta also accepted the conditions that “administrative officers in predominantly Muslim areas should, so far as is reasonably practicable, profess the Muslim religion.”
In the run up to independence, a separatist movement from the early secessionist at the Coast, thrived in the former Northern Frontier District (NFD) which, ironically, included current Lamu and Tana River counties.
Unlike in the Coast whose separatism (proposed by the Mwambao United Front) was extinguished without violence, the separatists acting under the Northern Frontier Peoples Patriotic Movement led by Dekow Maalim Sanbuul and Wako Hapi were brought down through brutal military suppression using British and Yugoslac mercenaries between 1963 and 1967.
Fearful that the Somalia inspired NFD rebellion could rise again, the Kenyatta regime transferred Tana River and Lamu to the new Coast province in 1964 and settled pro-unity populations in the dominant Muslim regions of Tana River, Lamu and Kwale.
Meanwhile, the separatists in Coast appeared to be outnumbered by prominent politicians like the late Ronald Ngala who aspired for inclusion of the region in a future Kenyan state under a federalist arrangement that guaranteed the region some form of self-rule.
Now Kingi and Joho believe that notwithstanding these 1960s undertakings, the promise of independence and periodic elections has rung hollow for the Coast with no possibility for remedy under what they consider to be a cruel marriage. They want the current secession movement based on the treatment the Coast has received from the unitary state since 1963.
“Governor Joho and I have had ambition to run for the presidency, but we are disappointed that voting has been on tribal lines. We have therefore decided to pursue self-determination,” Kingi said recently.
“We are going to have consultative meetings across the Coast region to bring everybody on board. I am certain we are going to realise our dream no matter how long this journey takes us,” Governor Joho vowed.
Proponents of the secession agenda say they will explore legal methods including seeking legal opinion on whether these past treaties can be voided and which parties among the UK, Zanzibar and proposed new state will share the assets and liabilities of separation.
Mr Mooris Maro, leader of the Coast Peoples’ Democratic Movement (CPDM), says the justification to secede is based on the ground that the indigenous Coast people never consented to the integration of the region into the Kenya colony.
“There is no official public evidence that indigenous coastal communities were directly consulted in these colonial pre-independence agreements,” he says.
In months leading to independence, Maro says, the indigenous coastal people were traded like cattle between the sultan of Zanzibar, Kenyatta and the British.
“The sultan traded to constitutionalise African land grabbed by Arabs and accepted by the government of Kenya without considering the land rights of indigenous people that became the bane of squatters at the Coast.
“The sultan surrendered his sovereignty, not that of indigenous Africans to the British,” Maro adds.
Prof Halim Shauri, a Pwani University lecturer, believes there is no much support for secession at the Coast at the moment and that proponents of the idea have the wrong notion of what constitutes the Coast.
“The 10 mile coastal strip was very small and did not represent the entire Coast. They are using secession campaign or talks only to gain popularity,” he says.
Shauri believes that because of its resources and strategic importance to the Kenyan state, the government will stringently resist any attempt to price away the coast.
Mombasa lawyer Yusuf Abubakar believes the current secession movement is not genuine and is tied to opposition NASA and Raila Odinga’s agenda against Jubilee.
“In my opinion, this latest move is not genuine and is not consultative compared to MRC. It is a political move,” says Abubakar who once represented MRC in court.
Mr Hamza Randu, the MRC secretary general, however, maintains the secession agenda was still popular among coastal people but believes Kingi and Joho are hijacking it to pile pressure on Jubilee.
“We are currently raising funds to pursue a crucial case in court on secession of the Coast region. If Kilifi North MP Owen Baya, who says he is drafting a secession Bill, and other elected leaders are genuine, they should simply join us in court instead of filing a motion in Parliament where they lack the numbers to win support,” Randu argues.
He says grievances of historical injustices on land, education, employment and other opportunities that could uplift the living standards of the coastal residents still persist and that was why MRC was still agitating for separation.
“If the TJRC report is implemented today, Coast residents and MRC members in particularly would have great relief as it represents our grievances,” Randu argues.
According to Randu, government has been part of marginalization of coast population after acquiring large tracts of land without compensating or resettling the people.
MRC draws its claims for secession on the Heligoland Treaty and its leaders argue that under the colonial agreement, the Coast was to remain a protectorate of the British and jointly administered with the sultan of Zanzibar.