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Coast police on high alert amid fears of outlawed MRC gang regrouping

By Patrick Beja | June 26th 2016

The outlawed Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) is regrouping at the Coast, security agents have warned.

The gang members are suspected to be gathering in Jibana, Tsolokera and Chonyi Kaya forests in Kilifi County.

For the last two weeks, ground and aerial security surveillance has been intensified in Kilifi County and other parts of Coast to stem re-emergence of the group blamed for bloody attacks during the 2013 general election.

Kaloleni Deputy County Commissioner Fred Ndunga, who has been overseeing security operations in parts of Kilifi, declined to give details of the exercise.

“This is a security operation and I do not want to give information that could compromise our plans,” Mr Ndunga said.

But MRC secretary general Hamza Randu has dismissed claims they were regrouping. “We have no plan or capacity to disrupt the next election or any other programme. We do not discourage anyone from participating in elections. We are currently busy with our court cases. Those engaging in criminal activities are taking advantage of the bad blood between us and the state to harm people,” Mr Randu said.

It is believed the MRC ‘military’ wing – Nyuki Movement – has since severed links with the political arm whose leaders were rounded up in October 2012 after they reportedly threatened to disrupt national exams and the 2013 polls. It is the former group said to be regrouping.

Those arrested were MRC chairman Omar Mwamnwadzi, treasurer Suleiman Babu Bambam, spokesman Rashid Mraja and Randu.

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Coast region police boss Francis Wanjohi said the ongoing aerial security surveillance is seeking to map out MRC hideouts particularly in Kilifi and Kwale counties.

He explained that although no arrests have been made, the exercise was meant to stem re-emergence of MRC or criminals groups ahead of the elections.

“The Inspector General of Police allocated a helicopter to the Coast region a month ago and therefore we are using it to carry out aerial surveys to ensure MRC or any other criminal group do not find a hideout. We have been overflying settlements and areas prone to MRC in Kilifi,” he explained.

He disclosed that the helicopter also overflies Lamu County three times a week to map out crime prone areas. However, Mr Wanjohi assured that MRC has been rendered inactive in its former strongholds of Kilifi and Kwale counties adding that the 2017 General Election was expected to be peaceful.

He said the smashing of an MRC card printing syndicate and the arrest of the mastermind in February last year in Kwale as well as continued surveillance have subdued the separatist group.

Former MRC lawyer Yusuf Abubakar said the group was incapable of posing a threat to government programmes since the leadership is battling court cases and have announced that the members would this time round participate in the elections.

“MRC appears to have its candidates and political party in mind as its leaders have agreed they will participate in the next polls. I highly suspect other groups with similar grievances as MRC such as historical land injustices, lack of jobs and alleged tribalism are behind the criminal activities,” he said. The lawyer instead said the government should worry about the Al Shabaab threat to Coastal residents.

Should not be underrated

He argued that the 2013 General Election benefited Jubilee a lot at the Coast despite having few registered voters as indicated by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

Statistics released by IEBC South Coast and North Coast regional co-ordinator prior to the 2013 General Election indicated that Kwale County registered 173,467 or 57 per cent of the targeted voters while Kilifi County registered 336,251 voters or 64.9 per cent of the targeted voters. The low voter registration rate was blamed on the MRC campaign against voting.

Mombasa County registered 412,739 voters or 94 per cent, Taita Taveta County enlisted 112,194 representing 85 per cent, Tana River County listed 77,142 voters or 68.9 per cent while Lamu County registered 52,401 voters or 110 per cent. The entire Coast region registered 1.1 million voters instead of the projected 1.9 and on voting day violence unleashed by alleged MRC militants caused deaths of police officers in Kilifi South and Changamwe sparking panic that delayed voting in many parts of Mombasa County.

Pwani University Prof Halim Shauri warned that MRC was a clandestine movement and its potency should not be underrated as the country approaches the next elections.

He noted that criminal activities witnessed prior to 2013 General Election were clear indication that the group was still active and could emerge any time, adding that police should continue with security surveillance at the Coast.

“Then fact that MRC has not surfaced does not mean it is dead. Surveillance is critical particularly at this time when the country is heading to elections,” Shauri said.

He said the low voter registration dealt a blow to CORD following the MRC anti-poll campaign and widespread violence.

“ODM enjoys immense support in the Coast region and if the people had registered as voters and voted 100 per cent, it could have made the election result of the ODM candidate different. Jubilee therefore emerged winner and CORD loser in the MRC anti-voting campaign. But the greatest losers are the Coast residents themselves since they got leaders who were elected by the minority,” Prof Shauri argued.

Dr Hassan Mwakimako said that although MRC appeared to have been weakened by the State, the unresolved land question could still drive the outlawed group’s agenda.

“The MRC agenda is now with the people of Coast and no longer only the youths because land problems are still unresolved,” he noted. However, he believes MRC will not disrupt the next election since the leadership has supported the exercise and some could even be candidates in 2017.

“With the interest in the next polls now, MRC could benefit the CORD candidate a lot since the Coast remains its stronghold,” he said. On September 13, 2012 MRC was linked to the beheading of an AP officer in Dzombo forest in Kwale County.

The slain officer was among security agents flushing out youths believed to be MRC members from the forest where they claimed to be holding prayers.

On September 27, 2012, 11 people including a village elder were killed in Tsangatsini village in Kaloleni, Kilifi County.

Villagers attacked a group of youth linked to MRC reportedly taking oath in a bush leading to the bloody incident. “We had 11 people killed and crude weapons recovered from Mnago wa Dola forest where they were undertaking rituals. We have recovered paraphernalia which we suspect were used to conduct secret rituals in the forest,” then Coast provincial police officer Aggrey Adoli said.

Five people including a bodyguard of then Fisheries minister Amason Kingi (now Kilifi Governor) were killed at a rally at Mtwapa in Kilifi County on October 4, 2012, as the minister addressed a rally with current Kilifi Senator Stewart Madzayo.

On October 15, 2012 Kombani assistant chief and a youth in Kwale County died after the arrest of MRC leader Mwamnwadzi. On March 3, 2013, the eve of the General Election, 14 people among them nine police officers were butchered at Miritini in Mombasa and Chumani in Kilifi by suspected MRC memebers.

Police said over 100 militia ambushed four police officers under the command of the Changamwe OCPD Otieno Awour and hacked them to death.

The gang also robbed the officers of two G3 rifles and a pistol. And in Chumani polling station and Chonyi AP camp AP Sergeant Hillary Mwabolo was beheaded and three officers killed by a gang.

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